Invitation to a Cursed Landscape

in 71st Berlinale – International Film Festival, Berlin

by Dieter Wieczorek

Berlinale’s Forum programs are well known for giving space to risk-taking films. Experimental, often complex forms, narratives rolling out in different directions, perturbing images that also challenge the concept of time can be found here. Esqui (Ski, 2021) by the Argentinian filmmaker Manque La Banca (born 1990 in Bariloche) takes this challenge and convinces. He not only arranges drifting aesthetic forces, but presents them in the frame in an elegant elliptic structure, creating a movement from different peripheries to a possible centre, also including an internal turning point which radically twists the narrative around. The result is an impressive impressionist work.

Starting with sequences about ski education, partly in slow loops, disturbed by image flashes from entirely different scenes but also marked by a permanent flickering and a partly distorted sound, the spectator feels immediately something is wrong in this harmless world. A dead body flowing in a mountain ditch opens up other expectations. Soon we see the body taken away by a man in a long cape on a sleigh. We hear phone calls with warning messages, that strange events are happening in a high mountain station. Finally we see a monster with red eyes appearing in nature. The wide panorama between smooth documentary, a crime scenario, and horror is opened up. More levels are added. Explicit sexual material, adolescents speaking about their life and work, children preparing for a trip in the ski region, and finally older Austrians talking about their first efforts to build up a ski industry in this Argentinian region, recalling many rumours that are circulating there. Then a child’s voice whispers the story about a monster living in the nearby mountain lake: Nahuel Trilque.


A voiceover inform us that Bariloche, in the south of Argentina, was just a small unknown town fifty years ago, and today it is well-known as the most important Latin American ski center. But something went wrong. We see the grave of a young man, a polical activist, followed by an aboriginal singing a ritual song in the mountain night.

Suddenly a young female voice off-screen blames the filmmaker for his contemporary film style, avoiding behaviourist representation. “If you don’t take a stand, you become an accomplice.” She describes black and white archive images, which now find their place in La Banca’s  structure. A socio-political context is set: the story of massacred and removed aboriginal people of this region, namely the Mapuche and Tehuelche people. To make space for commercial projects mostly arranged by European businessmen, accompanied by the right-wing government through its national Gendarmerie during Mauricio Macri’s term, native people were executed or turned into cheap workforces. Just three years ago further victims were found dead.

This expositional sequence again is followed without comment by images of a waterfall and the camera focused on a huge stone.

Manque La Banca places elements without contextualisation like open metaphors. But we can get hints about their meanings from the interview that followed his 2018 Berlinale-screened short film T.R.A.P. Here he points out that an activist captured by the state force was later thrown in a mountain creek to falsely suggest another cause of death. One possible origin of the disturbing monster is indicated here. In the same interview the sexual film sequence gets a possible context. Manque La Banca pronounces his conviction that political change only can take place together with a sexual liberation in his country. Sexual rules and taboos are one of the grounding forces of political aberrations.

Dieter Wieczorek
Edited by Robert Horton