Movie review: ‘Madeinusa’

Many sad movies, nay, most truly depressing tales have a lesson to give, a compelling reason to exist, even hope, or some other redeeming qualities. Madeinusa, the Peruvian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, which shows this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at PIFF, had none of these. (I am also particularly thankful to report this film has nothing to do with gay culture)

The ironically named Madeinusa lives in an isolated village in Peru, dirt poor despite being the daughter of the town’s mayor, a patient pedophile. Her mother has left her and her sister appears to hate her. On the eve of the town’s annual festivities, or "Holy Time," as they call it, a non-indigenous (gringo) geologist from Lima, Salvador, gets stranded in the town, as there is no coming or going from the town during this holiday. What begins with what might seems like a fairly benign Holy Virgin Beauty Contest and Good Friday night prayers in the Catholic Church turns sinister quickly. God is dead and will not arise until Sunday morning. Therefore, this weekend God sees nothing and there is no sin. You can do anything to want and you will not be punished. And while I’m all for debauchery and parties, moral obligations exist in both religious and secular life for reasons and it is disturbing to think that they only matter because God is looking.

The audience already knows that Madeinusa’s father has been waiting these 14 years to deflower his younger daughter when she decides to preempt him and cavort with the gringo in an alleyway. By this time you are praying that Salvador will rescue her but he refuses. Unlike any other character, however, his decency prevails when he witnesses Madeinusa’s father raping her despite her deflowerment.

But while you may have a tiny grain of hope as they prepare to flee don’t hold onto it. Madeinusa has been driven to insanity and betrayal by her dire straights. This all leads to an ending even creepier and more disturbing that you might have initially imagined. I wouldn’t claim any saving grace in the beauty of Madeinusa‘s parting shots but there certainly is elegance to the cinematography. These colorful and bizarre images that ride through the horror of this film are the only split seconds of enjoyment one might be able to take away. But even they are not worth it. The shot of Salvador’s eye through the craggy wooden slats of the cell in which he is initially imprisoned is nicely framed but is also a frequently used, trite shot that pales in comparison to close ups in something like the disturbing-but-highly-worth-it Pan’s Labyrinth. Even the scene of the urinating cow is a beautiful, welcome relief to the ugliness of the movie as a whole. And when farm animal pee is the highlight of your screen experience you just can’t recommend a film.

Madeinusa screens Tues Feb 20th, Wed the 21st and Thur the 22nd at Broadway. A complete schedule can be found on the NW Film Center website.

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