Tuesday, September 06, 2016


A couple more thoughts on the ultimately fairly dreadful Ixcanul

This was the second film we've watched in a week which featured the on-screen slitting of an animal's throat. It's something I'd always struggle to approve of, but under some circumstances I can see how an actual death can be shot in such a way that the director doesn't seem to be seeking a short-cut to authenticity. 

If Ixcanul had featured a cast of non-professional actors, full-on hillbilly indigenes of the type represented in the movie, then it might perhaps have 'earned' that scene, but instead, given the mood of inauthenticity that was already taking hold, it further soured my relationship with the narrative. 

But the most glaring failure of this film was in the way it handled stereotypes. There are two rather obviously wrong ways to do this. A) pepper your story with a set of some of the most simplistic, non-nuanced, non-ironic versions of the prevalent ones. Or B) pepper it with clusmy inversions of the latter, which ultimately has broadly the same effect. In this way subverting stereotypes can end up reinforcing them. But Ixcanul just stuck to plan A. 

As an Englishman I could make a film about French people in which all the men were pseudo intellectuals who are deluded about their prowess in the bedroom and generally don't bathe a lot. There are ways I could get away with this. It could be done by way of comedy or perhaps it might be achieved by making it clear to the audience that I understand that I am poking fun at a minority, and even at my own xenophobic attitudes along the way. But Ixacanul's representation of Mayan stereotypes ended up being about as subtle as Jimmy Morales's Negrito Pitaya. (Viz the scene where Maria appears to be trying to get it on with a tree.) 

Similarly if I took off to Louisiana to make a movie about the African American underclass there and all of my characters were crudely-drawn stereotypes, questions would surely be asked. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if my honest intention had been to draw attention to social issues, if right wing white people could use the material to feed their prejudices without any kind of cognitive dissonance. If an outsider portrays a minority within a minority as if it were the majority, then he or she is doing that minority a massive disservice. 

How could anyone unfamiliar with this country not be inclined to conclude that the lifestyles and mentalites of the protagonists of Ixacanul are broadly universal within the country's Mayan community? 

The scene where El Pepe explains to Maria why he wants to go to the USA could have formed part of a Trump campaign infomercial, entitled 'They don't send us their best people!' 

It matters little that the film's intended target audience can be assumed to be Democrats, because that scene would work in an equally if not more powerful way for those of a wide-eyed Republican bent as well.

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