Issue - July 2010

July 2010


In this edition, Jamie Bassett uncovers the history behind Mother’s Day celebration in Cochabamba, William Dowling discovers the reason behind one of Bolivia’s biggest festivals, Lauren Rutter profi les Olympic Stadium and reviews La Chirola, Floriane Guyot tries to explain the urban gang phenomenon and Walter Sánchez describes the structure of Bolivian families. read more...

July 2010

La Chirola Directed by Diego Mondaca

Diego Mondaca’s beautiful and moving film La Chirola takes an intimate look into the life of former Bolivian guerrilla and ex–convict Pedro Cajias.

Lauren Rutter
Projects Abroad
Cardiff - Wales

The short documentary has had great international success, winning numerous awards around the globe. Made by a group of young Latin Americans, the work is an accomplished and fascinating watch, giving us a glimpse into a universal issue that has affected so many.

We are invited into Cajias’ world, as he relates his emotions, memories and the trauma of life both inside and outside San Pedro prison in La Paz, where he was incarcerated. This charismatic character provides a way into his world through monologues to the camera and reconstructions of situations. The beautiful monochrome palette reflects the oppositional binaries and extremes of emotion that structure the documentary. Director Mondaca suggests that the black and white images “feed the imagination of both the viewer and the character.” Aesthetic form plays an important role in the film, each object is carefully framed. During his monologues Pedro drifts in and out of the frame, which refuses to contain him, reflecting his views on society and his refusal to be placed in a box. Silhouetting and unconventional camera angles are also used to great effect. This is not to say that narrative is any less significant, it is equally important to the structure of the documentary as Pedro tells us his story sequentially.

Some questions are raised over the boundaries between documentary and fiction, particularly in the scenes where Pedro re-enacts phone conversations between himself and his lawyer. Increasingly, works have crossed over this divide and blurred the lines between them. This does not detract from the work and in fact serves to enhance it, as we get a further insight into his life and his character. Mondaca highlights the importance of using “all the tools specific to audiovisual narratives to tell the story more creatively,” regardless of whether they are defined as techniques of fiction or documentary.

In his monologues Pedro relates to us his fear of the unknown before going into prison and his experiences inside. Interestingly, he refuses to see his time inside as a punishment. Instead he sees it as a shelter, a place to rest. Shots drift hazily in and out of focus depending on what Pedro is telling us. When discussing his drug infused days the shots appear out of focus relating his inner conflict and confused mind, and drift back into focus upon other points.

Pedro tells us of how he managed to turn his life around when a prison guard gave him a puppy to look after. Through the bond he developed with the dog he learnt aspects of human nature like kindness and loyalty. He learnt that the dog relied upon him and that he could no longer act selfishly and without consequence.

He became settled and comfortable inside, so much so that he feared returning to the outside world. This reflects the difficulties of reintegration into society that confront many long term offenders on their release. He had no security, prestige or friends and came to see it as a mistake to have sought after his freedom. He had lost all faith in human nature and saw the outside world as a jail. He suggests that people are trapped in their lives, tied down by bills, taxes, rent and controlled by those in power. He expresses his ideas and his life philosophy simply but eloquently.

Disillusioned with the human race, Pedro chooses a life on the margins of society. A rural cabin surrounded by nature and most importantly to him the companionship of his dogs. We see his bond with the dogs throughout the film, most notably when he feeds them. The close up shots of the dogs eating meat, and the amplified sound of their teeth crunching on it, serve to highlight their savageness, and the irony of the fact that it was the savage animal that made him more human than any human contact ever could of.

Disillusioned with the human race, Pedro chooses a life on the margins of society.

We track away from Pedro as he is settled in his life, living outside society. The ending is somewhat complicated by the triumphant, militaristic band music. Should we really feel joy at such a grim verdict on human nature?

Both visually striking and narratively interesting, La Chirola is a triumph. Cajias has a charm to him, which makes him very watchable, despite his rather depressing views on the human race. It offers up a bleak view of mankind, but it is gripping viewing and its aesthetic pleasures are more than rewarding.

The urban gang phenomenon

Criminal groups have been a part of history for thousands of years and their roots run deep into America’s past and culture. Gangs are not a new phenomenon and neither are the problems associated with them. However, they have never affected a greater portion of society as they do now. The phenomenon of urban gangs is not confined to Bolivia, or America; it exists all over the world. A gang can be defined as a resilient, mainly street based group of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a notorious group and who engage in a range of criminal activity and violence. They also have a territory, operate within a certain area, have some sort of gang structure and often fight with other gangs.

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