This fascinating drama takes its audience into a culture few of us will ever experience. Ixcanul means volcano and the film takes place in a village that is just on the edge of an inactive one in the mountains of Guatemala. A family lives there cut off from the modern world, speaking Kaqchikel, the ancient language of the indigenous Mayans. The few times they interact with the outside world they mistakenly trust a translator with an agenda to tell them what was said in Spanish. Though it is mainly a coming of age story of the central character Maria, it is also a tale of the divide between the powerful and the powerless, and a starkly written and beautifully shot enthnography of a mysterious place out of time with the world. It is probably too slow for many people (Mainstream Chick, I’m talking to you), but I was taken with it. And it’s Guatemala’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film.
The opening scenes are of teenage Maria being readied for her engagement to Ignacio, the rich and powerful owner of the coffee plantation that the locals all work on. Her family welcomes this match since it will assure their future is secure. But Maria is pining away for fellow peasant Pepe, and plans to run away with him to America. And one night she sneaks out to prove her love to him, messing up everyone’s plans for her future. Her impetuous nature is part of her that she cannot help. And it nearly gets her killed. I don’t want to ruin the surprises along the way, but it is heart-rending drama worth seeing.
The actors are all untrained indigenous people and I loved them all, especially the mother. Her scenes with Maria are among the most honest and loving mother/daughter moments I’ve ever seen. See Ixcanul for that alone. But also for the story of a brave girl trying her hardest to escape her inevitable circumstances in a totally inhospitable world.