Poisonous snakes slither across the fields of a coffee plantation. A dormant volcano must be appeased with offerings lest it spread lava and havoc. Gray plumes of smoke rise from an evening fire then drift off screen. They’re close enough to inhale and taste. Someone slits a pig’s throat and the blood begins to run. A girl, reluctant to marry, is groomed like a debutante, her beauty prized and meant for display. The imagery in Jayro Bustamante’s Ixcanul — even shadows at night — is filled with the breath of life. An almost-sacred eroticism slowly edges toward a vivid, painterly surrealism. Maria, barely a teen, is a Guatemalan Eve at one with the landscape around her. When the wind sighs across the hillsides, it’s her inner life that’s expressing itself. It isn’t that she’s wild; it’s that the world’s gone tame. As Maria, María Mercedes Coroy’s face carries, at the same time, the expression of the muse who inspires and the artist who creates. The Mayan people look small against the obsidian landscape, and even smaller when they rush to the city for help. But their plight, as they fight for survival and butt against modernity, only feels enormous, like they’re scaling up the side of an impassable mountain.

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