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Peru: Portrayal of Andean Life in Llosa's Movies

The film “La Teta Asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow) by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa was recently awarded the Golden Bear award at Berlinale, the International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany. The news was well received by the Peruvian media that covers news about film. For example, the blog Cinencuentro [es] has been providing special coverage even before the results of the prize were announced, including posting the trailer [es]. There are also posts about the reaction from the audience, news about the awarding of the prize, as well as video of the press conference [es], reviews of Llosa as a director [es], and news about the film's release in Peru in April [es].

The attention given to the film may provide more support for the Peruvian film industry, something that Elizabeth Lino of Te Voy a Contar [es] thinks is much needed. Guille of Pueblo Vruto [es] is also excited about the prize and thinks that this could provide a boost for Peruvian films, especially those that tell more complex stories including those about the decade of violence across the country.

However, the portrayal of life in rural Peru by Llosa and her films, in the shadow of the internal conflict with the Shining Path reopened discussions about this difficult time in Peru's history. Many of the Peruvian bloggers focused on the content of the film and discussed whether or not Llosa is qualified to portray life in the rural Andes.

In Cinencuentro [es], Juan José Beteta writes about Llosa's early work called Madeinusa that is set in fictional indigenous village of Manayaycuna.

Ya Madeinusa exhibía señales evidentes de su potencial cinematográfico y la capacidad de revelar tanto tendencias ocultas como evidentes en la sociedad peruana, respecto al mundo andino. Quizás haya que recordar aquí el diseño de un personaje que, sin abandonar para nada sus valores culturales y su papel ritual, se las arregla para utilizarlo y liberarse de ciertas cadenas que le impone tal tradición. Por un lado, Llosa pone en escena el mito (apoyado en el trabajo de fotografía, vestuario y ambientación), pero, al mismo tiempo, muestra la capacidad de agencia de una mujer para liberarse y cuestionar un orden social opresivo. (…) Estamos ante un filme que plantea lo políticamente incorrecto junto a lo políticamente correcto, con respecto al mundo andino y al papel de la mujer.

De allí que para algunos esa cinta resulte racista y ofensiva, mientras que para otros (y me incluyo) muestra la afirmación de una cultura andina desafiante, en su provocadora ambivalencia (y eso es lo novedoso).

The film Madeinusa shows clear signs of her cinematic potential and her capacity to show hidden tendencies of Peruvian society in the Andean world. Maybe one must remember the design of the character who, without abandoning her cultural values or her ritual role, is portrayed and liberated of certain changes that are imposed on tradition. On one hand, Llosa places the myth on stage (supported by the photography, costume and settings), but at the same time, shows the capacity of a woman to liberate herself and question an oppressive social order. (…) We see a film that raises the politically incorrect alongside the politically correct in regards to the Andean world and the role of the woman.

From there, for some, this film is racist and offensive, while for others (including me) it shows the affirmation of a defiant Andean culture in its provocative ambivalence (and that is nothing new).

The plot of the Milk of Sorrow takes place in Peru after the internal conflict where the Shining Path guerrilla group was involved with violence, especially in the rural areas. The film's main character, Fausta, was born as to a mother who was raped during this rebel violence. Controversy now emerges with a movie, which the majority of Peruvians have not yet seen, from a social or political perspective. For example, Carlos Quiróz of Peruanista [es] does not look favorably upon Llosa or her film:

Esta película no se trata de la vida de una mujer andina traumada por la violencia interna en Perú, como Llosa vende el cuento en Europa. Es acerca de mostrar la vida de una pianista limeña muy sofisticada, pseudo educada –y bien blanca- y como ejemplo de superioridad, mostrar a la empleada andina, la pobrecita, sumisa, superticiosa. El discurso del filme habla de simpatía indigenista, pero la imagen grita de una mala intención y de burla malosa, de comparación exagerada haciendo un paralelo entre las vidas de ambas.

… como toda folklorista convenida, Claudia Llosa se apropia de las culturas andinas para hacer filmes que impresionen a extranjeros y a ignorantes. A ella no le importan nuestros indígenas peruanos como seres humanos, sino como personajes curiosos y como objeto de burla, de reojo. Al mismo tiempo, ellos los blancos racistas se presentan a sí mismos como regios y buenos, y atractivos, mientras que a nosotros los cobrizos nos ponen brutitos y necesitados, y dependientes de ellos claro.

