Madeinusa

11/08/2009

Peru / 2006 / Quechua & Spanish

Directed by Claudia Llosa

With Magaly Solier, Carlos de le Torre, Yiliana Chong

Still from 'Madeinusa'High in the mountains of Peru, a small village is preparing for the most auspicious festival of the year. In the time between Good Friday and Easter, according to local custom, God is not watching and everyone in the village shakes off their inhibitions regarding sex. The women are allowed access to the partner of their choice for this one night. Madeinusa, a young woman, is participating in a contest to find the virgin of the year, who will play the part in the town’s procession. As a matter of custom as well, her father, the town’s mayor, will take the title of Virgin away form her, both figuratively and literally, at nightfall. Her sister Chale, who flips the pages of fashion magazines from Lima with painted fingernails, is upset when Madeinusa is chosen over her. But, her father assures her ominously, “it will be you next year.”

The village is so isolated that motor transport comes but once a week, provided by a talkative truck driver called the Mute. In the midst of the festivities arrives a traveling stranger from Lima, named Salvador. An urbanite now in a culture rather foreign to his own, he is content to watch the proceedings and take photographs, finding himself drawn to Madeinusa, who is dressed by her fellow women and enters the parade, vacant and festooned. The mayor, suspicious of the stranger’s presence, immures Salvador in a barn so that the holiday can continue without interruption. Although she is the center of peoples’ attention, Madeinusa manages to steal away and talk to Salvador, eventually entertaining notions of leaving town with him once the truck returns to the village. Madeinusa gives no thought to the city or its superficial lure, until Salvador arrives. Her bitter sister sweeps the man out of the house with her rural woman’s broom. If their roles were reversed, if Chale had been chosen as the town’s virgin and become the subject of Salvador’s gaze, she would be doubly enthusiastic to leave with him.

The ceremony following the observance of Christ’s death is enacted with a literalism (Madeinusa dressed as the Virgin, a Christ mannequin taken down and paraded from within a glass coffin) that is jarring to the secular viewer. The high degree of ornamentation assumes a deeply poetic sheen in the harsh isolation of the Andes. Variously illuminated and squalid background elements make the strangely uninflected human foreground especially moving. Viceregal and weary, its poverty laced with pageantry, everything here exists in a fog of ritual, both in social construct and natural course. The morning mountain solitude is parted by an old woman’s lachrymose song. Madeinusa is of a type of film so crowded with site-specific details that, even though relatively little happens in a narrative sense, a great deal has transpired onscreen. It is at once busy and virtually static.

Still from 'Madeinusa'There is a strong temptation to group Llosa’s work with that of such contemporaries as Sergei Dvortsevoy and Lisandro Alonso. Although not, like the latter, a minimalist, the strength of her art is built on de-emphasis. And like both of those filmmakers, she effectively inserts herself and her crew into an existing environment and among a group of people, proceeding to show, quite meticulously, the interaction between characters and place that occurs. While not a documentarian, she retains a degree of artistic removal that holds the people at a distance in spite of the story’s inherent melodramatic underpinnings, looking at them as components of the landscape.

The cinematography of glairy highlights coupled with grimy shadows, reminiscent of the bleach-bypass method so popular in modern film development, actually manages to look quite good here – at least when shed upon the townspeople’s January-blasted countenances, their bright rags, and the solitary brokenness of their material culture. Director Llosa especially revels in the cluttered, baroque qualities of the latter, while always sure to keep the distant, icy mountains in her line of sight. Elegant and earthy, warm and deeply wounded, her study of morality in the context of stultifying cultural norms points to a darkness behind the shrouds of human values that will, given the chance, consume the religious or familial without hesitation. The title character is hoping to ultimately escape the hypocrisy of the town’s male establishment. But in transgressing her beliefs only when the back of the almighty is turned, she reveals that the shackles keeping her in her cultural confines are steadfast.

The ending exposes the film’s cynical core, supporting the title character’s conceit that going to the city will mollify her torment, as though it were somehow a solution to her reality. Perhaps, although it isn’t made very clear, it is her mother whom she is chasing, a woman who left the village long ago for the big city. Flight from her life of toil and powerlessness, of her sister’s indifference and her father’s incestuous advances, while attainable, defies any possibility of a clean break. The ties are simply too thick, too gnarled. It is ironic that the character with the perspective to know better is the morally stunted Salvador, who blunders through the inner lives of the village’s inhabitants, unsure of what to make of what he sees, ultimately trapped by circumstance in a mire at the edge of the human landscape. He warns Madeinusa, whose world extends no further than the bounds of her village of Manayaycuna, that the city will drive her mad. Is it madness different from the one she now suffers in silence? Is it any better?

Still from 'Madeinusa'After the last firework has sighed and gone out, Salvador spends a brutally cold night in the forest, away from his gentle captors. He musters the empathy to reach out and help Madeinusa but at this point she has already violently freed herself from her ties to family and village. In a sense he has lost her to the city before they have even the chance to escape the countryside.

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3 Responses to “Madeinusa”

  1. hgerechter said

    What about the curiously ironic title? or is it a reference to the Godard film?

    • chaiwalla said

      While it could be referring to Godard… my take on it is that she was named by her mother, who does not appear in the film and has been absent for years. Madeinusa’s name (“Made in U.S.A.”) is an expression of her mother’s yearning for the city and all that it has to offer. That it is her name makes it more or less her destiny to follow this path.

  2. Indranil said

    Very well-written and perceptive review. Congratulations.

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