Review: Gone with the River

Gone with the River (Dauna. que lleva el río) is Venezuela’s submission to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film. It is also a work of indigenous cinema. Indigenous cinema regardless of what aboriginal population it chronicles, in what era, is of significance. Perhaps far more so in the postcolonial/postglobalized world. Therefore, Gone with the River has instant immediacy and significance. In this instance the people are of the Warao tribe and their language is also named as such.

Dauna (Yordana Medrano), the protagonist, is defined by her nonconformity, as she tries to act as a bridge between her culture and the Hispanic one from the world outside the banks of the Orinoco River. She practices her traditions to a point but also seeks education when given the opportunity and wants to write in both her native tongue and Spanish to preserve the culture, pass on traditions, also give those with little insight to their way of life a window in.

The windows used to look into the culture, specifically our protagonist, are ones that travel back and forth through time. Typically speaking, through many experiences, I’ve found that a chronological sequence of events is preferable unless the impact is heightened through the juxtaposition and contrasting of similar instances backward and forward in time. Some examples would be things like The Tree of Life, Last Year at Marienbad or the lesser-known Villa-Lobos: Uma Vida de Paixão thrive because of their playing with the temporal structure of their respective narratives. In this film its dubious as to whether the shifting back and forth through time is the greater impact.

Gone with the River (2015, Alfarería Cinematográfica)

For certainly the symbolic symbiosis; Dauna’s native culture versus her adopted one is mirrored by those scenes where she is free contrasting those where she’s incarcerated for an as-of-yet unknown crime. Surely, there’s some intriguing commentary there but it ends up feeling an insufficient amount of material to stretch the narrative.

The reason for this is that even the central relationship through the years – that of Dauna and Tarcisio. At times even they seem as if they are but placeholders for the central societal conflict but they have scant amounts of personal delineation and impetus for their actions and opinions.

As opposed to a recently BAM-shortlisted Canadian film about First Nation lives on the reservation, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, which felt like it needed more running time because it was covering too much; I wonder if film was even the ideal medium here because it feels that this conflict and relationship – both cultural and personal – could’ve been examined in more detail over all the years this film covers.