Ixcanul: a film with the power of a volcano

By Diana Pastor

Rarely after watching a film do I feel encouraged to say that the movie was great, unless it manages to meet my rather strict criteria for qualifying to deserve such praise. Coming out of the cinema after watching Ixcanul, however, was most definitely one of those times. Like a volcano that slowly builds in pressure, Ixcanul (which is the name of the volcano next to which the movie is set) is a vibrant story that has caused major eruptions for contemporary Guatemalan cinema.

Ixcanul is a different kind of production to many other Guatemalan films of recent years in several respects. Firstly, the emphasis of the story is on everyday life. This does not make the plot seem insignificant, however. Quite the contrary: by using an ordinary story focusing on everyday lives that are similar to those lived by many Guatemalans, the film was able to make a piece of cinema that manages to engage the viewer through its deeper meaning and its  beautiful unfolding.

This film, directed by Jaime Bustamante and produced by the production house Tu Vas Voir Productions, tells the story of Maria, a young Mayan kakchiquel of 17 years who lives with her parents on a coffee plantation on the banks of a volcano named Ixcanul (which is actually the Pacaya volcano, located on the border between the departments of Guatemala and Escuintla). Maria wants to escape an arranged marriage and simultaneously discover what lies beyond the volcano, dreaming of the wonders that lie beyond her small and isolated village. A series of characters revolve around the life of Maria, who live an odyssey between the struggle to change their destiny and facing the destiny that life has determined for them.

Besides the story, which we won’t spoil for you here, there are other elements that make Ixcanul a rather special experience. The film is shot almost entirely in kakchiquel and therefore the authenticity of the characters’ acting is outstanding. Also, the plot is based on a mixture of real-life stories that were recounted to the director by his mother, who worked in several villages of Lake Atitlan over the course of many years. On the other hand, the film’s photography is both exquisite and explosive, due to the fact that the Guatemalan landscapes presented in it are presented as exuberantly as they are in reality.

It’s worth pointing out that no other Guatemalan film in history has won as many international awards as Ixcanul. Guatemalan cinema may still be in its infancy, but the arrival of Ixcanul can only signal better times ahead for the industry.

Ixcanul is currently competing with other films to be selected as one of the shortlisted films for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Here in Guatemala, we’re hoping the film makes the cut so it can continue to receive the recognition it most definitely deserves.


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