Imagine you were told that for the next three days you could do as you pleased without any moral consequence. Madeinusa, Claudia Llosa‘s 2006 feature film debut and the darling of the festival circuit, does just that. Looking in on the fictional mountain town of Manataycuna over a period known as “Tiempo Santo” – the “Holy Time” between the crucifixion and the resurrection when God is supposedly (dead and) blind to the actions of the townspeople – Llosa explores the uncomfortable relationship between the marginalized indigenous peoples of the Andes, the traditions introduced by Spanish colonialism, and the desires fosted by the neo-colonialism of global commerce, present throughout but especially notable in the name of the film’s protagonist.

It’s a surprising film, in both its composition and its content. The way Llosa, the niece of writer and politician Mario Vargas Llosa, frames the (breathtaking) Peruvian landscape and the barely perceptible shifts in the  expression of Madeinusa (played by the gifted Magaly Solier) belie her limited experience behind the camera. And the twists and turns of the plot are definitely startling, if not entirely unexpected. Llosa also does a nice job of presenting the simultaneous internalization and perversion of Catholic doctrine, which forces the viewer to consider the conditions under which the faith was imposed on the region.

Still, the extreme to which Llosa takes the cheating, robbing, drinking and more of the festivities and the grim fate of the Lima ‘outsider’ who wanders into town (the film is not, as some have said, a love story) runs the risk of coming across less like an allegory of political disenfranchisement and reprisal than a cross between Fatal Attraction and Deliverance. Or maybe that’s just my own little bit of exaggeration. It really is a stunning film that maintains an impressive balance between what is said and what remains unspoken. If you’re in New York, it will be playing as part of the PeruFest film festival at NYU’s King Juan Carlos Center on Friday, April 16 (it’s also on Netflix on demand).

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