This film is not about the life of an Andean woman with trauma from Peru's internal violence, as Llosa tries to sell it to Europe. It is about showing the life of a very sophisticated pianist from Lima, pseudo-educated – and very white – as an example of superiority, showing the Andean domestic worker, poor, submissive, superstitious. The film's dialogue talks about the indigenist sympathy, but the images cry with bad intentions and malicious mockery, of an exaggerated comparison that parallels the lives of both.

Like all agreed upon folklorists, Claudia Llosa appropriates Andean cultures to make films that impresses foreigners and the ignorant. She does not care about our Peruvian indigenous as human beings, but rather curious characters and objects of mockery, to be looked down upon. At the same time, the white racists are presented as regal and good, and attractive, while we the darker-skinned are cast as brutes and needy and of course, dependent of them.

In addition, in this other post, Quiróz adds whether or not there were that many rapes of women by the Shining Path during the years of terrorism in Peru:

miren como presentan a la película en España: “una historia de las mujeres violadas por Sendero Luminoso”. Estos señores están mintiendo: usualmente SL no violaba a las mujeres, eran los paramilitares, los soldados y policías del estado peruano los que abusaban de las mujeres andinas, y no estoy defendiendo a SL sino seamos honestos aquí.

Look how they present the film in Spain: “a story of women raped by the Shining Path.” These people are lying: the SP (Shining Path) usually did not rape women, it was the paramilitary, soldiers and police from the Peruvian state that abused the Andean women, and I am not defending the SP, but let's be honest here.

This claim produced plenty of comments on the same post, as well as responses on other blogs. Fernando Obregón of Pospost [es] came out to deny the assertion.

Sendero Luminoso SÍ VIOLÓ mujeres. Y lo dice el Informe Final de la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, tal como se señala en el Tomo VI, Capítulo 1.5 llamado “La violencia sexual contra la mujer” que pueden descargar aquí. Que las Fuerzas Armadas o policiales hayan sido quienes hayan cometido mayor número de violaciones NO EXCULPA a Sendero Luminoso y mucho menos para afirmar que “Sendero Luminoso no violaba mujeres”. Hacerlo, es negar el holocausto sufrido por la mujer andina peruana durante la guerra interna, pero sobre todo es volver a “violarlas” en su memoria

The Shining Path DID RAPE women. And it says so in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [es], specificially at Volume VI, Chapter 1.5 titled “Sexual Violence Against Women,” which can be downloaded here (zip format). That the Armed Forces and police were those that committed the majority of the rapes DOES NOT exonerate the Shining Path and much less to say that the “Shining Path did not rape women.” To do so, is to deny the holocaust suffered by Andean women during the internal war, but above all it is to return to “rape them” in their memory.

All of this discussion calls to mind the years where the country dealt with terrorism, and blogger Isabel Guerra of Palabras Van y Vienen [es] recalls that time not so long ago. Daniel Salas of Gran Combo Club [es] writes about other parts of the discussion in regards to Llosa's ability to portray rural Peruvian life:

Una de las objeciones más escuchadas es que Llosa no tiene derecho a referir la realidad andina porque a) no la conoce y b) porque pertenece a la elite criolla. Pero ya he sostenido que no se trata de referir a ninguna realidad. (…) En un sentido poco interesante, nadie tiene derecho a representar a nadie y cualquiera puede representar a cualquiera. En otro sentido que sí es interesante, lo que te da derecho a representar a alguien es la relevancia artística de tu representación. No me sirve de nada representar lo que “conozco bien” si el producto es una acumulación de lugares comunes sin mayor gracia y sin el menor interés. En otras palabras, una novela, una película, un poema no van a ser mejores porque se refieren a lo que –según los otros-es lo que te resulta “más auténtico”.

One of them most commonly heard objections is that Llosa does not have the right to refer to the Andean reality because a) she does not know it and b) because she belongs to the elite. I have maintained that it does not have to do with any reality. (…) In an uninteresting sense, no one has the right to represent anyone and anyone can represent anyone. In another sense that is indeed interesting, what gives one the right to represent someone is the artistic relevance of one's representation. It does not serve me to represent something that “I know well” if the product is an accumulation of common places without grace and without interest. In other words, a novel, a movie, a poem won't be the best because they refer to what – according to tother – is what results “most authentic”.

It is obvious that the debate about the portrayal of life in Peru, especially during the time of the internal war with the Shining Path has just started. When the movie is realized in April it will also surely increase.

Update: For additional links and discussion about this topic, please visit Globalizado [es].

7 comments

  • Sometimes it is good and healthy for a Society in transition to start the debate in such topics, from the outside, factual or fictional, distorted or accurate it brings to the table and to the headlines again the subject of rape as a weapon. It was the reality of many Guatemalan women http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ceh/mds/spanish/anexo1/vol2/no91.html, it is an instrument to torture, to punish illegal migrants crossing borders everywhere, it is still a powerful weapon in Rwanda, Burundi, by gangs in many places, by police, by teachers… The aggressor can be anyone. The victims will suffer a lot, the impact might be different on the outside, on their external lives, but inside is the same unbearable pain.

    Maybe the intention of the author was to show the fragile situation of poor, illiterate women in isolated areas during the armed conflicts, a drama beyond ideologies. I can recommend you to watch “La vida secreta de las palabras”. You will like it.

  • Oscar

    Otro increible cuento, que ciertos “pseudos-peruanos” aprovechan para lograr lo unico que les intereza : Dinero.
    Nada ha cambiado en esta “gente”. Son como sus antepasados — los ya bien conocidos “conquistadores” — que lo unico que les interezaba era : Oro
    Seria bueno que los verdaderos latino-americanos, comienzen seriamente a pensar en el terrible genocidio indio, causado en los siglos XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, …, en el plillaje del continente, o en el esclavaje, que convirtio regiones enteras del continente, en populacion negra.
    Seria interezante lograr que ciertas populaciones, hoy consideradas “civilizadas”, pidan primero perdon por estas lacras de la humanidad, y se les oblige a “reparar” economicamente — que de paso, es lo que a mas temor tienen — al menos, una parte de lo que robaron.
    Es increible, pero ese concepto de “hacer dinero con el sufrimiento de otros”, nunca cambiara en la mentalidad espanola.

  • Sandra Arthur

    I have red all comments very carefully. Unfortunately this movie has not been shown in the States, at least not in my home town and I cannot talk about the movie itself, but I can see that all those negative comments only show bitterness and perhaps some inferiority complexes, they send a distorted message. Now days you do not encounter that in Peru, at least not like in the past!

  • Oscar

    I wish, everyone who wrote a related comment in this blog, will have the opportunity to see the film. Only after that, I am sure; most of you will fully agree with what I wrote.
    In all cases, it is not a “simplistic” matter of “negative comments” and/or about “bitterness” and/or “inferiority complexes”, usual terms frequently used by some kind of people. It is reality.
    It is not the first time that this kind of people uses the media – in all possible manner – to disseminate their conservative ideas, like “superiority”, “difference”, … and may others, already very well know and of the same kind. But, I hope; it will be the beginning of the last ones …
    What it is happening actually in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyenne, … it is exactly the same.
    If you understand Spanish, you could see this video that I just found in YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&hl=en&v=7hx_v7ShLcU&gl=US

    Oscar.

  • Oscar

    I found, I think, the English version of the video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFYMbjZ4nYk&feature=related

    I did not know that Claudia LLOSA was the niece of Mario VARGAS LLOSA. Maybe “that” — knowing well the entire family behaviour — explains much better, the messages of her “films” …

    Another issue: The film was presented to me as a “Peruvian” production. It is completely false. It is a “German-Hispanic” production.

    Oscar.

  • Valerie G.

    I find it disturbing that a well-made, serious film that sensitively explores the sufferings of indigenous women at the hands of Shining Path terrorists and counter-insurgents is called “racist” and “evil” and “ill-intentioned” by a blogger (Peruanista) who claims to be pro-Andean and pro-human rights.

    Please tell me when a film that sympathizes with rape victims has recently won a major film prize and come to the attention of the world? I cannot think of any other than “La Teta.” To attack this film on the grounds that it is racist is specious and ill-intentioned, and somewhat suspect. What is the motive behind such deep-seated hostility?

    The fact that the film was financed mostly by European producers does not diminish its value. To imply so is discriminatory and insulting to the human-rights movement at large, which is composed of human beings from many countries, not just Peru.

    Is it any coincidence that these online attacks against “La Teta’s” German funding come at the same time that Alan Garcia’s government refused $2 million dollars from Germany to build a permanent museum to honor the 70,000 victims of the Shining Path government?

    Who is behind these attacks on “La Teta”? Reactionary forces pretending to be ultra-leftist indigenous rights agitators?

    Read between the lines.

  • […] are examples of underlying, as well as overt racism, many of the examples have been covered on Global […]

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