By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
What most Americans, and roughly zero Trump supporters know is that economic immigration is far from a solely U.S. problem. Mexico’s southern border is subject to a perhaps even larger flood of immigrants from Central America with the U.S. in the sites but Mexico City a good enough Plan B. To many a Guatemalan, even a Juarez factory can seem a glamorous and profitable alternative to their current lives.
Ixcanul tells the story of Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy), a 17 year old who dreams of the “big houses with gardens” of the US, which her young lover Pepe (Marvin Coroy) tells her tales of, but who’s engaged to plantation foreman Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo). When she gets pregnant, she finds just how few options she really has to exert any measure of control over her own life.
What immediately grabs you about Ixcanul is the entirely unfamiliar milieu of Guatemalan agricultural workers- one maybe never captured on film. The plantation-set plot feels like another time, a lifestyle and language and culture-driven subjugation that’s barely changed since the Banana Republics of a century ago.
This casual indentured servitude is an unspoken backdrop to the almost ethnographic beginning of the film, in which we’re enveloped in this family’s lifestyle while Maria makes exactly the bad decisions you knew she would. However, there’s no bad decision she could make that would have quite the effect of the disturbingly prevalent way her government does, made easy by her lack of Spanish.
The ways in which the Spanish speakers mistranslate the Mayan family which are our protagonists is illuminating- sometimes for personal gain or to avoid trouble with the institutions which take horrific advantage without blinking an eye, sometimes just to avoid a more complicated conversation.
Sure, trusting you to handle all of our financial, health, and governmental interactions seems legit…
There are lots of shades of grey, like the actions of Ignacio, who could tear the family apart after Maria’s actions, but who seems to genuinely love her despite her clear lack of interest. Maria’s mother (Maria Telon), however, is the heart and soul of the film, raging against the machine and never wavering in her love for her daughter no matter how many bad ideas she has.
Finally, Director Jayro Bustamante definitely knows where to place his camera, and DP Luis Armando Arteago knows how to tease a perfectly lit image out of natural light and dim, winking electricity. These two are going to go far.
The script can be too deliberate; what plot there is takes until almost the end to develop. This is a slow one, particularly at the beginning.
Our lead actress, Maria Mercedes Coroy, is maybe a bit too non-pro, or was directed to do so, but her face just scowls or goes blank for practically the whole film. In the case of the gut-punch final shot, it’s perfect, but not necessarily for the preceding 80 minutes.
Seriously, this Google image search says it all.
Ixcanul, while at times on the slight side, becomes a heart-breaking, tragically realistic tale of how too much of our planet still operates.
Ixcanul (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for sex or sex jokes
Take a Drink: for dying animals
Take a Drink: for snakes
Do a Shot: for taking tree-hugging to the next level
Do a Shot: for rum-drinking pigs