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Natasa Barbara Gracner
María, a seventeen-year-old Mayan (Kaqchikel) girl, lives on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala. An arranged marriage awaits her, but her suitor must first spend months working in the city. It is a world María knows nothing of, but is forced to grapple with when problems arise.
Ixcanul is a cinematic chef-d'oeuvre that sheds light on the plight of many indigenous Guatemalans who suffer from almost unfathomable levels of economic, social, and political exploitation. The film has many heart-breaking moments where the powerlessness of the film's protagonists comes through in a way that feels deeply real and authentic. One of the most interesting aspects of this films is that it is the first feature film created in Kaqchikel, one of the many indigenous Mayan languages of Guatemala. The actors are all native speakers of Kaqchikel, and the filmmakers overcame significant difficulties to assemble the cast that they did. The fact that the actors are so inexperienced makes the film all the more incredible because it did not at moment seem faked, at least for me. I would also like to address some of the criticism that has been levelled at the film and the filmmakers. The problem of orthography, that the title uses a c instead of a k, following modern (instead of colonial) spelling conventions, seems like minutiae compared to all of the positive work the film does in raising awareness of many of the problems indigenous Guatemalans face on a routine basis. Many also say the film only reinforces stereotypes about indigenous peoples in Guatemala and in the Americas more broadly. In that for many people this film will be their first exposure to contemporary Mayans, there is a risk of Ixcanul becoming a single story that defines an entire people. But it is the choice of the spectator to determine whether or not he/she will extrapolate stereotypes about an entire people from the portrayal of one family in one village at one specific point in time. However, if you look beyond these somewhat valid criticisms, you will see a cinematic masterpiece that will make you look at the world in a different way.
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