Ixcanul tells the story of a young Mayan woman on the slopes of the active Pacaya volcano. In her traditional family of coffee farmers, Maria dreams of something more than the simple life she lives. While she makes plans to run off to the United States (romantically portrayed as ‘just on the other side of the volcano’) with Pepe, a co-worker at the coffee plantation, her parents arrange a marriage between their only daughter and the plantation foreman, Ignacio. She quietly goes along with the arrangement but her feelings for Pepe and the desire to change her life are getting stronger.
In an effort to convince Pepe to take her with him on his run to the United States, María finds him drinking heavily with the other men in the village. She easily convinces him to have sex with her and from there, things are getting complicated for the young girl. María soon finds out she is pregnant and while numerous attempts to abort the unborn child fail, it gets harder to hide her growing belly for her future husband. Not only does she put her upcoming marriage at stake, she also threatens her family’s already fragile hope for a better and wealthier life.
“Tenés la luz de vida adentro” – you have the light of life inside of you
María has been told that pregnant women can scare away the poisonous snakes that make it impossible to cultivate crops on their little piece of land. In an attempt to save her family’s future, María ends up risking not only her own life but also the life of her unborn baby. She soon finds herself stuck in a situation that forces her to deal with the real world…
Ixcanul is a beautiful and rare piece of art that shows how hard life can be for the indigenous people of Guatemala and especially for the Mayan women. Most of the Mayan people are cut off from the rest of the country by a language barrier since they often only speak their own language. Almost half of the population in Guatemala is indigenous Mayan and they are often victims of discrimination, racism, exploitation and isolation. Mayan women not only face discrimination based on their culture but also on their gender.
Ixcanul is an impressive debut from the young Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante. The movie doesn’t just tell the empowering story of a young Mayan woman – who only speaks Kaqchikel – but it also provides a window into a culture that is rarely shown on the big screen. Ixcanul might even open up the conversation about the position of Mayans in today’s Guatemalan culture which is enough to make it a must-see.
It is also the first Guatemalan movie that has ever been nominated for an Academy Award. So… what are you waiting for?