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“Little Bo Beep” meets “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – in Guatemala – is the best way to describe The Greatest House in the World (La casa mas grande del mundo), an indigenous children’s movie that makes up for a whisper-thin plot with plenty of atmosphere and gorgeously shot visuals. Directed by first-timer Ana V. Bojorquez along with Lucia Carreras (who wrote Cannes Camera d’Or winner Leap Year), this short but sweet fable is definitely too slow for mainstream audiences, but should find takers at kids’ fests and in Latino markets after a bow in Berlin’s Generation sidebar.
While films from Guatemala rarely make it onto the international circuit, House was actually the second to premiere at this year’s Berlinale after Jayro Bustamante’s Ixcanul, which went home with the prestigious Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize. Beyond their nationality, both films share the same jaw-dropping mountain locations, a cast of amateurs performing in Spanish and Mayan dialects, and a plot involving a woman having a baby out of wedlock, with no clear father in sight.
But while Ixcanul managed to weave a strong emotional undercurrent, and a few good twists, into a simple story, House – which was written by Bojorquez and Edgar Sajcabun – keeps both feelings and plot to a minimum as it follows the travails of Rocio (Gloria Lopez), a young sheep herder forced to take care of the flock while her mother (Myriam Bravo) gives birth in their isolated rural homestead.
Wandering the countryside, where she runs into a fellow farm girl (Maria Lopez) and boy (Elder Escobedo), Rocio winds up losing a little lamb, and then the rest of the herd altogether. After an extended search, she arrives back home empty-handed, then heads out for one more look – at which point the film takes on a bit of a mystical stance, with luck and fate playing the roles they often do in classic children’s tales.
Clocking in at just over 70 minutes, there’s not quite enough action in House to justify feature length, and the film never heads anywhere that surprising. But the directors do manage to capture something about the perils of childhood in Rocio’s individual plight, while revealing a world where women are mostly left to fend for themselves.
If the narrative comes up short, the filmmaking is impressively handled throughout, with DP Alvaro Rodriguez providing a series of arresting widescreen visuals that frame Rocio against a backdrop of hills, fields, streams and encroaching fog. In that sense the movie lives up to its title, and as the day slowly draws to a close it becomes clear that “the greatest house in the world” is nothing but nature itself.
Production companies: Prisma Cine, Filmadora Producciones, Underdog
Cast: Gloria Lopez, Maria Lopez, Elder Escobedo, Fabiana Ortiz, Daniel Ramirez
Directors: Ana V. Bojorquez, Lucia Carreras
Screenwriters: Ana V. Bojorquez, Edgar Sajcabun
Producers: Ana V. Bojorquez, Sandra Paredes
Director of photography: Alvaro Rodriguez
Production designer: Lola Ovando
Costume designer: Gabriela Fernandez
Editor: Leon Felipe Gonzalez
Composer: Pascual Reyes
Sales agent: Premium Films
No rating, 74 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival