Not a movie to see with your mom, or your priest (Madeinusa)(2006)

This review contains spoilers (but first, a bit of business. I contacted the star of Madeinusa, Magaly Solier, to let her know that I have formed the Magaly Solier Fan Club and am its charter member and president. (No, there wasn’t one already, unbelievably.) When Magaly comes to the U.S. on tour following the completion of her current project, I will host the meet-up with her and will offer to take paid time off from my job and personally supervise her activities in this country. Stand by for more details. Meanwhile, you can learn more about Magaly at her Myspace page. (In the first scene in Madeinusa (pronounced Ma–den–OO–za), Magaly, who comes from Huanta, Ayacucho, Peru (check your map of the Andes; it’s off Highway 3, north of Ayachcho – the highlands area where Shining Path was at its worst back in the 90s. We should be sensitive about this when chatting with Magaly at the meet-up (brush up on your Spanish) because she would have been a child at the time of the most violent incidents in that internal Peruvian struggle. The writer Maria Vargas Llosa did research on the involvement of the Iquichanos in Sendero Luminosa violencia and I presume that Magaly is of Iquichanos blood. She speaks Quechua in the movie and the director and writer of Madeinusa, Claudia Llosa (30 years of age, lives in Spain now; this is her first movie), is Maria Vargas’ niece. When I meet Claudia, the first thing I’m going to ask her is how she met Magaly, who was just out of high school at the time and had never been inside a movie theater, much less done any acting, before starring in this movie. All Magaly has to say on the subject is “El destino puso en mi camino a Claudia Llosa, quien cambió mi vida y me llevó hasta el cine.”), is seen putting out rat poison (if you’re going to use that shotgun on the wall, have someone hang it up there at the beginning of the movie. In Madeinusa, in addition to the initial poison-spreading, we get several camera shots from the perspective of dead rats and on several occasions Magaly’s sister, played by Yiliana Chong (for my views on beautiful young women with names like Cheung or Chong, refer to my review of Clean. As mentioned there (I didn’t include Rae Dawn Chong in that review, but everything I said there goes for her too), I was founder and president of Maggie Cheung’s fan club until, as part of my settlement of the bogus harassment and stalking charges lodging against me by her, because she took the terrible advice of her manager, and the restraining order that the judge subsequently imposed, I had to give up my presidential position and membership in the club. The gears of justice ground slowly but exceedingly fine in the matter and after two years of litigation I was lucky to get off without pulling any hard time. That’s love in Hollywood for you. I can only hope and pray that Magaly’s new manager (Lalo Ponce (did she have to sign with a manager named “Ponce”?)) doesn’t give her any advice like that), tells Magaly and the gringo from Lima, Salvador (played by Carlos J. de la Torre, one of the two professional actors in the movie (the other is Jaun Ubaldo Huamán, known in S.A. for his comedic work (speaking of which, every good movie needs at least one unforgettable scene and Madeinusa provides it when Cayo, Madeinusa’s father, played by Huamán, takes out his wife’s red earrings, which she had left behind when she ran off to Lima and which Madeinusa prizes above all things, and, furious as he is that the gringo has beaten him to his daughter’s virginity, which he has waited and wanted to take for so long and now has just missed by an hour or so, and drunk, sitting alone in the town’s little bar, he drops the earrings into a glass of whiskey, fishes them out and sucks them dry, lays them down on the bar and bends forward and pounds them to pieces with his forehead, and then picks up the remains and gnaws and chews on them before dropping what’s left into his coat pocket to wait there for the climax of the movie (you can rape me but keep your filthy paws off my mom’s earrings). Huamán, who chews the scenery from act one onward, now chews the props.). This is one of those movies with so much drinking that you just want to join them and pour it right down your throat straight from the bottle instead of sitting there like you are, drinking it out of a jam jar with a little jam still in it.) and coincidentally born in Santiago, D.R., where, as I mention in my review of Sun Dogs, I was staying in the neighborhood that he and his dad came from before he moved to Lima with his mom.  