Details: (M), 106 mins, Belgium, English
Synopsis: Village beauty Saturnina Solier (Magaly Solier) is the protectress of the Blessed Virgin and is about to marry her beloved Ignacio (Edgar Quispe). War photographer Grace (Jasmin Tabatabai) has just returned from a devastating tour of Iraq only to farewell her husband who is working as an eye-surgeon near Turubamba, Saturnina’s village. When a mercury spill contaminates the area, the villagers direct their outrage at the visiting doctors.
A haunting, lyrical story of a poisoned civilisation.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Set mostly in the spectacular Andes region of Peru, writer-directors Peter Brosen's and Jessica Woodworth’s Altiplano is a powerful, imaginative and moving allegory about the pollution – literally – of an ancient civilisation by toxic Western interlopers.
In the style of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel, the narrative crosses continents while it follows several inter-connecting stories dealing with economic exploitation, environmental vandalism and the Andeans’ rich cultural heritage and spirituality.
Accorded its world premiere at Critics Week in Cannes, the second feature from the filmmaking duo of Brosens and Woodworth following Khadak, which won the Lion of the Future Award at the 2006 Venice fest, is a beautifully shot, haunting and multi-layered film.
There’s a strong sense of foreboding in the prologue as a statue of the Virgin Mary is accidentally broken during a procession in the village of Turubamba. The scene then switches to Iraq where war photographer Grace (Iranian-born German actress Jasmin Tabatabai) watches in horror as guerillas kill her ‘fixer.’
Back home in Belgium, a shell-shocked Grace grieves while her eye surgeon husband Max (Dardenne brothers regular Olivier Gourmet) prepares to fly to Peru to work at a remote clinic offering providing free cataracts to the Indian residents.
Meantime, Andean bride-to-be Saturnina (Magaly Solier) readies herself for her big day, while her fiancé Ignacio (Edgar Quispe) treks to a glacier to fetch ‘holy water’ to help Saturnina’s ailing mother.
The medical team soon discovers many locals in Turubamba are fainting, losing their vision and suffering nose bleeds, and they rightly suspect the water supply has been contaminated with mercury dumped by a nearby, European-owned mining company. It turns out the villagers don’t want the help of gringo doctors – but they do want the mining company to get off their land.
Altiplano (Spanish for high plain) is rich in imagery and symbols, with masked figures dotting the landscape, photos of victims floating in the water, a bed in the middle of the desert, and a blind man repairing the shattered statue; all that imbues with film with a mystical, surreal quality.
Introducing the movie at the Sydney Film Festival, the Belgian-born Brosens, a former anthropologist, stressed that all the Indian rituals and symbols depicted were fully authentic. A mercury spill in the Peruvian village of Choropampa in 2000 was the guiding inspiration for some of the events.
The acting is superb, particularly the performances of Solier (who starred in the 2009 Golden Bear winner in Berlin, The Milk of Sorrow), and Tabatabai as women from very different worlds who are united in grief.
Stunning photography by Francisco Gozon takes full advantage of the majestic locations of mountains, plains, snowfields and river. The music by Michel Schopping, an eclectic mix of choral/orchestral, electronic and local influences, is a stand-out.
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