Ixcanul (2016)

Directed by Jayro Bustamante
Country: Guatemala / France

Carrying the evocative colors of a folk tale, “Ixcanul” is the title of the wonderful debut feature from Jayro Bustamante, who completely absorbs our attention not only through the genuine characters and their deep emotions but also with the beauty of the location and the culture associated with the story.
The odd word ‘Ixcanul’ means volcano in Kaqchikel, the dialect spoken by the decreasing Mayan families that inhabit the surroundings of the Guatemalan coffee plantation located near an active volcano. On one side of the volcano, the one we can see, there is hard work and poverty, while on the other, there’s the US, where hope and dreams are real.

The film starts by introducing a family of three – Manuel (Manuel Antún), Juana (María Telón), and their 17-year-old daughter Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) - who keep surviving the difficulties with, at least, some work available and some food on the table. The perspectives of doing even better arrive with Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), the plantation’s foreman who became a widower and now wants to marry Maria.
The families meet and the marriage is arranged. However, the blossoming Maria couldn’t refrain her sexual impulses before the wedding day. Willingly, she gives herself, not to her future husband but to Pepe (Marvin Coroy), a local young man who drinks too much and plans to escape to the US. His promises to take her with him seem to grow solidly in her mind, but the sad reality is that Maria is left behind, pregnant.

Juana, in a stern yet caring way, persuades the disoriented girl to get rid of the fetus, but after a few failed attempts, they conclude that it’s better to give up this idea since the baby’s destiny is to live.
Still, the tragedy will pursue this family and the drama attains its climax with a disturbing sincerity and a fervent agitation.

The non-professional actors were superb, and not for once I suspected from the realness of the tale. Their profound intimacy while performing helped the already competent direction of Mr. Bustamante, who was also gifted with the vivid widescreen cinematography by Luis Armando Arteaga.
"Ixcanul" won the Alfred Bauer award at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival and was the first film Guatemalan film to be submitted to the Academy Awards.