When it comes to being perceptive, I’m fairly sure that we would all like to think that we are able to spot the subtleties in any given communicative piece of work.
After seeing Ixcanul Volcano, I found myself slightly embarrassed that it was only in later discussion, that a friend was quick to point out the glaringly obvious metaphor: that there was no better setting for the story of a young woman wishing to escape an arranged marriage and the volatile series of events that follow, than that of a community at the base of a volcano.
I do however feel that this small faux pas speaks of the depth and scope evident in this film. I can easily blame the beautiful visual scenery, intuitive performances and fantastic ease of storytelling as key factors drawing me in—leaving my mind with little time to actively think—but rather, just experience.
Ixcanul Volcano is the first feature film of director Jayro Bustamante, set in the region of the Kaqchikel Maya on a coffee plantation at the base of a volcano in Guatemala. The film came about as a result of a very organic process where Bustamante—who grew up in the region and returned to make his film—held a number of discussion groups and workshops where locals were able to tell their stories, which later, provided the inspiration for the film.
Most notably, the stories of many of the women spoke of a sense of disempowerment, poverty, and being subject to the abuse of human rights.
From the opening scene you would be hard-pressed not to be taken by Maria Mercedes Coroy who plays 17-year-old Maria. In her first ever role in a film production, her gentle beauty and soulful depth leads you to quickly empathise and foster a vested interest in the fate of her character. Maria’s words are sometimes few, but she is effortless in expressing the range of emotions felt by a young girl trapped by circumstance; lacking in the freedom to choose her own destiny and forced to marry a man that she does not love, for the sake of her family’s future.
“I feel like the Volcano” – Maria
“You have the light of life inside you” – Juana
Maria Telón takes the role of her mother Juana, coming from a background of community theatre and women’s rights activism, she is the polar opposite to her on-screen daughter. From her quiet, busy fussing to her streams of lively chatter and laughter, she is a paradox of disposition: boisterous, yet gentle and nurturing; stern, yet compassionate. In comparison to her daughter, she is a woman who has made the cards that she has been dealt in life, work for her.
It is the relationship between these two women that lies at the heart of this film.
Maria is young, desperate and reckless in her attempts to escape to a different life, and Juana, an ever practical woman who despite her daughters misguided and troublesome choices—along with the hardships and tribulations of rural life in South America—ever searches to find solutions to her family’s problems, wanting nothing less than their health and happiness.
Ixcanul Volcano tells a simple, yet expansive tale of contradictions. Women who are at once full of life and spirit, and yet, are not free: caught between superstition, tradition, necessity, and that of progress, and the hope for a better future.
A simple, yet expansive tale of contradictions.