Ixcanul: A celebration and a caution around indigenous culture

This week I saw Ixcanul (a word in the Mayan language Kaqchikel for “volcano”), a beautiful, compelling movie about a young Mayan woman in rural Guatemala who seeks to rebel against the life laid out for her. Just when I though the plot was unfolding in predictable ways, it surprised me again and again.

Maria and her family are tenant farmers, speak only Mayan, and observe traditional practices, which the film observes and admires. But at the same time, each encounter with the Spanish-speaking world reveals the enormous disadvantage this family is at. They can never speak for themselves, as demonstrated in this exchange when a woman comes to take the population census.

health-department

The ultimate results of this communication barrier — which parallels a massive socioeconomic gap — are disastrous. The film is devastating and gorgeous. See it.

Other reviews: 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 28 reviews and 83/100 on Metacritic (“Universal acclaim”) with 16 reviews.

The trailer

In the US, it’s currently streaming on Netflix and is rentable on Youtube and Amazon, at least.

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