Monday, November 19, 2007


El huerfanito posterEl huerfanito ("The Little Orphan") is another instance of a film from Peru's regions. Set and shot in Puno, by the shores of Lake Titicaca, it tells what are essentially three interconnecting stories.

In the first, a young boy from the countryside, Juanito, sees his mother die in childbirth and his father get sick. Sent to the city to sell the family produce and buy provisions and medicine, he is taken in by a card shark and gambles away all his money plus loses his donkey. Then he's given a job selling ices on the street, but is too shy to hawk his wares and so his merchandise gets ruined and melts. A couple of times he runs into a young boy from the city, Luchito, who is the protagonist of the second story. Luchito's father is a drunk who abuses his wife and children and puts little effort into his carpentry business, drinking away the pittance that he earns. As the mother is therefore forced to work on the streets, selling juice from a pair of plastic containers, Luchito is left mostly to his own devices. Then the third and least-developed story concerns an ex-con who returns to his old haunts and re-unites with his gang. They steal a car, get drunk, and carelessly run over a woman who turns out to be Luchito's mother.

El huerfanito stillThe stories come together in the film's finale as, in a bid to ensure that the mother dies rather than survives to inform on them, the gang recruits Juanito to make an exploratory foray into the hospital. There he meets up with Luchito and in tandem with both Luchito's father and the police they ensure that justice is done to the delinquents. But the outcome for each boy could not be more different: while Luchito's mother recovers and his father is shocked into being a good husband and father once again, Juanito returns to his rural community only to find out that his own father has died of a stroke in his absence.

The film's determinedly pedagogical aims could not be clearer. But just in case we miss them, the two young friends are shown conversing about the state of Peruvian society. Juanito declares: "A teacher at school used to tell me that 'You are the future of Peru.' But if they treat us as badly as they do, what future do we have?" Luchito responds: "How I wish that that we were happy, that life were different, that I were with my parents, with my father, my mother, my little sister, all of us happy... that they'd take us out to play, that we could laugh toegher, hug each other," responds Luchito. "How I wish that people would treat children well," continues Juanito. It is surely then rather superfluous for the director, Fernando Quispe, to tell us in interview that he believes that Peruvian society is "orphaned, its authorities absent."

One striking stylistic feature of the movie is the frequent use of point of view shots that place us directly in the position of characters as they either abuse or are abused by each other. The actors are constantly shown in close up speaking straight to the camera, and so straight to the spectator. The film's verbal and visual discourse alike seek therefore to interpellate its audience directly. And in this sense, rather strangely, unlike Sangre y tradición, El huerfanito does aspire to be a national, rather than simply a regional, film. It's no great surprise, then, that its director should complain also that the film industry has been "orphaned" by the state. Quispe wants to speak as a state, with the state, to a public that he imagines has to be educated, improved, and reformed. For "the people are bad," Luchito and Juanito agree. But they are not quite so bad that they cannot be redeemed, by a fully national cinema.

But this account loses sight of a more interesting subplot concerning two star-crossed lovers, one of whom is Juanito's elder sister Margarita. They make a break from authority, first on horseback then rowing away across the lake. Little more is seen of them until the very end of the movie, when the film-makers' logic requires that they be dragged back to serve as surrogate parents for young Juanito now that he is truly a "little orphan." But what if the film had lingered longer on their escape, rather than reterritorializing them, too, within the bounds of a renovated familial power structure?

YouTube Link: the movie's trailer.

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