Reviews of Madeinusa and Ten Canoes
Since I wrote a preview for the festival’s Cinemedia sidebar, I became curious about many of the films, particularly the obscure ones we don’t often get the chance to see. This weekend, I caught two of the series’ selections: Madeinusa, filmed in Peru, and Ten Canoes, one of sidebar’s indigenous fare.
I brought an archaeologist friend who works in Peru with me to the Madeinusa screening on Friday morning, to get a bit of an insiders’ perspective on the country (albeit a gringo insider). Not very many films come out of Peru, according to the Cinemedia curator Cristina Venegas, which made me even more curious.
Peruvian-born Claudia Llosa wrote, directed, and produced this drama, her first feature film. It’s been capturing attention around the fest circuit, where it received accolades at the Sundance, Tribeca, and Edinburgh, among other film fests. While beautifully shot, poignant, well-acted, and compelling, the film (whose making-of film is below) has a dark face, as the main subjects are those uncomfortable themes we’d often like to forget: incest, murder, blame, lust, theft, debauchery, and jealously.
These are themes God would also like to stay away from viewing, and in the story, he does. The film centers around the “Holy Time,” the interval between Jesus’s death on the cross on Good Friday and his Easter Sunday resurrection and the ensuing religious celebration in a remote, high plateau Peruvian village. Madeinusa, the name of the conflicted protagonist, is the young girl whose sexual awakening takes place when God is dead. This is the ceremonial time when Jesus’s likeness is removed from the church. Since God is not looking, the villagers enter a time of sanctioned chaos, when women choose their sexual partners, young virgins could be deflowered by their father, and chaos and revelry ensue. An old man with a flip chart serves as the clock, counting minutes in the time square.
Outsiders, even Peruvians from the city of Lima, are suspect and not welcome. This is both for the villagers’ comfort and the strangers’ safety. In confusion, people often seek scapegoats, an unhappy fate for the one so named. In the film, Salvador, played by Carlos de la Torre, is a geologist hitching a ride to a mountain mine, who becomes stranded for the weekend in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range village. Initially locked up (for everyone’s protection, including his own), he ventures forth to enter the chaos and becomes entangled in the life of Madeinusa. Story has it that the actress who played the title role, Magaly Solier, was discovered by Llosa in a marketplace. A highland resident, this was her first acting role, one she portrayed chillingly well. Her father was played by Peruvian comic Ubaldo Huaman, convincing and sometimes creepy. Not for the faint of heart, Madeinusa explores the darker secrets from which we want God to turn his head.
There is only one more screening of this film: Wednesday, January 31, Metro 4, at 7 p.m.
Ten Canoes (opening sequence below), directed by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr, takes us to the other side of the world, the Australian outback, in an indeterminate time of aboriginal history. Alternately funny and tragic, and sometimes both at once, this rambling tale is told by an older brother to a younger, while on a hunting trip.
The story of the hunting trip itself — as we follow the men strip bark, build canoes, venture into the swamp, and hunt geese and geese eggs — is a visual feast. The black and white imagery and the sing-song tale-telling of the eldest brother transport us to the outback. As we segue back and forth from one story to the other, we glimpse the interrelationships among families. The older brother in both stories supports three wives, the youngest of which is admired by his unmarried younger brother.
Hidden glimpses and jealous glances, warriors positioning themselves among other villages, and the ubiquity of sorcery all play a role in the stories. We’re left with a wry resolution at the end, with the thought that the story continues.