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CANNES 2009 Critics’ Week / Belgium

Life and death in Altiplano

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Life and death in Altiplano

Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens made an impressive Cannes debut today when they presented their second narrative feature Altiplano [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in Critics’ Week. This lyrical and bold Belgian/German/Dutch co-production confirms the originality of the directors who won the Lion of the Future Award at Venice 2006 for Khadak [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jessica Woodworth
interview: Jessica Woodworth
film profile
]
.

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In the village of Turubamba in Peru’s Altiplano, a remote area of the Andes, a statue of the Virgin Mary breaks during a procession. Braving threats in Iraq, a Belgian photographer takes a snapshot of her local guide’s execution. This ambitious film opens amidst the turmoil of the contemporary world’s borders, with the aim of retracing the deadly and devastating effects of US economic colonialism in Latin America and plunging into the spirituality of the forces of Nature and religion, through the tragic misfortunes of the Earth’s simple inhabitants.

The film’s narrative style combines realism, symbolism and an almost mystical lyricism (including nods to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain), which is coupled with a strong visual approach (flashbacks in black and white, video images, spinning camera shots, magnificent settings and superb cinematography by Francisco Gozon). The film is therefore not afraid to take risks and doesn’t seek to please all viewers, who may be disconcerted by some of its dramatic choices.

Co-written by the directorial duo, Altiplano traces the intersecting destinies of two women. One, Peruvian Saturnina (played by a Magaly Solier as outstanding as she was in the recent Berlin Golden Bear winner The Milk of Sorrow [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) sees her marriage plans shattered by the deadly pollution of her village’s water supply by the mercury from ultra-intensive mining.

The other, Grace, a European war photographer suffering from depression (Iranian/German actress Jasmin Tabatabai) loses her Belgian, humanitarian doctor husband (Olivier Gourmet), who is the unfortunate victim of the Turubamba inhabitants’ rage against foreigners ("Get off our land, damned murderers"). His death leads Grace to embark on an initiatory and redemptive journey, during which her soul enters into symbiosis with that of Saturnina.

Altiplano is both a criticism of the economic and ecological crimes that occurred in Peru in 2000 and a quasi-ethnological investigation into the mystical rituals of the local population. The film also explores the subject of the power of the image ("A photo has never stopped a war" - "I won’t die silently or invisibly"). This host of issues and a highly personal approach make this a fascinating and resolutely unusual work.

Produced by Belgian companies Bo Films (headed by the directors) and Entre chien et Loup, Germany’s ma.ja.de. Filmproduktions and Holland’s Lemming Film, Altiplano is sold internationally by the UK’s Meridiana Films.

(Translated from French)

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