A Secret In The Box

in 19th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Isaac León Frías

Unanimously, the FIPRESCI jury of BAFICI 2017 chose to give the critics’ award to A secret in the box (Un secreto en la caja), an Ecuadorian film directed by Javier Izquierdo. It is a movie that is difficult to rate; to a foreign or uninformed viewer the film looks like a documentary – I mean, it tells the story of a writer who belonged to the boom, anLatin American literary stream that grouped important authors like Gabriel García Marquéz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes. The writer, Marcelo Chiriboga, wrote a very influential novel, La línea imaginaria, set during a border war between Ecuador and Peru in 1941, reflecting on Ecuador’s past and present, their conflicts with Peru and other topics.

There is archive material (among others, images from the 1941 war and the 1948 Ambato earthquake), interviews with specialists and Marcelo Chiriboga’s relatives and friends, visits to places he lived and a television program where Chiriboga is interviewed in a studio. I mean, it builds a solid structure around the character that is the object of the documentary.

However, with minor references it is known that Marcelo Chiriboga did not exist and that it was Carlos Fuentes and José Donoso’s decision to “invent” an Ecuadorian writer who belonged to the boom. From there, every argument supporting the alleged existence of that writer falls apart. Therefore, we stand in front of a mockumentary in which, by the way the interviews are staged and a great deal of information is made up, has only ‘documentary footage’ from film or video sources.

But, it is a very convincing mockumentary: it elaborates upon the reflection between the ironic and dramatic role of the writer in an underdeveloped country, as well as showing the weaknesses and fears of different historic events among them, and the tensions with a neighbouring country in south America. In other words, knowing that it is a staged documentary and calling the bluff plotted make A secret in the box witty, with a variety of shades and a sense of humor. The result is one of the best mockumentaries ever made in the Latin American region.

Edited by Tara Judah