Bolivian filmmaker Kiro Russo made his feature debut with the intriguing, loosely structured Dark Skull in 2016, which centered on the inhabitants of the rural town of Huanuni (including Elder (Julio César Ticona), a young ne’er-do-well who begins working in the local mine and struggles with the harsh work and his alcoholism) and was conceived as something of a hybrid film, taking place mostly in the dark depths of the countryside and mine. His new film, El Gran Movimiento, begins almost literally where his previous one left off: the miners, after rumblings in the prior film of displacement, have undertaken a seven-day voyage on foot to La Baz, the de facto Bolivian government, in order to agitate for their jobs. After a startling moment in which César Ticona appears to give an interview as himself, including a reference onscreen to him being the lead actor of Dark Skull, he assumes the role of Elder once more. As the film unfolds, he and two other companions end up staying in the city and attempt to find work there, while he grows more and more ill from some mysterious combination of heat, elevation, exhaustion, and other ambiguous, potentially historical or mythological sources.
Such a description provides a good baseline for El Gran Movimiento, but it feels woefully inadequate to capture the currents that swirl through the film. While Dark Skull was limited in some way by the scale necessitated by its small-town setting and adopted a spare approach to structure and narrative aside from the miners and their relatives, El Gran Movimiento finds Russo consciously expanding his focus to encompass the inhabitants of practically the entire capitol. Alongside Elder’s tale of misfortune, Russo also includes a thread that eventually becomes practically just as consequential to the film’s purposes: of an older local man named Max (Max Bautista Uchasara), a shambolic figure who appears to live in the caves and hills around La Paz but who frequently ventures into the city, having established an easy rapport with the women running the open-air market stands. He also may or may not have healing powers, possibly connected to the motif of a white dog, a symbol that appears with increasing frequency in the second half of the film as Elder’s situation worsens.
Russo implicitly draws these parallels between young and old, outsider and local, in order to structure his wider gaze, which at first manifests itself in brief little interactions that stretch outside of the world previously established in his last film — a large group watching a professional wrestling match on an outdoor screen, a group of market women laughing at Elder’s ineptitude, and, most significantly, an old woman who takes in Elder as her godson even though they never appear to have met. All this is conveyed under the same watchful camera eye that typified his previous film, though while Dark Skull preferred the fascination of gliding camera movements, somewhat uncommon in the arthouse vein that Russo is mining, El Gran Movimiento’s camera very slowly zooms forward in the bulk of its shots, first established in a lengthy pre-title card sequence that gazes at different buildings and elements within La Paz.
Gradually, as the film proceeds down its trajectory of bodily decay, the ruptures in the carefully drawn aesthetic become ever more frequent and unexpected, culminating in a furiously and rhythmically edited sequence that appears to mix footage from both films, along with a flurry of faces and streets. It is in this moment that the great movement is revealed: this is a thoroughly idiosyncratic and elliptical approach to the city symphony, one rooted in character and in which the spirit of the city — and, thanks to the presence of Elder and his compatriots, the country — is vividly evoked through the highs and lows of living.
Published as part of Venice International Film Festival — Dispatch 2.