The Bolivian movie "Utama" pulls you in with an uneasy mix of beauty and dread. A fictional tale that draws from real life, it takes place in the Andean plateau — the Altiplano — an arid, mountainous strip with altitudes nearing 14,000 feet above sea level that runs through western Bolivia. There, on hard, cracked land in a tiny, adobe home, a wizened Quechua couple of indeterminate age with no electricity and few outside contacts, yet graced with unflagging fortitude, wait for the rain that will sustain them, their meager crops and small herd of llamas.

Stooped with age, Virginio and Sisa — José Calcina and Luisa Quispe, both nonprofessional actors — scarcely speak, the texture and arc of their lives instead conveyed through quotidian rituals, small gestures and stoic expressions. They watch their animals, they watch the world, they watch each other. They also struggle, their agonies weighing most visibly on Virginio. Every morning, and with greater difficulty, he guides the llamas, their ears festooned with pink tassels, across the parched land in search of grass. The arduousness of his days makes for restless nights and a wheezing that Sisa somehow doesn't notice.

The Bolivian writer-director Alejandro Loayza Grisi has a background in still photography, and it shows. He has a feel for the drama of color, form, scale and light, as well as a sensitive collaborator in his cinematographer, Bárbara Alvarez (her credits include "The Headless Woman"). With a lucid eye and a steady camera, he captures the region's brutal beauty, using stark contrasts — like birds-eye views of isolated houses and people — to accentuate its extremes. At other times, he zeros in on similarities, like those between the weathered faces and the desiccated terrain, suggesting ideas that the characters don't voice.

— Manohla Dargis, The New York Times


Wed April 19, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

Bolivia, France, Uruguay; 2022; in Quechua, Spanish; 88 min • official site

Screenplay: Alejandro Loayza Grisi, Director: Alejandro Loayza Grisi, Cast: José Calcina, Luisa Quispe, Santos Choque



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