Ixcanul Volcano – Berlinale 65
A low key coming-of-age drama that stands between the local Mayan traditions and their bleak impoverished lives. Debut feature film by Jayro Bustamante.
Jayro Bustamante with his debut feature film Ixcanul Volcano brings for the first time Guatemala to the Berlinale Competition. The director returns to the highlands where he spent his childhood and more precisely to the heart of a Kaqchikel Mayan community that lives closely to the eponymous volcano. Bustamante focuses on the tradition of his homeland and especially on the people that still feel and are abandoned by their compatriots.
Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy) is a 17-year-old Mayan girl that lives with her mother Juana (Maria Telon) and her father Manuel (Manuel Antun) at the foothills of a volcano. She and her father work in a coffee plantation. According to their traditions, her parents decide to engage her to Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo) who is the plantation’s supervisor. In that way she will have a prosperous life and they will continue to work there. Maria doesn’t agree on that and one night seduces Pepe (Marvin Coroy), a co-worker who is planning to immigrate to the USA. Despite her hopes, Pepe abandons her when Maria informs him that she’s pregnant. Now Maria has to face her own destiny and only her mother is there to help.
Fortunately Ixcanul is a low-key slow burned drama which is not another typical “local” film that usually appear in film festivals. Bustamante proves from his debut work that he is capable to create a quite realistic fable that is fascinating both narratively and visually. Even if Maria’s story initially seems quite farfetched, everything is based upon her exemplary character. Maria is presented as a furious teenage rebel who decides to go against her family and their strict rules. She needs to stand on her own feet and live her own life and her true first sexual experience. Furthermore she is ambitious and wants to abandon everything, more importantly the past, which keeps everyone in that poor situation. She also wants to explore the world and fight the ignorance that limits her future. Unfortunately Maria can’t rationalize her decisions or her needs. Even if she is using her pregnancy as a one-way ticket to the civilization, she can’t escape yet. For that reason Maria still needs to stay with her tribe.
On the visual aspect, Bustamante breaks another rule of the usual “third world postcard” and offers an almost Herzogian touch to Ixcanul. The almost austere documentaristic color palettes combined with the still shots enhance Maria’s presence. Since the director knows the Mayans and their customs, is not observing them as something new. He tries to keep his picture as precise as possible to Mayan tradition and inside their current situation. The bleak almost unrealistic to a western eye impoverished reality would be blended with magical rituals that have a history of centuries. Everything has a mystified touch, something that could make some scenes almost non-comprehensible. To enhance this extremely realistic approach, the director uses non-professional local actors who also only speak their Kaqchikel language. Obviously everything is build around Maria Mercedes Coroy’s robust performance and warm presence that dominates each scene and it is a noticeable unique discovery. It is quite justified how in her face Bustamante presents everything that divides her tribe with the rest of her compatriots.
Bustamante wants to emphasize how the Mayan populations seem foreign and exotic even to the Guatemalan society. With Ixcanul he wants to offer them that needed space to express themselves and more importantly to show them what really lies behind the volcano’s peak.