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Spanish Film Festival starts strong with ‘Ixcanul’

This weekend, the Spanish Film Festival kicked off with a showing of Ixcanul, an award-winning film made by Jayro Bustamante. Ixcanul, which translates to volcano, follows the life of a seventeen year old girl named María as she is coming of age. At the beginning of the movie it is revealed that María is being forced into a marriage she doesn’t want. María and her family are Kaqchikel, the remaining Mayan people who live in Guatemala. Ixcanul is the first movie to be made in the Kaqchikel language, a feat that earned the film the honor of being Guatemala’s submission to the Academy Awards.

For a film with little Spanish and no English, Ixcanul is surprisingly easy to understand. María and her family live on a volcano, which they depend on for life. Every day is planned out and dependent on them being able to farm on the side of this volcano. The Kaqchikel people have very little interaction with the outside world because of language and culture differences, and María’s family is only connected to the outside world through the family that sells her family’s goods.The outside world is considered a threat to this small community because technology is foreign to them. María’s father went as far as to say, “The foremen have cell phones, they talk,” to imply that because they have cell phones they cannot be trusted. This film does a phenomenally good job explaining the real world problems of living the way that María and her family do.

Ixcanul highlights several issues in the Spanish-speaking world. The film talks about how the Mayans see the United States, and it focuses on the deeply-flawed image that we present to the rest of the world. Bustamante shows this through Pepe, a farm boy who wants to escape to America for the electricity and the fruit that is already peeled. Ixcanul narrows in on the issues of consent in both marriage and sex and the contradiction between vulgar and pure that is presented as normal. Additionally, the viewer is able to see the problems of living in such an isolated way; there are dangerous animals, long travelling distance to get to the hospital, a severe lack of sexual education, intentional miscommunications between spanish-speakers and the Kaqchikel people, and little to no resources to help them in the main city.

The amazing and complicated plot put together by Bustamante would amount to nothing without the outstanding acting portrayed by María Mercedes Coroy as MaríaManuel Antún as Manuel, María’s father, and María Telón as Juana, Marías mother. Their acting made the movie real, I believed everything that came off the screen because it was performed with such clarity. I was certain it could not have been scripted. Together they weave the heartbreaking story of María in a way that makes the viewer feel like they are there.

The film’s gorgeous cinematography only added to this feeling of realism. Every frame was clear cut and beautiful, and through this Bustamante was able to heighten the presence of imagery and symbolism in the film.

Ixcanul is wonderfully heartbreaking, and leaves me with more questions than answers. The film was an excellent start to the Spanish Film Festival, despite featuring very little Spanish, because it brought real problems facing the Latin American world into startling focus, in a way that cannot be ignored.

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