Country: Guatemala, France
Language: Maya, Spanish
Director/Writer: Jayro Bustamante
Music: Pascual Reyes
Cinematography: Luis Armando Arteaga
María Mercedes Coroy
A curio from Guatemala, director Jayro Bustamante’s first feature has the exclusive advantage of whetting our appetite by transferring us to a volcano-side village (the title Ixcanul means “volcano” in Maya), where dwells a nuclear Mayan family of farmhand Manuel (Antún), his wife Juana (Telón) and their nubile 17-year-old daughter Maria (Mercedes Coroy).
Maria is arranged to get married to a much older widower Ignacio (Lorenzo), with the fringe benefit that may sustain the family’s livelihood, but that is not what her heart wishes for, as corny but inevitable as it is, USA is the beacon that beckons for a better life (with Mexico standing in the way), and Bustamante patiently carves out a quiet quest of Maria’s own inchoate sexuality, from watching the copulation of rum-addled pigs, to the conduct of frottage with a bole, and finally comes across with the local boy El Pepe (Marvin Coroy), hoping that he will be her savior to spirit her away to that dreamland, which is dashed pretty soon and what is more problematic is that she is up the spout when he vanishes from her life.
The family’s backward environs and quotidian husbandry has a time-effacing effect that at first glance, one cannot tell what is the story’s temporal setting. Only later, through a glance of a modern road, cars and the mentioning of cellphones, we twig it is in the present time, but the sheer discrepancy between the family’s rustic life and the urban civilization (not just the language barrier, Guatemala’s official language is Spanish) starts to state an aggrieved point when the plot thickens, accident is derived from numinous customs, a modern hospital can save lives but also has no scruples about divesting a mother of her infant baby in exchange of material interest, and Bustamante masterfully elicits the complicity with commendable presence of mind, it is not until near the end one can suss that both Manuel and Ignacio are in the know, for their selfish reasons, the arrangement is a win-win halfway house, which, only counterpoints the thicker-than-blood mother-daughter bond between Juan and Maria, both first-time actresses illumine their characters with an unforced, obdurate quality that is totally untainted by any form of deliberation, especially a stout María Telón, shows incredible ranges with her tear-jerking wails and a sincere air of warmth.
A bullish rite-of-passage drama with its scathing critique to the anomie seeping into our society’s every nook and cranny, IXCANUL is so much more than just a piece of exotica on the eye level (unfamiliar music is sparsely measured out) because of its smoldering ambition and poignant felicity.