A Road Movie for the End of the Century: Metal & Melancholy

01/16/2013 4:00 AM |

Metal & Melancholy (1994)
Directed by Heddy Honigmann
January 22 at Spectacle

This doc was in its way the paradigmatic late-century road movie, traveling in endless U-turns around the depressed streets of Lima and reflecting the Peruvians themselves: relaxed, persevering, nakedly emotional, and tougher than old seat-leather. The portrait you get of Lima’s enormous cabbie subculture often approaches a sort of dystopian vision—a demolished society surviving out of their cars and by way of often surreal gypsy-cunning, less predatory Mad Max than a real-world auto-version of Jiri Menzel’’s junkyard farce Larks on a String.

By the ‘90s, after years of hyperinflation and Fujishock, poverty has apparently forced most of the city’s population to slap a $1 taxi sign on their families’ jalopies’ windshields and prowl the streets. Bureaucrats, scientists, teachers, cops, even movie actors (including a player from The City and the Dogs) all augment their dismal incomes by hacking, and by simply plopping the camera down in the front seat next to the drivers and paying for innumerable two-buck trans-Lima jaunts, Honigmann also reawakens the road movie’s old and mysterious meditation on our vexing and symbiotic relationship with the interior of the automobile.

One cabbie sings to his car to keep it running; another devoutly maintains a decimated bomb that no one can steal because it would fall apart without the right rituals. It’s a cruel gerbil-wheel tour of the Transitional City’s badlands that might make even Travis Bickle blanch: Honigmann visits a communal grave stacked high with bloodied children, and if the smell lingers in her nose too long, her seasoned-hack cohort shruggingly tells her, use her own sweaty clothes to clean it out.

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