Issue - August 2010

August 2010


In this edition, Rutter gives a review of the Cementerio de los Elefantes film; Will Dowlin tell us about the most dangerous road in the world, The Ekeko, a Bolivian tradition by Lena Midrez; and ultimately Walter Sanchez lets us know about Violin in Boliviaread more...

august 2010

El Cementerio de los Elefantes

Tonchy Antezana’s latest film El Cementerio di los Elefantes takes a look at the last days of an alcoholic living in La Paz. What does Lauren Rutter make of it?

Lauren Rutter
Projects Abroad
Cardiff - Wales

El Cementerio di los Elefantes gazes into the lives of those existing on the margins of society in La Paz. The film is entirely fictional, exploring the urban myth of the elephant cemetery; a place in La Paz where alcoholics go to spend their final days, drinking themselves to death. The legend is based upon the myth that when elephants are close to death they instinctively leave their packs and head for the springs to die alone.

We are invited into this world of urban myth through the character of Juvenal, played by Christian Castillo, a lifelong alcoholic, who started drinking at just fourteen. Now thirty-three, he decides to spend his last few days at the presidential suite, a grim enclosed room above a drinking den, in the elephant cemetery of La Paz. The presidential suite is a bleak, empty, windowless space where Juvenal is locked in, spending his last seven days alone with a bucket of alcohol. Throughout his stay he recalls memories of his life, from his happy childhood to his unhappy adolescence and descent into a life of poverty, alcoholism and crime.

Juvenal looks tired and haggard; life has not been kind to him. His reflection in the mirror shows more than his thirty-three years of age. His body is worn, scarred and dirty. Alcohol has stripped him of his youth amongst many other things.

In flashbacks Juvenal recalls his dark teenage years, beginning with his abusive father who beat both him and his mother. Alcohol has constantly played a part in his life, this is reflected in memories of him and his young friends drinking on the street, it plays a part in almost every flashback. We witness Juvenal’s descent into other unsavoury activities like prostitution, theft, drug trafficking, domestic abuse and murder. We see the girlfriend who can no longer cope with his drinking problem, something he just does not understand.

In the end Juvenal is left with nothing. He has lost everything, and is dying alone and in pain. Death seems to have lingered over every aspect of his life; he has lost many friends to alcohol. Despite this he continues to drink right up to his last moments, he has nothing else. He reflects on his one happy childhood memory of a birthday party, but the majority of his memories are painful ones.

The opening shots of the film reflect the culturally diverse city of La Paz. The beginning sequence captures the spirit and characters of the city. The panoramic panning shots show La Paz’s beautiful landscape. We then descend into the city and the shots reflect the distinct nature of La Paz, shots of the markets, protests and street performers capturing the essence of the city.

The film has a very realistic feel which comes across in the style that it is shot. The way that the handheld camera tracks around makes it feel like documentary footage. It gives this grim subject a realistic edge, giving the viewer a sense of an up-close and personal view of this man’s demise. The shots are perfectly accompanied by Huascar Bolivar’s haunting music.

El Cementerio di los Elefantes is a Cochabamba based project, but it received absolutely no help from any authorities or companies in Cochabamba. Despite this it has received wide international recognition, winning nine awards in places like Warsaw, London and Hollywood.

The film was made extremely quickly, the script was written in one month, preproduction took only three weeks, the shooting took only two weeks and the remaining months were spent in postproduction. Antezana highlights how the script came about, it was “originally developed as a short film…but we saw that the story could be very attractive, so we realized it was worth writing a story for a feature film.”

It is a very low budget film, made in total for less than twenty thousand dollars. The budget does restrict El Cementerio di los Elefantes from being too technically advanced in terms of photography and lighting, but this does not detract from the overall film.

El Cementerio di los Elefantes takes a grim look at addiction and at the life of those outside society, a topic that has been ignored for too long. The realistic feel of the film gives it a gritty edge and the contents will stay with you a long time after viewing. Hopefully the success of this film will make the companies and authorities in Cochabamba more likely to throw their support behind Bolivian cinema.

Don’t Push Me 'Cause I am Close to the Edge

There are five roads which have gained infamy in the world because of their danger and their history. All of them claim many lives each year; however all are still used in excess as they are often the only road to and from their destinations. They are made all the more dangerous because of their status, which attracts tourists to them and makes them busier.

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