Pa'lante: "In Latin American and especially Puerto Rican slang, it's a contraction of "para adelante" or 'forward.' " (Urban Dictionary)
The post-disaster doc is a common genre in nonfiction filmmaking. Given that Landfall surveys Puerto Rico two-years following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, my assumption was that Cecilia Aldarondo's film would follow the usual tropes of the genre, focusing on the material and psychic destruction wrought by the hurricane. Assumptions are dangerous.
Hurricane Maria appears as an apparition in Landfall, haunting though not manifest. Rather, the film serenely swirls around the island, the world's oldest colony, gathering its power and intensity by accumulation. Not that there isn't some spooky shit, past and present, happening in Puerto Rico. We get a glimpse of the late-disaster capitalists sweeping in, here creepy crypto-evangelists promising tax-free prosperity to young Puerto Ricans. Let's "unite and work together as a 'We' ", one suggests, to which a young woman retorts: "The last time there was a 'we', my people died...the best way to help is sometimes just getting out of the way." It's a terrific scene in a film with many.
However, anger and confrontation is not the dominant emotion in Landfall. While framed with the uprising that led to the resignation of Puerto Rico's Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, Landfall oscillates between sadness, intimacy, love, fatigue, grace, beauty and resolve. And never resignation. As crafted by Aldarondo, with collaborators Lale Namerrow Pastor, Pablo Álvarez-Mesa (Cinematographer) and Terra Jean Long (Editor), Landfall is at once lyrical essay cinema and, if I may indulge, what literary critic and political theorist Frederic Jameson might see as an elegant realization of his concept of "cognitive mapping":
"An aesthetic of cognitive mapping - a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system - will necessarily have to respect this now enormously complex representational dialectic [neoliberalism, basically] and invent radically new forms in order to do it justice." - Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 54
Yes, more radical new forms, please. And justice.
Like most of this year's film slate, Landfall's launch was disrupted by the pandemic. Aldarondo, with Robert Greene, discussed the personal and professional ramifications for independent docmakers, precisely and poignantly, in a conversation on Hyperallergic. In the spirit of the Puerto Rican contraction "pa'lante", I believe Landfall will resolutely make its way forward. Good work does that, most of the time. I watched the film via the Camden International Film Festival's online festival and see that the production is doing many such streaming presentations.
It will be broadcast on POV next summer when, I hope, we'll all be largely post-pandemic and post-Trump. Landfall has much to offer those seeking reflection and striving for recovery following a disaster, which will be all of us.