Jayro Bustamente’s debut feature Ixcanul was, in my opinion and the public’s opinion, the best movie this year in Toulouse. Bustamente showed us the lives of a Mayan Indian family working on a coffee plantation in Guatemala, situated at the foot of an active volcano. Young Maria and her parents pray to God that the volcano may sleep and “save us from eruption”. Eruption means the devastation of the plantation and loss of shelter for this small community.
Maria’s only chance to change her life is through marriage to a man with similar aspirations. Maria’s mother prepares her daughter to meet with the candidate’s family – everything is arranged in advance, rather than according to Maria’s choice. The marriage ceremony and wedding are planned for the following year, since Maria’s fiancé wants to go to the US, a lucky country where everyone speaks English and enjoys electricity 24 hours a day!
The movie leaves us with some questions. Educated people from large cities may not have much empathy for the people of this community, regarding them as primitive illiterates since they speak only dialect and do not know the official language. But Bustamente shows us that this small society has its dignity, dreams, and a belief in God with the shadow of Catholic bigotry. Ixcanul reflects on human destiny.
In 1960 Orson Welles paid tribute to Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine (1946): “The camera disappeared, the screen disappeared; it was just life”. We can make the same comment about Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, Semih Kaplanoglu’s Milk (2008) and Honey (2010), and Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). Today, I suggest we pay the same tribute to Ixcanul.
In an album edited for the famous exhibition “The Family of Man”, presented at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1955 and abroad, I found a prologue written by the American poet Carl Sandburg. Part of the text of his poem is as follows:
There is only one man in the world
and his name is All Men.
There is only one woman in the world
and her name is All Women.
There is only one child in the world
and the child’s name is All Children.
For me – as, I hope, for other viewers – it is the same. There is only one family from Ixcanul in the world and its name is All Families.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2015