108, an article with an untold history
by Boyd van Hoeij
One of the most interesting films in the Berlinale’s Panorama Dokumente section this year is the Spanish production 108 (Cuchillo de palo), from Paraguayan documentary-maker Renate Costa.
Staying close to home, Costa investigates the life of her late uncle Rodolfo, who was found dead naked in his house across the street from the Costas. Along the way, the director uncovers how her home country suppressed homosexuality under the reign of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, and later, Stroessner’s Colorado party. (The film’s English title refers to the law article that described homosexuals and prostitutes.)
The film, produced by St. Feliu de Llobregat-based production company Estudi Playtime, is both a personal odyssey for Costa, as well as peek into a largely unexplored part of Paraguay’s recent history. Only in 2008 did the Colorado party release its firm grip on the country it had ruled uninterruptedly since 1947, making this documentary possible. In Berlin, Costa explained that attempts to get people to talk about the issues in the film before that time was absolutely impossible, and even now some people only wanted to collaborate anonymously out of fear for reprisals.
Working with little more than a picture of her uncle in his youth, Costa uncovers one fascinating detail after another, leading to the discovery of the fact he was a trained ballet dancer, worked as a transvestite in clubs and was arrested and kept behind bars for almost a month. Though Rodolfo was Costa’s father’s sibling, her family is unaware of any of these details of Rodolfo’s other life (he even used a different name: Hector).
Costa does not avoid confrontation with other members of her family, and the most interesting character to emerge from the material is her father, a devout Christian who believes that his brother should have done more to become a God-fearing heterosexual. His attitude very likely represents a large part of the Paraguayan population of his age, who have known little else but the rule of Stroessner.
The insightful documentary is sold internationally by Paris-based Umedia.
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