‘Yvy Maraey: Land without Evil’ (‘Yvy Maraey: tierra sin mal’): VLAFF Review

YVY Maraey Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Cinenomada

YVY Maraey Still - H 2014

A film as fascinating, beautiful and as remote as the landscapes in which it is set

A Bolivian director goes in search of his nation’s origins in Juan Carlos Valdivia’s road movie follow-up to his Sundance award-winning “Southern District”

A beautiful meditation on origins and identity whose sheer precision and craft has squeezed too much of the humanity out of it, Yvy Maraey: Land without Evil is an opportunity missed. Tracing the journey of a film maker (a thinly disguised version of the Bolivian director Juan Carlos Valdivia) and his indigenous Guarani companion into the Bolivian wilds in search of the country’s roots, this is rangy, ambitious fare at the level of both its ideas and its visuals. But the script dictates that too much of it takes place up in the intellectual clouds, and too little at the ground level of character. Valdivia’s reputation has garnered much fest play for Yvy Maraey, a firm candidate for the Bolivia Academy Award nomination.

Andres (Valdivia) embarks on a long road journey from la Paz to the Gran Chaco National Park in south-eastern Bolivia, retracing the century-old steps of a Swedish explorer in what must have been a complex shoot. From the word go Andres questions whether or not the old, pure indigenous Bolivia he’s seeking still exists, and whether in fact he’ll destroy it by filming it. But off he heads anyway, accompanied by Yari (Elio Ortiz), a native Guarani, who will help him through his geographical and language difficulties.

Both men are critical of their own cultures, and they spend much time uneasily circling each other regarding their motives. They decide that Andres (a karai, or white man, in Guarani) should hold the power inside the truck, and Yari outside it. Yari is understandably upset when Andres refuses to carry a group of Guarani laborers they encounter, and will later leave the director to travel alone to discover the Guaranis’ legendary Land without Evil: ‘the world’s going to end’, Yari chides Andres, ‘and you’re interested in something that doesn’t exist’.

Andres’ abstract musings in voiceover (“is the act of thinking a feeling?”) are thought-provoking but pretentious, merely restating in high-flown terms what the film is already saying quite clearly. Snippets of Guarani mythology are also intercut, suggesting that both the viewer and Andres have some way to go before they’ll be able to truly engage with the Guarani mindset: ‘Bats are the true owners of the world’.

There are fascinating glimpses into Guarani culture as they pass through remote villages where, luckily for Andres as for Valdivia, fiestas always just happen to be taking place. In one of these, drunk on a local brew, this wealthy urbanite almost gets into a fight, accused of “looking for savages”. At one point — and like much else in the film, this is overstaged — he finds himself surrounded by native Guarani with bows and arrows before realizing that they are part of a film shoot.

One wonderful, extended scene shows what much of the film is lacking — the human factor. Andres and Yari are the only two real characters in the film, but we learn practically nothing about them apart from their opinions. When they’re forced to work together along with a group of travelers they have picked up to free the truck from bogland, for once they stop talking about origins, identity and all that, and just get on with the job. It’s at this point that the viewer realizes what Andres does not — that if he wants to learn about Guarani culture, then he should just throw himself unconditionally into a friendship with Yari. But then again, perhaps the film’s point is that we ourselves are the barrier to the knowledge we seek.

Blue is the color of Yvy Maraey, the overarching, clear skies casting their hue over the empty expanses beneath it. One thrilling shot has the truck raising dust on a windy stretch of desert, raising the suspicion that Valdivia, like Andres, might have something of a tourist brochure vision of the hinterlands through which they are passing. Valdivia’s love for sweeping, circular shots, much in evidence in Southern District, are again on display here — an impressive but mannered directorial tic.

For the record, Yvy Maraey must be one of the unlikeliest film projects ever to feature a verbal reference to Justin Timberlake. Sadly, Elio Ortiz, wonderfully charismatic here as Yari, died at the end of July.

Production company: Cinenomada, Rio Negro, PJB Picture Company
Cast: Juan Carlos Valdivia, Elio Ortiz, Felipe Roman, Francisco Acosta, Diego Picaneray
Director, screenwriter: Juan Carlos Valdivia
Producers: Joaquin Sanchez, Matthias Ehrenberg
Executive producers: Ximena Valdivia, Petter J. Borgli, Bjorn
Director of photography: Paul de Lumen
Production designer:
Costume designer: Joaquin Sanchez
Editor: Juan Pablo Di Bitont
Composer: Cergio Prudencio