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The Guatemalan Handshake (2006)

A mysterious power failure in a small mountain town coincides with the disappearance of one of its most eccentric young residents. Mystery piles upon mystery as his family and friends ... See full summary »




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5 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Katy Haywood ...
Ken Byrnes ...
Mr. Turnupseed
Donald Turnupseed
Sheila Scullin ...
Rich Schreiber ...
Kathleen Kennedy ...
Ethel Firecracker
Cory McAbee ...
Spank Williams
Ivan Dimitrov ...
Andy Nadler ...
Jim Ligons ...
VaLonda Harris ...
Sam Myers ...
Andy Sheffer ...
T.J. Bream ...
Christopher Morse ...
Insurance Man


A mysterious power failure in a small mountain town coincides with the disappearance of one of its most eccentric young residents. Mystery piles upon mystery as his family and friends search for him, fail, and ultimately try to forget about him, an undertaking that results in many unexpected, and in some cases bizarre, effects on the town's already peculiar community. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A feast for the senses... a challenge for the brain.


Comedy | Drama



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Release Date:

January 2006 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Guatemalai kézfogás  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

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Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Referenced in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.15 (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

The sign says "come on in!" and by doing so we get the cold shoulder
10 July 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Whatever "The Guatemalan Handshake" means in the title of Todd Rohal's offbeat comedy (I think) I certainly hope it has nothing to do with the sexually explicit definition the always helpful Urban Dictionary provided me with. However, let's say that the title stems from the graphic sexual fetish and that such symbolism of the practice exists inside Rohal's film. I would never know, for I could hardly extract anything from the film that acts like it doesn't want anything extracted from it at all.

This is a peculiar picture that manages to make ninety-eight minutes feel twice as long and exists in that rare crack of cinema where films without an identifiable genre go and reside. The plot less endeavor that is The Guatemalan Handshake seems to merge the likes of Harmony Korine's Gummo, Jared Hess's Napoleon Dynamite, and Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket to extremely eye-raising results. It opens with a power outage occurring right when a demolition derby driver (Will Oldham) abruptly vanishes from the small town he calls home. Following his disappearance, this ignites a strange series of events in the town, which seems to treat the demolition derby event as the all-encompassing purpose of their very existences. His pregnant girlfriend now feels more hopeless than ever, but determined to win the demolition derby and his father is a lonely wreck.

One of the only characters the film decides to focus on for a decent portion of the time is Turkeylegs (Katy Haywood), a precocious kid who is attempting to find her missing friend. Haywood is a nice young talent, who plays confused and aimless rather well, however, the film's act of alienating its viewers makes it hard to come to the realization that she is in fact a young talent. Things happen in this film, and I challenge anyone who has watched it to explain them and justify them in a coherent way to which the entire project makes sense. It is a series of vignettes, all nicely photographed on the sunlit landscapes of Pennsylvania and through the warm-lens of Rohal, but each one of them shockingly vapid and baffling. The actions of the characters and the fact that there are several of them that are nearly impossible to connect with because of the lack of exposition and thought given to them is immensely contradictory to the way the whimsical environment of their home is so welcoming and natural. Imagine a beautiful resort with a sign that says "come on in!" with all the guests, workers, and tourists giving you the cold shoulder.

At no point does The Guatemalan Handshake feel like a film about real people or even people that are halfway believable. They feel like the brainchild of a screenwriter giving as many obscure, colorful traits to people with names as he can think of. The result is a cold picture that purposely desensitizes its material to make it almost inaccessible and unrelatable to the average viewer. At the end, the only thing I could extract from the film is that may be trying to comment on the loneliness of rural areas. Even if that is the case, and the film's ultimate goal is to detail how being surrounded by almost nothing can lead to a person's housing nothing remotely significant, the film doesn't do a great job of making this clear or meaningful.

Todd Rohal's sophomore directorial effort was another strange piece called The Catechism Cataclysm, about a priest who reconnects with an old classmate and then proceeds to go on a canoe trip with him down a small river. The film quickly descended into a surrealist piece of work, which began to give off the vibes that you really aren't supposed to like it no matter how hard you try. Rohal used similar tactics of alienating the viewer by giving a rather unbelievable setup and an annoying lead character, but wound up making the film work on some level because of its stunning lyrical conversations between its two leads. The Guatemalan Handshake doesn't even have the benefits of lyricism in its writing; the only thing marginally poetic is the sunsoaked landscapes that begin to feel all too familiar way too quickly.

There is one great scene in the film, however, and if only it made something of a vision or a purpose clear. It involves an elderly women who has been looking for her dog the entire film, plastering signs around town and trying to get the townspeople searching. At one point in the film, she notices she is in the obituary section of the newspaper and is seen attending her own funeral. Despite this, the character still returns later in the picture, in another scene similar to the aforementioned one that is supposed to be relevant in someway and so on and so forth. A film is a terrible thing to waste, and Rohal unfortunately sacrifices humanity and commentary in The Guatemalan Handshake for oppressive weirdness and scenes with no clear purpose.

Starring: Katy Haywood, Ken Byrnes, Kathleen Kennedy, and Will Oldham. Directed by: Todd Rohal.

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