The real force of a film like Ixcanul stems from its non-professional actors. From the start the expressive face of María Mercedes Coroy has enough power to draw us in. Coroy plays 17-year-old Maria, who lives on a farm with her parents. The land is riddled with snakes, making it impossible to grow anything. Because of that, they may soon face eviction. To avoid that fate Maria will have to marry the owner, Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo). But Maria dreams of eloping to the United States with her boyfriend, Pepe (Marvin Coroy). At night she walks through the forest and makes love to trees. One night, Maria and Pepe have sex and Maria becomes pregnant and Pepe leaves without her. Her mother, Juana (María Telón), is surprisingly understanding. She wants Maria to abort. But despite many prayers to the nearby volcano, Maria drinking poisoned drink and other practices to abort the foetus, Maria remains pregnant. The only chances they have of keeping the land is to get rid of the serpents. The family is seeped in religious superstitions, and they believe that pregnant women can chase serpents. Added to the complications are the facts that they only speak Kaqchikel, a Mayan dialect, and that Ignacio is the only person they know who speak Spanish. Ixcanul has such a complex story and complex character developments, that I found it entirely believable. It is also the way Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante, in his first film, frames both his camera and the story he is telling that is compelling. It also has a central performance by María Telón who plays the strong-willed mother. Telón has quite an impressive presence both physically and emotionally. Cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga has managed to show the Guatemalan landscape’s beauty and savageness. From the start, I was mesmerized by the mysterious beauty of Ixcanul.
María Mercedes Coroy
In Kaqchikel and Spanish with English subtitles.