In the movie, any white guy from Lima is a gringo.) that rat poison brings good luck, so that we know from the git-go that somebody is going to be eating rat poison before we’re done. Chong is the oh-so-sassy one. If I didn’t have any morals, I’d be founding her new fan club as well as Magaly’s (“Did you see his eyes?” Magaly says of the gringo. “Why should I?” Chong says. “They are lighter, like in the magazines,” Magaly says. “And yours are the color of your shit, so don’t get excited,” Chong says. Sassy.).) and she appears to be a grown woman. In the next scene (her name in the movie is Madeinusa, by the way (“Madeinusa” is a normal given name in rural Peru, as are names such as Usanavi, Jhonfkenedi, and Marlonbrando. Western influence acting strangely on native culture. The title “Madeinusa” might mean something beyond being the name of the protagonist; if so, I have no idea what; when Madeinusa sees it (“Made in USA”) on the tag of Salvador’s T-shirt, she reacts, but what she’s thinking I couldn’t say. (Claudia sidesteps the question of symbols in interviews, symbols which in Madeinusa if and where present do not obtrude, by saying that they depend on the viewer. “What they read on the film depends on their own subjective universe. But I’m the type of person that thinks that when somebody have an emotional reaction on a subjects, it because, deep inside, something is moving. No body reacts on nothing.” (Kudos to her for taking on interviews in English.) As a viewer who remains oblivious to most metaphor and symbol in film, and pooh-poohs especially symbols discovered by the director, by accident, post-facto, like the frogs in Manda Bala, I’ve let any hint of allegory and message slide by here, not to be mentioned again in this review. And there are no bits of magic realism, either. The town is real, the film in parts could function as a documentary, every character projecting psychological depths. Buñuel has been invoked, on a literary foundation that Uncle Llosa could appreciate. (Claudia locates the action (conflict between the old and the new) in a small town in the mountains, during the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which is dubbed “Holy Time.” God is asleep, Jesus is removed from the cross and blindfolded, and sins go unrecognized and unpunished until God wakes up again. This sounds somehow familiar to me, but maybe that’s because I grew up in Turpentine, Mississippi, where God was often asleep for more than just a long weekend, and that’s back when everybody was a Democrat; Christ knows what it’s like there now. But Father Bob assures me that nowhere in the world does the Church really permit such sin-free weekends, regardless of local pagan folk beliefs or the size of a parishioner’s tithing remittance. As far as he, Father Bob, knows, anyway. The director and her helpers spent seven months designing the religious procession that starts the sleeping-God time, and the costumes worn during the weekend’s religious ceremonies, and designed the look of the village (Manayaycuna (“the town no-one can enter” in Quechua), located in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca), Madinusa’s house, so forth. I think I read somewhere that Indiana Jones got his hat idea from a trip to a village like Manayaycuna. The hat wrangler for the movie did a helluva job.).), she speaks to her older sister Chale (Yiliana) in the voice of a child. I’m wondering at this point- here at the start of the movie (of course, before contemplating founding a fan club and hosting a meet-up!!), is this a child who looks older than her age, almost adult from certain angles, or an adult with the voice of a ten-year-old, or what? Long story short, Magaly is playing a fourteen-year-old but was twenty when she made the movie. She’s twenty-two now and still has that little-girl voice. (In addition to her film work, which includes Ms Llosa’s second film, in which Magaly again stars, La Teta Asustada, Magaly has been in Josué Mendez’s Dioses (Perú 2007) and in Fragments of Grace (a German/French, Belgian production). She has also signed with Phantom Music Group and has performed in a concert or two. She does a little singing in the movie, not American-Idol quality, but two songs that she wrote, which I can picture entertaining us while we sit on a rock in the mountains waiting for the next llama cart to come along. And for those of you, by the way, who might be interested in joining the fan club but have a problem with the fact that in the movie, as a fourteen-year-old, Magaly gives herself impulsively and rather graphically to an adult male and then later that night, with some resignation but not much, to her own father, I would point out that she was dealing with Claudia Llosa’s script; that is, a story written by a Lima native who has been living in Spain for some years away from her institutriz. As far as Magaly was concerned, the doings on the set were probably as foreign and weird as those written by someone from Mars. I’m not taking her behavior in the movie personally. (Per the plot, a young geologist from Lima is stuck in the village over the weekend because a bridge is out farther up the road. Madeinusa gets the idea that he could take her to Lima where she can find her mother and escape the pending attentions of her father. So she gives it up to him, no sin, instead of to her father. When she pulls down her unmentionables in a dark alley in invitation, the geologist gets local religion on the spot. Come to think of it, I believe that one of my Peruvian friends, who will NOT be in the fan club, might have come from Manayaycuna, the dog.). (Which reminds me that one critic presents the lamebrained idea that Claudia set out to combine beautiful