by Jaime Grijalba.
There’s a sort of cinema that is filled with apparent good and honest intentions, specially when it comes to the idea of the countryside or the populations that are less privileged in comparison to the rest that live in the same territory. This is usually reserved to films about indigenous populations that still live in America, those that strive to make a cultural mark in the landscape of the place in which they no longer have the voice or the power that they once had. Sure, it’s valuable to put their struggles and their language and culture in the forefront of certain cinema, but when it isn’t made by the communities themselves, it’s time to maybe take a step back and wonder if the uncompromising point of view is actually that, specially if the almost foreigner look actually helps and if the portrayal is accurate.
In the particular case of ‘Ixcanul’, the focus is the indigenous tribe of Guatemala, and a young woman that is being married by his family to a man that will achieve supposed success by traveling to the United States. She is also constantly connected to the nature that surrounds her, the animals, the trees, the wind and the nearby volcano that looms over every wide shot of this film. In more than a couple of ways, it overstates the presence and importance of nature to the people that live there, and while being ritualistic, it kinda only understands them through that notion as if they were savages that couldn’t know better. That ignorance is played all the way through the end, where the deceive of the protagonist and her family drives the main conflict of their relation to the Spanish speakers from Guatemala, specially regarding the way that they take advantage of a knowable language barrier.
There’s a beautiful use of light, color and the overall cinematography is alright, but it serves only in the concept of bonding with nature, and how those elements are used for a symbolic telling of a social construct and issue that undermines the overall experience. The volcano with its warmth and presence represent the maternity of the protagonist, the father figure chopping wood as if not to chop his own daughter, the hens and their eggs as a representation of motherhood that becomes truncated, and the greens as well as the reds that permeate everything. It all leads to an overall sensation that nevertheless never amounts to anything that would make it worth the effort and experience, as the motherhood elements don’t establish much else beyond the obvious. The only truly interesting aspect of this, and also saving grace, while also putting it in more mainstream and less interesting waters, is the character that plays with the language barrier problem.
A truly evil character that rips and scams his own family for his benefit, and it also serves as the way that the film delves into pressing and important social issues in today’s Guatemala, but most times than not, the ritualistic and mystical approach is mostly exploitative and deprives it from any emotion, while also positing its main character as someone with no true free will, which at some points could be an evidence of its social status, but when it comes down to the telling of this story, I truly wished that the liberation was the selected path, but alas it wasn’t, and thus made it immediately less interesting in my eyes.