By Wilder Zumarán Sarmiento

Our species was and has always been spawning and instituting myths surrounding its quotidian existence and metaphysics. While it’s usually thought that these narrations are exclusive from the rural world, this is an element that transverses everything: family, money, the individual, eternal life the idea of progress, for example, are myths in which some of our societies are built. Thus, the myths and rituals explain and validate determined phenomenons, whose conjunction, in turn, structures a form of comprehension of the world, a worldview. Hence, this are the tools that mediate our way of dealing with the world and becoming aware of it, of us. They also, in turn, conform also our prejudices.

When  dealing with registering and representing the rituals and festivities, cinema almost always falls in exoticism and paternalism: in the excessive solemnity or the ignorant parody. If we know that cinema is told almost completely by people of a same social status, of a similar culture, how to film without falling in that?

Laguna Negra, a French-Peruvian film presented in IFFR’s Voices section, returns to several interests already seen in the previous works of Felipe Esparza, faith, religion, death, some mythology. The film starts with a sentence from a witch-doctor that seems to ask for someone’s soul, to then show a series of scenarios the characters interact with: a little girl and an older man who we know almost nothing about, except that they are granddaughter and grandfather. This new film by Esparza, following the line of his last Outside the nut (2018), is the portrayal of a state of a mood, an atmosphere of absence, of loss. Besides the interation of this emotion with the festivity, the myth, as part of this process of overcoming, of searching for meaning.

Something interesting to take into account is that Felipe Esparza seems to be very aware of this own point of view. Taking into account that the festivities are the more extraordinary side of a community, since these are specific moments where the actions of the people change to follow some guidelines, go to certain places, behave in a certain way, Esparza seems to take this actions as a starting point. For him, festivities, despite being little representative if compared to the episodes of their quotidian life, have something that is part of the identity of their practitioners.

To make a reference to this idea can make us thing that Laguna Negra is a manneristic or exotist film (of those which are plenty in Peruvian cinema), however, the film possess a will of transfiguration of said rituals, in search of an image, an emotion, a different idea of this space. And this is how Esparza takes a political posture, certain distance and liberty to recreate situations, being careful as to give a closed tale, creating suggestive images, but specially very open, introducing us to his characters.

Additionally, Esparza puts to good use the possibilities that the audiovisual brings to him, creating atmospheres of certain desolations, in which the visual and sound landscape seems to be a prolongation of the interior space of his characters. About the sonic aspect, it’s interesting to highlight how in many cases it’s used as a pattern of the film in its rythym, and cadence (1). About the visual aspect, it’s remarkable the virtuous use of the open shots, where one can confirm the talent for visual composition by the artist, something that could be seen in his previous works. However, with all this and a likeable quote to Peruvian poet Eduardo Eielson, the film seems not to be able to escape certain pictoricism in some moments.

However, if myths structure our system of thought, and believing they are univocal feed our prejudices, the space of freedom and openness that Felipe Esparza poses is the search of the myth behind the ritual. And this confirms him as one of the most interesting Peruvian filmmakers of his generation.

(1) In other cases, like in his film Espacio Sagrado, the sound, besides the mentioned uses, functioned as well as a “de-naturalization” of the registry of different festivities, since many times an extra diegetic sound was used as a counterpoint to the image, all of this with the intention of transfiguring the exotist or tourist gaze.

Director, writer, producer: Felipe Esparza Pérez
Producer: Lady Vinces Cruz
Cinematography: Fernando Criollo
Sound Design: Christian Ñeco Bornaz, Yannick Delmaire
Music: Band “Virgen del Cisne”
Perú 34′