A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Last year I was briefly in Reykjavik, so briefly that my husband and I elected to do the tourist thing and board a bus tour so we could see a bit of the country. As the bus rounded a long slope from which I could see several steaming geysers, our guide said that Iceland was a young country—so young, in fact, that if you thought of the earth's age as a 24-hour day, Iceland had been formed in the last seconds of the day. You could see that, he said, in all of the geological fixtures that seemed, to my eyes, a bit frightening: fissures between tectonic plates, gorgeous and deadly waterfalls, jagged cliffs, streams of scalding water shooting from the ground. Perhaps it was a baby landscape, newly born, but it also seemed like a place of primal fury that would just as soon kill you as swaddle you.
The tour guide's metaphor thrummed in my mind as we let ourselves get dampened by the steam emanating from cracks in the earth, as we snapped pictures of plants growing in hardened lava flows, as we soaked in a mineral bath surrounded by volcanoes that “hadn't erupted in a while”: the geological violence that occurs to generate and regenerate the planet. Life, both sacred and cruel, in a cycle punctuated by apocalypse.
From the modern world, bent to human existence, it's easy to romanticize that cycle—if you're not chained to its spokes. But in his stunning debut film, “Ixcanul,” Jayro Bustamante indulges in no romance. A mesmerizing, understated tragedy set far from Iceland—but in a place shadowed by the same geological reality—“Ixcanul” is the first film made in the Kaqchikel Mayan language and was Guatemala's entry into the Academy Awards last year.
“Ixcanul” is named for the active volcano on which teenaged María (María Mercedes Coroy) lives with her parents (María Telón and Manuel Antún) in a small village. They grow coffee and live on the volcano's slopes, mostly isolated from the modern world. María has been promised in marriage to Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), a supervisor, but she wants to run away with Pepe (Marvin Coroy), who is headed for the United States. She is fascinated with stories of America. It's where she wants to be.