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VENICE 2021 International Film Critics’ Week

Review: Mother Lode


- VENICE 2021: Matteo Tortone’s film is deep and unforgiving, like the mines in the Peruvian Andes where young Lima-born Jorge goes looking for work

Review: Mother Lode
José Luis Nazario Campos in Mother Lode

A black and white tone that’s both stark and pure, deep and unforgiving, is what characterises Matteo Tortone’s movie Mother Lode [+see also:
interview: Matteo Tortone
film profile
, which is competing in Venice’s International Film Critics’ Week. It’s as deep and unforgiving, in fact, as the mines of the Peruvian Andes, to which thousands of seasonal workers travel every year in order to support their families and hold out for a bit of luck.

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One of these labourers is Jorge, a taxi driver from Lima. When his battered, three-wheeled taxi finally gives up on him, he waves goodbye to his wife and little girl in their hut made of chipboard and sheet metal, and heads off in the direction of the glaciers with his backpack hoisted onto his shoulders. The protagonist of this journey through destitution and delusion is played by Peru’s José Luis Nazario Campos, whose tales of real-life experiences formed the basis of the Italian director’s wonderful film. The voice-over delivered by Denzel Calle Gonzales breathes life into the memories and reflections which were written by the director, alongside Mathieu Granier, in reaction to Campos’ tales. “This isn’t just one story, these are lots of stories about human beings, which speak of luck, love, gold and death”. Stories with no name which are born out of necessity, and which speak of the value of money and its many implications.

The photography we mentioned, coming courtesy of Switzerland’s Patrick Tresch, recreates Jorge’s ramblings and the reality of the mud, the rock, the indomitable cold and the eyes of his mining companions which have been extinguished by alcohol. "At 13 years of age, when you venture into a mine for the very first time, they tell you that gold comes from the devil”, Jorge continues. “Life and death are in his hands alone. You have to make a pact with him; it’s only a matter of time”. Superstition and rituals - a blend of Catholicism and magic - are what keep the miners going. Some of their wages are offered up to the “Gringa”, which is what they call the main vein, the “mother lode” referred to in the film’s English title. But sometimes greed wins out, or someone dies in an explosion in the mine: the mine/Moloch requires human sacrifices…

Jorge makes his way to La Rinconada (meaning “the corner”), which has just a few thousand inhabitants and sits at 5,100 metres of altitude, making it the highest human settlement in the world, at the foot of the Ananea Grande glacier. Bitingly low temperatures and a lack of oxygen are harmful for those not used to such conditions, the water is contaminated with cyanide and mercury, the roads are rivers of mud, and the advised cure for altitude sickness is chewing on coca leaves. The devil likes women and mining towns are full of them. "You pay to be with a girl who’s there to feed her family; you pay to tell her your fears". The darkness of the mine is terrifying in this hybrid film, which straddles the documentary and fiction forms. Matteo Tortone’s camera dives deep down into the bowels of the mountain in the company of the miners, never leaving their side. Ivan Pisino’s music accompanies the rumbling of the rock, distant explosions. Time passes slowly in this circular story, to which there is no end, for in the darkness of a tunnel, names are forgotten.

Mother Lode is a co-production between France, Italy and Switzerland coming courtesy of Wendigo Films together with Malfé Films and C-Side Productions. International sales are entrusted to Intramovies.

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(Translated from Italian)

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