Saturday, November 17, 2007


Though Francisco Lombardi is undoubtedly Peru's most important director, Nilo Inga can legitimately claim to be the most important cineaste of Huáchac, indeed probably of the entire Junín region. Not, of course, that he faces all that much competition.

The growth of regional cinema in Peru is noteworthy, and is attracting some interest. Last month there was a colloquium on Cine cholo, and this month sees the first festival of independent cinema in the country. And Nilo Inga's Sange y tradición ("Blood and Tradition") features in both.

Inga's film provides what it promises, although there is more tradition than there is blood. Naturally enough, the special effects budget can hardly have been generous. But this is essentially a monster movie, about the Pishtaco, traditional bogeyman of the highlands. At the film's outset we meet Liz and Ramiro on a clandestine (but very chaste) encounter in the countryside. They are in love with each other, but perhaps even more with the place that they live: "Our town is marvelous," they breathlessly declare. But along with beauty there is also danger in the provinces. Before we know it, the pishtaco, a shadowy figure on horseback, has snatched and dismembered young Liz, and so Ramiro hides out with a friend in fear that the blame will attach to him.

Some time passes and so, remarkably, does the trauma. Ramiro soon finds himself a new girlfriend, who has been away from the town (presumably in Lima) but has returned briefly to catch up on old friends. All is going well enough, apart from the brooding presence of a guy called Julio who tries to hit on Ramiro's girl, leading to a scrap outside. But in general Ramiro seems to have got over Liz and her grisly demise. Which is presumably why her ghost decides to return to him, jog his memory, and demand vengeance.

So Ramiro organizes his friends, who are all part of the same local folk dance troupe, makes up with Julio who it turns out is surly only because he too has a traumatic past to avenge, and they set out to catch the pishtaco. Much running around later, the pishtaco is done in but so unfortunately is Ramiro. Before expiring, however, Ramiro urges his friends not to forget their traditions, for the sake of all the blood that has been shed in the community. The boys, tears running down their cheeks, promise solemnly to do what Ramiro says, and the next we see they're dancing to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, while the ghosts of Liz and Ramiro, hand in hand, look on approvingly.

In short, the film is more a curiosity than an aesthetic or narrative achievement, though the cinematography and editing are surprisingly competent. If you are were resident of Huáchac, or indeed anywhere else in Junín, you'd have reason to be very proud. And Inga himself shows no sign of letting his camera rest: he's just come up with another traditional monster tale, El tunche.

The upsurge in regional cinema is a correlative to the long-standing phenomenon, on another scale, of international co-productions. Big budget "name" directors like Lombardi are forced to rely on funds secured abroad; micro-budget enthusiasts such as Inga count on the new affordability of digital cameras and computer editing. Neither can expect the state to pick up the bill. Any strictly national cinema disappears. But we see from Sangre y tradición that Inga makes a virtue of his situation, and deliberately turns from Lima to Junín.

And in the end, to be killed by a Pishtaco is not the worst thing that can happen to you: the film's resolution is a happy one for Liz, as she is reconciled with Ramiro yet they both can still enjoy the spectacle of rural traditions from their ethereal perches neither completely of this world nor completely absent. No, the worst thing you can do is to abandon your hometown for the capital. Of Ramiro's new girlfriend we never get a second glimpse. She's discarded utterly from the plot, and the true revenge of the local is that her fate no longer interests us at all.

Video Link: the film's trailer.
Bonus Link: interview with the director.

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