Canoa: A Shameful Memory is 2020 America, circa 1976 Mexico (and, coincidentally, the United States’ bicentennial).
(Not to follow a parenthetical with a parenthetical, but: Yes, I’m aware that specifying 2020 implies 2021 will be different. Well, in the words of Harvey Milk, “You got to give them hope”).
As sacrilegious as this always sound, Canoa‘s one of the few non-English language movies that could stand to be remade through a contemporary, Americanized lens. The first draft of what you’re currently reading tried to enumerate AAAAAALL the 2020 resonances, but after a few thousand words (literally), I decided to nix it, partially because spoiling what I imagine few have seen (it’s not every day that I discover an all-timer I had never heard of before!) could dampen its ultimate effect, partially because I’m a lazy editor, and partially because basically damn-near every component bears modern-day relevance to the red, white, and oh-so blue.
But methinks it’s not too much of a spoiler to discuss its structure, because it connects to a topic I’ve long wanted to address: our warp-speed evolving tastes when it comes to artistic pace.
It’s not much of a stretch — and I’m definitely not the first — to hypothesize that the high-speed internet age has warped audience’s relative patience when faced with unhurried art. Thrills, frills, and spills have probably always delighted the masses over more belabored affairs, but the knowledge that you can enjoy whatever the hell you want, whenever the hell the want on your phone only a pocket-reach away (if your hands even deign to part with their beloved machinery for 90 minutes) during even a few seconds of artistic boredom MUST change how we engage with art, right? Back in the day, when a movie got to slow rambling, sure, the mind could go an-ambling, but cognitive walks-in-the-park will never lure like the infinite possibilities of those 1s and 0s.
(One of these days, I’ll get around to outlining Netfux’s predominant cinematic aesthetic, and how their movies appear to be designed around these sorts of presumed, periodic iPhone checks…but that’s a dirge for another day).
This on-demand plague inhibits the crucial artistic capabilities of a snails-clip, with Canoa as a prime example. Its initial documentary setup primes viewers to anticipate sitting through a typical cinematic sociopolitical screed, and I fear 21st-century-conditioned audiences would tune out. But these ponderous portions are key to understanding — and feeling — what the movie’s saying in regards to how seamlessly the seemingly-harmless political pondering and pontificating that occupy the beginning scenes can lead to the worst real-world actions depicted in the climax. The discursive words of political discourse could be considered uneventful — especially by those accustomed to associating the big-screen with the biggest sights and loudest sounds — but how quickly such verbal plodding can devolve into nightmarishly-enthralling plots.
Hey Americans, is this ringing any recent bells for you?
More than simply imparting this idea through dialogue, the structure of Canoa‘s measured-bait and captivating-switch makes you feel this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it transition, the stuff that uncivil-dehumanization is made of. In the time it takes you to check your phone, you may have missed the moment that the unhurried documentary we erroneously believe our lives to be becomes the horror of reality.