January 30, 2006
By Robert Koehler
Claudia Llosa's debut film, the imaginative "Madeinusa," is a classically made yet personally accented fable about the clash between old and new in a strange Andean village in Peru. The outline of Llosa's tale -- stranger blows into town, and shakes things up, including the heart of a pretty gal -- stems directly from Hollywood Westerns, yet "Madeinusa" feels Peruvian to the core. With a terrific fest platform in place and a spring launch in Spain, prospects for international sales appear strong for this gorgeously mounted work. Stateside specialty distribs would do well to give the pic a theatrical window.
Though the title looks like a play on "Made in USA," it's also the teen heroine's name (quite common in Peru), pronounced "Mah-day-ah-noosa." Portrayed with subtlety by newcomer Magaly Solier, Madeinusa is the favorite of her father Cayo (Ubaldo Huaman), the town mayor, who's disturbing sexual advances toward his daughter, are coupled with the jealousy of Madeinusa's sister Chale (Yiliana Chong). Ever since their mother fled to Lima, a sourness has descended over the household, symbolized by the presence of dead rats.
Hitching a ride from Lima to his job at a mine, Salvador (Carlos De La Torre) is stopped by a flooded-out road. Dumped in Cayo's small town, populated entirely by Peruvians of Incan descent, outsider Salvador is immediately jailed, until Cayo agrees to give him lodging in his barn.
Salvador is still being kept at Cayo's place on the eve of Good Friday, with the town readying for its bizarre Holy Days fest, in which God is believed to be dead (before he revives on Easter Sunday) and any sinning is allowed. Rite is purely fictional, and suggests a setting closer to the irreverent surrealism of Luis Bunuel than those of Peruvian storytellers such as Llosa's novelist uncle, Maria Vargas Llosa.
It's love at first sight when Salvador first sees Madeinusa in a beautifully and silently staged scene on a rocky pathway, where the costumed girl is rushing to the Holy Days procession. But after an evocative Good Friday church service, in which a Jesus statue is folded up like a puppet being placed in storage, the action erupts into carnality involving Salvador, Madeinusa and, later, Cayo.
The locals in "Madeinusa" are depicted as neither purely innocent nor cruel, but rather thoroughly involved in a world that fuses tribal and Christian ways. Llosa inserts fantastical touches, such as dazzling night shots of Holy Days fireworks and silhouetted group dances by the townspeople, with the help of ace d.p. Raul Perez Ureta, whose work in high-def digital vid is fabulous.
Cast (non-pro save De La Torre and Huaman, who's a well-known comic thesp in Peru) grasps the human dimensions of their archetypal characters, with Solier illuminating the well-crafted script's telling of an innocent finding the will to escape her extremely askew hometown.
That Llosa has never directed for the camera before is remarkable considering how accomplished the film is, and how exquisite the mise en scene. Every production department is first-class, including a tender chamber score by Selma Mutal.
--Robert Koehler/ Variety - Review
Innocence – lost or regained?
By Antonia Kovacheva
First kiss, first coitus, first ever blood running from a dying or awakening body. First murder and first love. First film. First winner's extrasystoles, first pride of international recognition. Submergence into the abyss of social and sexual knowledge; the flatness of death; the eroticism of fame and temptation of public attention. All of this happened both on the Dutch festival screens and in front of them, in the cinema halls. Familiar, on the face of it, stories about the generation gap, children-parents conflicts and coming of age, proved to be surprisingly mature, though insufficiently rebellious personal statements. Made by first or second-time directors, the 14 competition feature films shaped a promising silhouette of the future film generation. Some of the most interesting works however, revealed significant similarities – in subject, in storytelling, in the director's approach to territories of human existence, generally believed to be a twilight zone. There was even peculiar similarity between the titles, such as Old Joy, USA and Ode to Joy (Oda do radosti), Poland. Or Taking Father Home (Bei ya zi de nan hai), China and Walking on the Wild Side (Lai xiao zi), China/France. And finally such as A Summer Day (Un jour d'ête), France and Early in the Morning (Un matin bonne heure), France/Guinea. Yet much more eloquent than that concurrence of the titles is the similitude of episodes, scenes and atmosphere in films, written and directed by people from different cultural backgrounds and places.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Peru. A bed and a father, recumbent between his two teenage girls in it. Made almost as ethnographic documentary, the Peruvian Madeinusa is a subtle parable about a girl named Madeinusa, pronounced [maden'uza]. She takes as a sign the fact, that her name is stamped on an unknown man's shirt – Made in USA. In that bed, the father wants to do…what?! …take his own daughter in a strange way. With love and care, without any touch of perversity or forbidden desire or suggestion of incest. Just as a duty and a long-established ritual. Watching the scene with "civilized" expectations of an embarrassing-to-be event, the viewer is not given the chance to comprehend it as a brutal act. The girl carefully refuses. Her reason – she must remain chaste till the next day's ceremony, when one of the young women from the village will be c r owned the Holy Virgin. This is a great honour, a dream, a sacred moment of a lifetime. Afterwards, during the next three days of the Holy Week, Jesus is dead and has not yet been resurrected, so He can't see what's taking place on the Earth, therefore there is no sin. And Madeinusa makes her slip-up – to be deflowered by a personable stranger passing by, rather than by her father. By a Gringo. To follow her heart instead of submitting to the rite. Still other trivial spectator's assumptions fail to come true. The father finds out what Madeinusa has done and comes home not to punish, but to take what belongs to him. Or at least what has remained. As if nothing has happened. Just like with the sleeping Jesus: pretending that a thing, if reportedly unseen, does not exist. Maybe the father is not angry, because he deeply respects the local belief. Maybe he is simply wise. No answer. Murders come in the wake and those are already sins. But, no, not because people have been killed. The Holy Week is over and Jesus sees again…
Having the basic plot of a closed community and an intruder, who will catalyze events and will die at the end, Madeinusa tells a much more complicated story in an unusual way. The first-time feature film director 30-year-old Claudia Llosa, has transferred her own script onto the screen with an intelligent approach to ambiguous would-be readings of the
--Antonia Kovacheva/ Fipresci - Review