It's a fairly simple premise - a shoot wraps for the day, and a somewhat eccentric cast member leaves the set with a radio microphone still attached. The sound recordist must set off in search of her, listening to her through the receiver attached to his mixer and following a trail of friends who have sighted her out in the city. But what follows is an offbeat and visionary adventure for the titular character, Manny Paco, as well as the audience, leading from one unexpected scenario to the next.
The surreal comedy 'Paco' is set in a world not dissimilar to ours, but in which the Sound Council rules over matters like last equipment, and the punishment for a recordist is exile from their community - but worse still, the recompense for stealing a microphone is death. It adds weight to Manny's mission, giving him motivation as he moves amongst the oddest of situations. He encounters a time traveller - not once, but twice (unsurprisingly) - multiple crews who convince him to come on board their music videos and interviews, and a party with the most fantastic anti-film person you've ever met. The further in we go, the further down the rabbit hole Manny falls on this 'Alice in Wonderland'-like trip.
SWITCH: 'PACO' TRAILER
Our central soundie is played by Manuel Ashman - not an actor by trade. I found out following the SXSW Sydney screening he's actually a filmmaker (and former sound recordist himself, though doing a poor job of distancing himself from that) who's not really had any experience with acting before. He actually does a pretty decent job, though his role is largely passive, taking us as observers through these experiences as events happen to him. Manny's a well-known man around town, and in high demand - apparently, sound recordists are top of the social ladder in this world - because everywhere he goes, he's pulled from his primary objective in order to benefit others. It's really the ensemble cast here who are the stars, as they bring colour and movement to each act.
We only hear what's in this world based on what comes through Manny's boom microphone, and the radio microphone on the actor he's in pursuit of. It gives a wonderful opportunity for the crew to play with the audio, and there are some really fun moments in there - some comical, some experimental - that are pulled off nicely. Similarly, the visuals are seemingly offered from an observer's perspective, shot with a 4:3 aspect ratio and heavily vignetted, fixed in one location and panning only when necessary. This only adds to the surrealism of what we're experiencing, and you can't help but think the Sound Council has something to do with what we're seeing.
There are very few bells and whistles to 'Paco', but what makes it stand apart is both the inventiveness with which it's glued together, and the clear community of creatives who have put this film together.
For a low-budget Australian film, this is a truly creative work. This is director/writer Tim Carlier's first feature film, and it's definitely a unique debut to make a mark with. There are very few bells and whistles to 'Paco', but what makes it stand apart is both the inventiveness with which it's glued together, and the clear community of creatives who have put this film together. There's a life to the film that exists in all of its characters, a joy, even a wink to the audience, as they saunter in and out of Manny's life as he nonchalantly watches on.
Where does concern me is how far the audience appeal will stretch for a film such as this. Cinephiles and those in the industry will certainly get the appeal, with its references and homages. However, I wonder if the idea of a sound recordist as a central character will resonate for those outside of these groups. 'Paco' is also adapted from a short film, and while it carries itself well as a feature, there are times when the repetitiveness of some of the scenarios does make the run time drag on a little.
'Paco' is the best kind of small indie film, in that it takes all of the best attributes at hand and uses them to the best of its abilities. With originality, soul, whimsy and eccentricity, it's an enjoyable adventure through Manny's world, particularly if your world has a focus on film. So go and sound out this quirky one-of-a-kind tale - it's sure to make you ponder the lives of the quieter characters in the room.