Tatiana Mazú González’s Every Document of Civilisation traces the phantom of the disappeared. A history of violence, repression, and horror runs through an interlinked web of associations that permeate the film. These aren’t established with heavy-handed explicit staging; rather, the film opts for a density of evocations. It is thick with redolence and insinuation. The director channels a story, an incident emblematic of the rot in the state of Buenos Aires, to mount elaborate, seething linkages among every marginalized section in her society.

Although the film starts out with a mother’s grievance pursuing justice for her wronged son, who had to pay a horrific price for not kowtowing to the State machinery, the appeal gradually gains a vastness. The mother’s anguished, relentless plea recognizes the necessity of bridging apparently disparate struggles to launch a fusillade against a social matrix bent on being deeply skewed and coldly apathetic to the lesser privileged citizens.

The inclusivity and expansiveness in the mother’s unwavering fight for justice lend the story both power and sweep in its reach. There’s ambition and audacity packed into the unifying struggle in the film that accentuates atmospherics. Luciano Arruga was a teenager who refused to steal for the police. It turned out to be a devastating decision as his defiance brought him immediately under the scanner of the police and the State. What ensued in quick succession was an assembly of horrors. Various charges were planted against Luciano, and every single right of his was brutally snatched from him.

Every Document of Civilisation (2024)
A still from “Every Document of Civilisation” (2024).

Even a redressal of those allegations became impossible to contest, and Luciano’s existence was wiped out. However, his mother, shattered in grief, funnels all her might of will and persistence into frankly locating all the fault lines in society that converged in the killing of her son. González takes the most intriguing approach to the mother’s remembrance of her son and fights back against the system. The tone is muted but firm. The style of looking is languid, measured, and attuned to the flecks of remains. The streets bear the mark of the growing movement for Luciano. The public consciousness strongly retains his memory, urging against the State’s inclination to forget, elide, and erase. The camera keeps returning to the intersecting road where Luciano was last spotted. Even a brief history of General Paz Avenue is doled out.

As stringent as her rebuttal against the State’s claims of Luciano dying in a car accident is, his mother tells a tender, moving account of his passion for reading and being intensely drawn to adventure, exploration, and Jules Verne. Like any other teenager, he was filled with eager anticipation for the future. There was nothing he saw as an impossibility that he couldn’t surpass. Since he dared not to comply with the authorities and their orders, he became instantly disposable. Despite his dreams, he represented the tragedy of many in society who continually failed on account of limited access to education, recreation, and vocational employment.

The film is an impassioned polemic against the State, situating a wider picture as fundamental to understanding the everyday precarity surrounding the lives of those lower on the rung of privilege. González’s vision brims with imagination and patience, lacing the illustrations of the Verne tales with the curiosity and wonder-infused spirit of Luciano. Despair in the film is heightened further by the director’s layered appraisal of the killing of the sixteen-year-old. It is wrenching to experience the mourning in a mother’s voice, but her fortifying resolve and grit are impossible to shake off. Every Document of Civilisation is a structurally inventive work, spilling over with accruing signification loaded into its silences and omissions and constantly training us to look closer and harder.

Every Document of Civilisation premiered at the FIDMarseille International Film Festival 2024. 

Every Document of Civilisation (2024) Links: MUBI

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