By Tara Judah

There is no need to design or stage an apocalyptic landscape, for the earth we inhabit is already in crisis and the apocalypse is now.

La Rinconada is bleak; a foreboding mountain, abject poverty and unsafe mines. Cachorreo is the labour system where men work the mines for thirty days unpaid. Then, on the thirty-first day, they are allowed to collect as much ore as they can carry. Women are not allowed in the mines, but pallaqueras are women who sift through unwanted rocks on mine dumps, looking to find an accidentally discarded nugget of gold, perhaps a morsel of hope or humanity.

With Eldorado XXI, Salomé Lamas (Terra de ninguémNo Man’s Land, 2013) has created a docu-tragedy; she captures the landscape at its iciest, greyest and most eerie. The town, nestled in the heights of the Peruvian Andes, is almost invisible at first glance, but Lamas lets the camera linger long enough to ensure we get the picture.

There is one shot in the film that lasts fifty-minutes; the camera is still and the scene dimly lit, there are garbage bags everywhere and a narrow trail. It’s not a landfill dump but it’s every bit as depressing. Walking up and down a poorly marked, dank path, hoards of miners are going to and returning from their work. There are no faces, only shapes. Voices, however, Lamas provides. For those fifty minutes we hear stories from people who moved to La Rinconada- out of desperation, hopeful and at their wit’s end. The stories reveal the rise and fall of humanity; hope, cruelty, hardship, inequality, poor luck, superstition and faith.

The images are to test our limits. It is almost unbearably monotonous, but that is also its power. Surely the footage is continuous, though it feels like an endless loop. The intensity of its duration offers a glimpse into the cycles of poverty; pain, hope, disappointment, loss, endurance, persistence.

When, finally, the visual changes, and we enter the second, unofficial ‘half’ of the film, it is a great relief – almost as if Lamas were letting us off the hook. But perhaps that is too harsh, as the footage continues to reveal hardships facing those who dwell at La Rinconada. The picture gets no lighter, in colour nor subject, and hope for change seems no more likely as the minutes press on.

Lamas conducts strong interviews and her camera records carefully. She is as thorough as the pallaqueras, leaving no stone unturned. And in her search for truth she has documented something far more dramatic than the landscape. it is the dramatic realisation that this looks like we might imagine the end of the world is because it is the world of today: depraved, depressed and with an uncertain humanity.

Berlinale Forum

Directed by: Salomé Lamas
Cinematography: Luis Armando Arteaga
Sound direction: Bruno Oliveira Dias
Editing: Telmo Churro
Sound editing: Miguel Martins
Mix: Fred Bielle
Original score: João Lobo, Norberto Lobo
Production manager: Raquel da Silva
Producers: Luis Urbano, Sandro Aguilar
Co-producer: Thomas Ordonneau
color | 125’