By Tara Judah

“Don’t let the day end without having grown a bit… Enjoy the panic of having a life in front of you.”

Such is the advice – or perhaps it is a mandate – from the management at Maquinaria Panamericana. It’s an unusual workplace; an administrator disconnects her ringing phone because it’s interrupting the celebration of her birthday and an Executive Assistant is painting palm trees on her finger nails. No one seems to be doing very much in the way of work.

Soon, the fun atmosphere is interrupted by shocking news that the company’s director is dead. This, in essence, means the company itself is dead, as he was financing production and payroll from his own pocket. Even workers who have put in more than forty years of work won’t see a penny from their pensions now.

It isn’t long until the next in charge, the Manager – whose shonky bookkeeping has contributed significantly to the company’s demise – speaks up, “I’ve received a message from the underworld – that we save the company”. His plan is for “a new democracy” for the workers, whereby everyone becomes “architects of our own destinies”.

The film operates on three levels; 1) as a straight up comedy about a group of oddballs who try to keep their business alive long after its literal death, 2) as a parable about the problems facing Mexican industry in the post-1990s boom and crash – especially in the years surrounding NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and 3) as an allegory for the country’s problems of democracy.

The result is a bawdy satire about the problems of industry and democracy. Once the workers have shut themselves off to the rest of the world, corruption, fear and cynicism are quick to creep in; the men bully the women, individuals who neither deserve nor were elected simply seize power, no one is allowed to disagree or try to leave the grounds – letting the rest of the world know the truth behind the gated community is strictly prohibited and there is even a rabble who believe it should be punishable by death.

Instead of creating new policy to rebuild and restructure they descend into various stages in the circle of grief, spiralling completely out of control. To take the edge off bad news they throw a sort of wake/party, getting wasted on a drink that’s base ingredient is gasoline.

In this way the workers revolt. But it’s destructive rather than productive as they’re not actually fighting anything tangible, they’re just unhappy with their lot. This means that real change is impossible. Their resolve is to lash out, smashing the machines and further contributing to the destruction of their industry. They then intend to stick by their sinking ship.

Though very funny, this is actually a bleak and damning satire; the problems are insurmountable and democracy can not be achieved even after the workers are given free reign. The only and inevitable result is chaos. Returning to Maquinaria Panamericana’s management’s opening remarks, the day’s end shows that the workers have not grown, even if they enjoyed the journey. Above all else, first time filmmaker Joaquin del Paso makes his intention clear: there certainly is cause for panic if this is the life in front of you.

Berlinale Forum

Director: Joaquín del Paso
Script: Joaquín del Paso, Lucy Pawlak
Cinematography: Fredrik Olsson
Production Designers: Lucy Pawlak, Paulina Sanchez
Costume Designer: Yupanqui Ramos
Producers: Joaquín del Paso, Susana Bernal
Executive Producer: Jaime Romandía
Associate producers: Marcin Malatynski, Joakim Ziegler, Pawel Tarasiewicz, Santiago Torres, Mauricio de la Garza, Gabriel Herrera Torres, Santiago de la Paz
México, 2016