// Presented as part of July's Ecologies Series //
Jayro Bustamante / 2015, Berlin, AFI, Belize, Biarritz, Cartagena, FEST International Film Festival, FNC - Festival du Nouveau Cinéma Montreal, Ghent, Guadalajara, Lima, Molodist, Mumbai, NYT Critics' Pick, Oslo Films from the South, Philadelphia, Rotterdam, San Sebastián, São Paulo, Toronto / 93'
María, a 17-year-old Mayan girl, lives in the Guatemalan highlands. Each day she works alongside her parents on coffee plantations belonging to a local man, to whom she has been recently been betrothed in marriage. At night, however, María sneaks out to rendezvous with another boy her age who will soon depart on the perilous journey to the US border. Desperate to be taken along, María sleeps with and is soon abandoned by Pepe, left to deal with threats to both her pregnancy and her vanishing way of life at the base of the rumbling volcano.
Rooted in the quotidian rituals of Central America's indigenous communities, Ixcanul captures ecological cadences and ancient traditions in mesmerizing visual and sonic detail. Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante's debut feature premiered at Berlin, where it won the Alfred Bauer Award; Biarritz, where it won Best Film; Cartagena, where it won Best Film; FEST, where it won the Jury Prize for Best Debut; Guadalajara, where it won Best Film and Best Director; Lima, where it won Best Actress; Molodist, where it won Best Feature Film and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury; and Philadelphia, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Ixcanul is the only film to be made in the Kaqchikel Mayan language and Guatemala's first-ever submission to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
In an exclusive essay, Filmatique's Head Curator Ursula Grisham examines cinematic representation as political exposure, tracing modes of precariousness across indigenous, animal and ecological realms in Jayro Bustamante's debut film Ixcanul.
"[A] stunning debut for Bustamante—who spent many of his early years in the highlands of Guatemala—recalling Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent in its jarring juxtaposition of ancient and modern, though its realism renders its conclusion both less mythical and more universal than Guerra's film. Ixcanul isn't about the destruction of a way of life; instead, it posits that in all cultures, the strong prey upon the weak. As with a number of films from around the world this year, the feminist message is urgent: for a society to be just, women must be granted the freedom to make decisions about their futures"
"Guatemala's active Pacaya volcano is a symbol both of ancient traditions and modern threats in this absorbing, beautifully shot film about the consequences of a peasant girl's pre-marital pregnancy. First-time director Bustamante steers a steady course, mostly avoiding ethno-arthouse clichés by focusing on characters, especially the mother and daughter who are the sympathetic focus of this sensitive, male-directed women's film"
"A young Mayan woman finds herself at a crossroads between the ancient and modern worlds in Ixcanul Volcano, a transporting, hypnotically beautiful debut feature from Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante. A simple, fable-like movie made in close collaboration with a real Mayan farming community from the Guatemalan highlands, Bustamante's film is downright Herzogian… in its surfeit of physical detail, observed ritual and looming clash of civilizations"
"[Ixcanul's] visuals have a consistent, entrancingly classy depth and sheen thanks to the celluloid-like beauty of experienced DP Luis Armando Arteaga’s widescreen cinematography. Further deepening the sensory appeal of Ixcanul Volcano, farm-noises, indigenous music and the volcano’s near-incessant susurrant rumblings are conjured into an impressive, organic soundscape by sound-designers Eduardo Caceres and Julien Cloquet"
"In this landscape of rough, smoky terrain and ash-black soil, the mundane spectacle of a pig being brought into a pen to mate with a boar carries an obvious metaphor for the life of marriage and child rearing to which María has been assigned. No less fraught with meaning is an infestation of snakes on the plantation grounds, all but suggesting a toxic manifestation of the rampant forces that seek to keep these indigenous people in poverty and oppression, not least the language barrier that separates this Maya community from the broader Spanish-speaking world"
"Ixcanul is a beautiful film. Not only because of its amazing pictures of the volcanic Guatemalan landscape. And not only because it depicts the exotically traditional lifestyle of the indigenous protagonists with their rituals, which should fascinate many – especially western – viewers. Its particular beauty lies in showing the dignity the Mayan people have in spite of being marginalized, poor and uneducated"
- Katja Dombrowski, Film Review, Development and Cooperation
"Ixcanul is an arresting story about two strong indigenous women. Go see it"
"The most destructive villain in this year's summer movies isn't some super-powered fiend. It's us, the consumers of North America, whose desires shape the world. The U.S. looms over Jayro Bustamante's patient, observant, exquisitely painful debut feature Ixcanul, just as it looms over the Guatemalan coffee plantation in which Bustamante's humane drama plays out. The film, a work of tender long-take portraiture, centers on Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy), a Mayan teen betrothed to the plantation's distant overseer — and, more crucially, caught between her parents' traditional ways of living and a modern world that demands of her people something like indentured servitude"