Translated by Ana Emilia Felker
Bolivian cinema, although relatively less known on the international scene, has experienced significant growth and artistic expression in recent years. One filmmaker who stands out within this scenario is Martín Bouloq. A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have the director at Literal’s facilities where he spoke with Rodrigo Hasbún, Bolivian writer and screenwriter of El visitante (The Visitor), the film they worked on together. It is important to note that it has been very celebrated: it was in the official selection at the Tribecca Festival, The Latin Wave of the Museum of Fine Arts and Cinema Tropical among many others. Both talked about their experience building together the story that Bouloq would soon bring to the stage.
The conversation was affable, warm. Martin said he was inspired by literature, painting, photography, music and other disciplines for his film career. He started writing literature before making his first short film but the videos came a little later when he knew that film would be his mode of expression. At first his approach was self-taught and intuitive. Later, his formal education and creative impulse led him to draw from real events that he notes down in a collage of events and enrich all aspects of his stories. The joint work between Martin and Rodrigo was developed through endless conversations where the close friendship that unites them led to this magnificent film.
Set in Cochabamba, Bolivia, The Visitor opens with a symbolic scene: Humberto, an ex-convict and father of a teenage girl named Aleida, is released from prison and moves uphill towards what would be the perfect metaphor for what awaits him. His first assignment is to visit his daughter who has been adopted by her maternal grandparents when she was left without any protection: her mother died and her father ended up in the penitentiary. Her maternal grandparents are now running the Evangelist church. Humberto, with the permission of his in-laws, begins to visit his daughter only to be confronted with long silences. The girl does not feel confident to talk during the first few encounters, but as the days pass, the young girl inquires about her past and the reasons why her parents were absent. We intuit that the mother committed suicide and the father, that is, Humberto, went to jail because of his alcoholism. But the long silences that populate the film, are left floating through the images to create a very successful ambiguous atmosphere, that only exalts the curiosity of the viewers so that they, in an active way, complete the story by joining the ends that Bouloq and Hasbún leave us. Thus, the most intriguing events happen off-camera but are contained within the facts that we all access on the screen.
At first, once he has resumed his normal life, Humberto makes a living singing at funerals and later, selling phone cards in order to capitalize and regain custody of Aleida. But there is something that is abysmally anticipated and the protagonist cannot see: the social classes of a divided society are so subtle that only those who observe them can identify them and see that a reconciliation would be impossible. Humberto cannot understand it at that moment, perhaps blinded by his love for his daughter, that the differences are so marked that they are not only evident to the most distracted viewer, but are felt in the flesh at the mere mention of them. The visitor brings us that reality without mentioning it, perhaps also because the only way out of that hell is to join the evangelist church and climb their seats to get out of that black hole that Cochabamba can be.
In that sense, these differences are no stranger to Bolivian cinema either, which often explores themes deeply rooted in the country’s social and political context. Its films tend to address issues such as poverty, inequality, indigenous cultures, historical events and the complexities of Bolivian identity. The stories portrayed on screen are often raw, intimate and reflect the reality of many Bolivians. That which describes Bolivian cinema, marks Bouloq’s work giving it a unique voice within the country’s landscape. His works often show meticulous attention to detail, but above all to metaphor. Towards the end of the film, the visual images become increasingly powerful. We see a character dwarfed by an overwhelming environment. The mountains, the grass, the hills, everything overwhelms him. Humberto is no more than a minimized figure, moving slowly forward. He is on his way to the place where his daughter will be baptized. Aleida, again in the hands of her grandparents, dives into the water and three windmills frame the scene. They represent the three crosses that recall the Golgotha where someone dies and others are reborn. But this return to life does not happen in the hereafter, where the kingdom of heaven is the promise of every evangelist, but in the here and now promoted by the grandparents from the seat of power. Both father and daughter will die a symbolic death and be reborn in that Christian world that does not necessarily promise a better life. What is to come? It remains to be seen. Everything will depend on the imagination. Of the spectator himself, who will have to recreate a story that lengthens like the shadow left by this film, in that imagined future that only art films can leave, films that will remain in time, their own and that of cinematographic history.
Let’s hope that Bouloq’s work continues to rise to the challenge of making quality films from Bolivia and continues to receive the international attention it deserves. His language is metaphorical and powerful and its resonance is universal. His works shed light on social and political issues while celebrating the character and cultural heritage of the Bolivian people. Limited funding and infrastructure, along with the dominance of Hollywood and other international film industries, will always be obstacles to national production, as the director himself and Rodrigo Hasbún, his screenwriter discussed on their visit. Nevertheless, Bouloq’s passion and resilience, Hasbún’s exquisite work, the quality of the performances in El visitante, as well as his vision of human psychology offer hope for the future.
-Fotograma de El visitante
Rose Mary Salum es la fundadora y directora de Literal, Latin American Voices. Es la autora de Donde el río se toca (Sudaquia, 2022), Otras lunas (Libros del sargento, 2022) Tres semillas de granada, ensayos desde el inframundo (Vaso Roto, 2020), Una de ellas (dislocados, 2020). El agua que mece el silencio (Vaso Roto, 2015), Delta de las arenas, cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishing, 2013) (Versión Kindle) y Entre los espacios (Tierra Firme, 2003), entre otros títulos. Sus obras se han traducido al italiano, búlgaro y portugués. Su Twitter es @rosemarysalum
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