Filmmakers of the Present
Arriving in the dangerous Bolivian city of Huanuni, young Elder Mamaní takes the coveted place of his deceased father deep in the tin mines, thanks to the intervention of his uncle Francisco. But Elder is a complete fuck up, and could care less about this job, or any job – he’d rather drink, get high and party all night long… and with this stark of an existence, who the hell could blame him. Descending into the labyrinthine darkness, Elder soon discovers that the general condition of opacity extends to the circumstance of his father’s death, but clarity just isn’t in the cards the further down one goes into the mysterious and dangerous tin mines…
The consumption of alcohol plays a significant role in Bolivian culture, especially in the mines – before entering, the workers offer a sacrifice of alcohol to the devil to atone for their exploitation of the land – and Kiro Russo’s immersive debut feature, Viejo calavera, examines this hazy state of being without any judgment. His camera prawling the inky corridors of the grubby spaces, and even editing in Vertovian inserts of mining equipment at work, Russo works hard to find the humanity sometimes obfuscated in this void, whose strangeness is seen through the often-drunk Elder’s eyes. Viejo calavera, intentionally, is a very dark film both literally and figuratively – in terms of vision and morality. With great alacrity, Russo films his non-professional actors in their familiar environment, practising a neorealistic “cinema with the people”, and shows us that, even in the light of day, danger is ever present and there are no easy solutions.
By Mark Peranson