'A Secret In The Box' ('Un Secreto en la Caja'): Film Review

A Secret In The Box Still 1 H 2016
Courtesy of Cinema Tropical
A well executed puzzler for a niche audience.

Javier Izquierdo invents a fictional author to explore Ecuador's identity crisis.

A made-up literary figure becomes the stand-in for a nation's psyche in A Secret in the Box, Javier Izquierdo's mock-doc. Inventing a "forgotten" Ecuadorian member of the Latin American Boom, the film conceives a literary legacy that withers alongside the nation's shrinkage over decades of war. It will mean most to those with ties to the country, of course, but fest auds with a healthy interest in real Boom authors may be drawn in as well.

Never playing for laughs, the pic introduces Marcelo Chiriboga (1933-1990), whose three novels, we're told, once were worldwide hits. Following a template familiar to those who saw the recent Gabo, about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Izquierdo recounts Chiriboga's childhood in the Andes and his family's move to Quito; it goes to visit his surviving sister, who recounts family tragedies that would influence the author's work.

Like Marquez, Chiriboga entered literature through politically aware journalism; he later joined a Che-inspired guerilla group, which got him jailed and then exiled. It's around this point that Izquierdo starts to use his character and his books to lament the plight of Ecuador, which for decades fought Peru and gradually ceded more and more of its territory. Intriguingly, the film imagines this pattern never ended — his present-tense interviewees talk of a motherland that no longer exists, an Ecuador that was finally "dissolved" in capitulation to Peru.

Throughout, Izquierdo returns to the one interview Chiriboga is known to have given on TV in 1977 (the staged B&W sequence looks believably antique), in which "the tropical Kafka" talks politics and artistic philosophy. In the doc's final scene, he returns to this footage for the movie's moral. Asked what advice he would give to young writers, Chiriboga offers, "That they write as if they didn't have a country."

Venue: Ecuadorian Film Fest
Production company: Caleidoscopio Cine
Cast: Alfredo Espinoza, Michael Thomas, Angel Gavilanez, Yolanda Acosta, Antonio Ordoñez, José Ignacio Donoso, Christoph Bauman, Amaia Merino, Randi Krarup
Director: Javier Izquierdo
Screenwriters: Javier Izquierdo, Jorge Izquierdo
Producers: Isabella Parra, Javier Izquierdo
Director of photography: Tomas Astudillo
Production designer: Francois "Coco" Lasso
Editors: Javier Izquierdo, Carmen Colino, Juan Rhon

In Spanish

Not rated, 71 minutes