Chilean film given international voice

Review: 'Huacho' depicts rural Latin America in an honest and emotional way.

There’s a scene in Huacho, the feature-length debut from Chilean director Alejandro Almendras, when the camera closes in on the face of an elderly woman selling blocks of homemade cheese by the side of the road. The shot is held for an unconventionally long time, with no movement or dialogue to break up the seconds ticking by. But in those moments, the audience is able to read the hard-earned wrinkles on the woman’s face, and we can begin to absorb the profundity of a life where a grandmother must help earn a living two dollars at a time.

Huacho, which landed a screening earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival, has little in the way of traditional plot. There are no heroes or villains, no neatly identified conflicts for its main characters to battle, and there’s hardly any passage of time. In fact, the film shows little more than one ordinary day in the life of a rural Chilean family, depicted by non-professional actors bearing the same names as their characters. But instead of coming off as stagnant and tedious, Huacho is slowly revealed to be both engrossing and deeply moving.

The film, which runs just under an hour and a half, examines the daily obligations of grandparents Clemira and Cornelio, their daughter Alejandra and her young son Manuel. They all live together in a small home, and Huacho begins with the family rising in the morning and eating breakfast together. Then the film follows each character individually throughout their day, revealing the effects of inflation, the sacrifices that must be made to pay the electric bill, the cruelty of schoolchildren and the limitations of an aging body.

Yet while we witness their frustration, rarely do we see the characters in Huacho succumb to self-pity. Their matter-of-fact resolve to go about their lives the best they know how serves to build immense respect for a culture often ignored by city-dwellers. And, ultimately, the power of the film lies not only in its quiet simplicity, but in the knowledge that the story of this particular family is no different from that of millions of others, both in Latin America and around the globe.

Huacho is currently making its way around the festival circuit, but here's hoping this film finds its way onto DVD at some point. Until then, tease yourself a bit with the theatrical trailer, below.


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