An impressive offshoot of World Cinema comes to us from Bolivia, and this authentic drama, which takes place somewhere in the Andean highlands, won a handful of awards at film festivals, including the grand jury prize at Sundance. Although in recent years we have been able to see thematically and stylistically similar films coming from Latin America, the debut film of Bolivian cinematographer Alejandro Loayza Grisi is not only breathtaking and astonishing with its setting and photography, but it is also an extremely emotional and moving drama. Virginio and Sisa are an old Bolivian couple from the Quechua Indian tribe who live a traditional way of life, almost identical to that led by their ancestors.
They breed llamas, and life there is hard enough without the fact that they don’t even remember the last time it rained. All the wells have dried up, there is no water in the well in the nearby town, so the old and sick Virginio has to lead the herd of llamas every day in the sun and heat to streams and sinkholes where water can still be found. Virginio is clearly ill, he is constantly coughing and he is probably aware that his time is coming to an end, but he is trying to hide his condition from his wife. More and more villagers are leaving the Andean highlands and moving to the cities, and their grandson Clever, who came to visit from the city, will try to persuade the grandparents to do so.
The young man will understand very quickly that something is wrong with his grandfather, but the stubborn old man does not even want to hear about the idea of moving and he firmly decided to spend his last days where he spent his whole life. The thought of dying in a hospital completely repels him, and anything other than staying on that stingy and cruel land is a kind of blasphemy for him. And from the beginning it is clear to us that Virginio and Sisa symbolize a world that is disappearing, a civilization that we will only read about in history books for decades, while Clever symbolizes a new, modern world that has less and less contact with the old one.
Visually, “Utama” is an impressive film and the photography is expectedly great. Although practically all the actors here are non-professionals and Loayza Grisi also hired an older couple for the main roles who actually live in similar areas, both are outstanding and completely believable. Just like any real offshoot of World Cinema, “Utama” is shot in a documentary style and one could easily think that we are following the real life of the people there. However, unlike many films with a similar theme, which are often satisfied with the fact that they achieve that documentary atmosphere, Loayza Grisi managed to achieve a certain conflict or conflict, so typical of feature films.