photography, third-world indigent cultural references, and a modern plot with a twist, not so much to make a good and entertaining and satisfyingly-understated-but-deep movie, but instead to make a commercial movie that would sell internationally. Note to this reviewer: If you want to make a movie that sells in the U.S., DON’T DO BANUEL IN THE  BACKYARD OF NOWHERE WITH A BUNCH OF NON-ACTORS. Without the good offices of Film Movement, this film would currently be enjoying an exclusive run in Puno Province at the world’s only llama-cart drive-in, the Titicaca Starlighter. Even with Film Movement, every local metroplex in the U.S. will have returned to the dusty earth from whence it arose before Madeinusa ever plays there. Jerk.)) Could it be that the voice of the star, as much or more than his or her looks, influences me? I remember that I couldn’t get enough of June Allyson. (Oh, and speaking of misguided reviewers, I also emailed the critic who found the film well-directed but unbearably dull, and asked him if the multiple sex scenes with blood included, the head-lice combing and squashing, the ground glass in the knees, bathing in a washtub, baldfaced pig theft, cast of hundreds, drunken spitting contest, mountain scenery, dead-rat flinging, corpse abuse, townwide mutual simultaneous public wife-swapping, necktie cutting with pointed scissors at the throat of the tieless gringo, sweeping a dirt floor, great fly foley, human clock (old man flips card every minute. White cards when God is awake, red cards from 3 P.M. Friday when Christ dies until 6 A.M Sunday), red-white-and-blue Andean color-coordinated female styling, cow piss, Christ coming off the cross blindfolded, foaming-at-the-mouth poisoning death scene (you can rape me but keep your filthy paws off my mom’s earrings!), and another data point supporting my theory that just as every French movie contains the word “personne,” every Spanish-language movie contains the word “preoccupar” didn’t liven things up for him enough to avoid the “D” word, but it turns out that he mostly reviews for Fangoria, so nothing I say is going to change his mind. Dude is desensitized. Roger Ebert once wondered in a review, “How is it that the same movie can seem tedious on first viewing and absorbing on the second? Why doesn’t it grow even more tedious?” His guess: “Perhaps it helped that I knew what the story offered and what it did not offer, and was able to see it again without expecting what would not come.” That is, the first time through we’re sometimes watching a movie that isn’t really there because input is perturbed and shaped by expectation. For example, the first time I watched Old Joy, which is about two guys who go off into the woods and spend some time together and then go home, I had seen so many horror movies, and Deliverance, and such, where folks go off into the woods and then bad things happen to them, that all the way through Old Joy I was waiting for some bad thing. The movie wasn’t about anything like that. In some sense, the two guys could have spent that time at the seashore or walking around Manhattan. Second time through, I could listen, hear, see, enjoy. Likewise, in the movie Sounder: dad, boy, and a big buzz saw. I kept waiting for somebody to lose a body part. Didn’t happen. I laughed at the opening sequence in Walk Hard, which runs a bunch of those scenarios past us without result before finally pulling the trigger. As for Madeinusa, knowing that it was a low-budget work filmed in the highlands of Peru as the first effort of a young woman from Lima, and seeing in the opening scene a young indigenous woman preparing and distributing rat poison whilst at one point picking up a dead rat by its tail and flinging it away, I slipped into viewing-third-world-documentary-style mode and was not expecting and for a while did not pick up on the fact that I was watching a droll, sly, sophisticated, sacrilegious little riff by a director/writer of wit and intelligence, who had assembled an expert crew (Raúl Pérez Ureta (who shot the film on HD digital video. This prize-winning master has been working more outside of Cuba lately, in Argentina, Colombia, and Peru. He does himself proud here), Patricia Bueno, Susana Torres, Eduardo Camino, Roxana Rivera, Miguel Rubio) to realize her vision. I wonder if her uncle read the script. He’s been on a few film-festival juries, including Cannes. Seven of his books have been made into movies, including one that he directed. I’d also be interested to know how Spanish vs Peruvian influences are manifest in the movie. (Visit http://www.cinencuentro.com/ for a sample Peruvian film blog.) Back in the time of violence there was a law that required a Peruvian movie to play in the theater before a foreign film could play. This created a huge demand for short Peruvian films and caused a lot of youngsters to be trained by filmmakers such as Francisco Lombardi, good news for the future of film in Peru.).) A good movie.

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2 Responses

  1. This movie makes you dislike those drunken indians in the andes, and that is sad.

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