Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:06 pm 
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Growing pains

Bustamante's Ixcanul is a prize-winning ethnographic feature, classically simple and with handsome cinematography by Luis Armando Arteaga, that relies on indigenous non-actors to tell its story. ​The film​ digs into the side of a volcano in Guatemala​,​ among workers in a coffee plantation, taking up intense issues if without quite knowing how to resolve them. These are Kaqchikel people, who speak their own indigenous language, in which "ixcanul" means volcano. Some aren't educated at all and don't speak Spanish; in moments of ​critical​​ contact with the outside​,​ the lack of communication is poignant.

The unfolding narrative involves naivety and bad judgment among the principals. A 17-year-old girl called Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) chooses to lose her virginity with a young man she likes, called El Pepe (​the slightly rakish ​Marvin Coroy) even though she's recently been betrothed to Ignacio (​a more stolid and boring ​Justo Lorenzo), the overseer who hands out the pay checks. And then she gets pregnant. Her ally​ in facing this disasater​ is Juana, her mother (María Telón). Their intimacy is comforting, as we see in ​repeated​ shared steam bath​s​, but Juana​ doesn't act much more wisely. She prompts Maria to try folk methods of abortion, like jumping off rocks. ​ But Maria does this only half-heartedly. Maybe she'd like to have El Pepe's baby: she'd like to run off with him​ and begs her to take her​. But he runs off by himself, presumably to the US, which he imagines ​with native optimism ​as just on the other side of the volcano; Mexico doesn't count.

There is a problem of snakes. ​Unexpectedly, they begin to​ infest the hillside and make it impossible to cultivate corn​, an essential to the family​. Juana, Maria, and their husband and father Manuel (Manuel Antún) try to find solutions to that. When Ignacio comes by with a census taker he sees what has happened, that Maria is pregnant, and is cold, quickly withdrawing. If they can't get rid of the snakes, they'll have to pick up stakes and move somewhere else​, and going with an unmarried mother won't be easy​. Maria gets the idea that since her mother has told her pregnant women are magical, she can ward off the snakes​ by the aura given off by her body​. This leads to many complications.

Bustamante's film is disarmingly simple and direct, achieving an economy of effects in both the images and editing, yet maintains a sense of complexity and mystery​ - ​​so much ​s​o​ that he​ turns out to have ​a better sense of how to set up issues than to resolve them​. ​U​ltimately it's a little harder than it should be​ to relate to either the issues or the people. But the cast have presences, and some of the scenes come to vivid life. A promising debut.

Iscanul/Volcán, 93 mins., debuted at the Berlinale in 2015 and has shown at at least 29 international festivals the same year, including Lonton, Telluride, and Toronto. Theatrical release in the Netherlands and France in 2015. AlloCiné press rating 3.5. English language reviews have been great: Metacritic rating 83%. US theatrical release 19 August 2016.

​Confirmed Theatrical Engagements and Screenings:
Santa Fe, NM: Center For Contemporary Arts Santa Fe - Opens August 12
New York, NY: IFC Center - Opens August 19
Omaha, NE: Film Streams, September 6, 2016
Los Angeles, CA: Laemmle Monica 4-plex - Opens August 26
San Francisco, CA: Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema - Opens August 26
Washington DC: Landmark E Street Cinema - Opens August 26
Berkeley, CA: Landmark Shattuck Cinemas - Opens August 26
Edina, MN: Landmark Edina Cinema - Opens August 26
Miami, FL: Coral Gables Art Cinema - Opens September 9
Oxnard, CA: Oxnard Film Society - September 19
Denver, CO: Denver Film Society - September 22
Chicago, IL: Gene Siskel Film Center, December 10 and 13

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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