With Madeinusa, young filmmaker Claudia Llosa has stormed into the building with a brash, accomplished, terrifying movie experience about a traveler stranded in a village just in time to experience a three-day festival ironically called “Holy Time.” He bears witness, as no stranger ever has, to a carnival of such untamed indulgence it makes Burning Man and Mardi Gras combined seem rather docile and buttoned-up. See, when this party is raging, God looks the other way. No judgment, no sins, no matter what, no questions asked.
The director was not personally in attendance at the Mill Valley Film Festival for the screening of her film, but sent on this elucidation of her thought process:
“Punishment has an important role to play in the Western view of sin, but it only exists when there is a condemned person to judge. But who creates these norms and why do we follow or transgress them? A different premise is presented in Madeinusa ; acceptance of a momentary absence of guilt, the judging eye, or better still, the permission of God/father.
“But the most interesting thing for me about this film was to understand the cathartic and liberating relevance of a people who are able construct a new self esteem based on an absence of fear and humiliation.”
The town of Manacayuna, Peru, as presented by Llosa, is the kind of place David Lynch or Oliver Stone might shudder and shy away from. It is a village of the damned that M. Night Shayamalan either wishes he could or would not dare attempt summon to screen. The psychodrama that occurs in might scare off David Cronenberg. The territory visited in the cinema of Madeinusa conjures association to legendary, and bold figures like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese, even Orson Welles.
Allow this to be explained as such:
Alfred Hitchcock's haunting masterpiece Vertigo took twisted perversion to a sexual tension level that at that time the Master could only allude to, not yet cross. Perhaps his boldness was reborn into the soul of the makers of this movie; for the pure gut-wrenching angst that pervades the film from fade-in to fade-out is a masterful manifestation of cinematic suspense. The feature length allows the narrative and characters to slowly reveal their appearance like a fresh Polaroid shot, which incidentally plays a role in the story. The languid and static camera work defies the Hollywood assumption that kinetic frames and jarring edits are a must in order to generate fear and anxiety. The stillness, vibrant colors and heavily shadowed cinematography allow the camera to loiter and let the viewer ponder the visual imagery at a comfortable pace leaving the plot to induce discomfort. Hitchcock would have been proud of this calculated visual psychology.
A young man from Lima finds himself stranded in a village just in time bear witness to festivities no stranger could understand. The town develops from sleepy and charming into a perverse, almost nightmarish carnival like that of a Federico Fellini town, but in a dark genre he never explored.
The viewer is transported to a subculture where the sexual taboos of Western Society, as explored by Stanley Kubrick in Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut, stalk every hauntingly composed frame. Yet, unlike Eyes Wide Shut, deviants wear no masks and act freely, without fear of being exposed to judgment. And like the gangs of Clockwork, raw forms of unrestrained human sexuality are presented and acted upon.
This flick is HEAVY, with a capital H all the way on through Y. If Pink Floyd's The Wall worked as a mindbender or Terry Gilliam's take on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas distorted reality, well yeah they did, but neither as sublimely as Madeinusa.
Themes of Catholic guilt and redemption are exposed to the extremity of the concept. Most glaringly, the convention of cleansing sins no matter how vile, and how all that is tied together in ritual jog memories of Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro's dynamics in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.
The Legendary Welles sneaks into the premise on account of his exploration of virtuoso villainy and sleazy taboos in one of the greatest of noir masterpieces, Touch of Evil. The mayor of Manayaycuna in Madeinusa eerily resembles Welles' heinously pasty, demented, yet mystifyingly revered town sheriff Hank Quinlin. The mayor is granted unrestrained psychological control of the citizenry and believes that he acts in their best interests. His whimsical lunacy, sleazy leadership and sweaty cunning, drive the madness of the rural village he serves. Yet, he is just the latest guardian of an ancient town's unique morality. The Andes' fierce mountain range is used as a reminder of this tiny society's isolation from modern attitudes of big city life.
All that being said . . . Typical components of the scary/suspense movie genre are easy to identify in the story: A traveler/stranger, virgins, enigmatic characters who seem both decent and evil, the aforementioned squalid Mayor, a bleating pig, requisite Jesus-on-the-Cross imagery, stuff like that.
None of that takes away from the pure, delightful discomfort this movie causes over its solidly measure course. The powerhouse performance from Magaly Solier as the beautiful, enigmatic Madeinusa and, of course, the exceptional directing by Llosa should haunt their way to much admiration, even awards.
Distributor: Film Movement
Cast: Magaly Solier, Yiliana Chong, Carlos Juan De La Torre, Juan Ubaldo Huaman
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Claudia Llosa
Genre: Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: TBD