What a strange and intriguing film this is. Knowing nothing about it, for the first 10 minutes or so watching three out-of-work-miners arrive in the Bolivian capital La Paz, I assumed I was watching a documentary. These men, exhausted after walking for seven days, are part of a convoy of hundreds protesting against mine closures and to look for jobs. Director Kiro Russo works with a cast of actual miners – but alongside these verité portraits, he mashes in other film-making styles. In one bonkers scene, traders at a fruit and veg market break into an energetic dance routine, 80s-pop video style. Somehow, Russo pulls it off – mostly.
The movie opens with a long sequence as the camera zooms into La Paz, soundtracked by city noises: cars honking, security alarms blaring and the clack-clack of construction work. Russo is interested in the unfathomable scale of the city. His camera pans from window to window of apartment blocks as if astonished that so many lives can squeeze into one place.
The film’s three amigos (we don’t learn much about them – they’re all banter, not much reflection) are sleeping rough. They pick up back-breaking casual work as porters, lugging sacks in a market. One of them, Elder (Julio César Ticona), is seriously unwell with a pulmonary illness brought on by breathing in coal dust that gives him a hacking cough. A local woman, Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro), enlists the help of homeless shaman Max (Max Eduardo Bautista Uchasara) to heal him. (Though I’m not sure blowing fag smoke in Elder’s face is much of a traditional remedy).
This is a film of interesting ideas, brilliantly shot with some fascinating scenes. But for me it felt a little too obscure, too impenetrable, with its cast of blank-faced characters and random formal shifts. It’s almost as if it has been created as a test of the audience’s tolerance: are you arthouse enough for this?