Antonio Eguino

Chicago Filmmakers

Made under the direction of ANTONIO EGUINO with the former militant revolutionary, now more subtly mass-oriented, Bolivian Ukamau filmmaking group, Chuquiago is intended to be a film about social classes in La Paz. But two unexpected things emerge. First, the entire content often uncomfortably resembles life in the United States, and secondly, the real tragedy, which might or might not be the product of a “class struggle,” is the total emptiness of all the human characters involved.

The film recounts the lives of four individuals, each progressively higher up the social scale, progressively more bureaucratized, progressively lighter in skin, and progressively more prosperous. Isico, an Indian country boy who comes to an outside-the-city market to work for another Indian, is a portrait of slave labor. He lives in the street and earns only enough money barely to feed himself by carrying packages for wealthy ladies. The boy is considered lazy and greasy by Indians just a little better off than he. A street vendor uses his hair to demonstrate United States palm oil, guaranteed to aid any poor fellow’s bleak future. Sympathetically, we watch this Mayan descendant play with a few ritual figurines brought with him from the hills where he once lived.

In contrast, but not much in contrast, Johnny lives in the city itself. He is a stereotyped teenage rock-and-roll fan, with Farrah-like posters on the wall, the newest shaving lotion for his face, and a guitar. He helps rob a house for $150 to pay a fraudulent travel agency that promises to send him to the United States, where he can see the Golden Gate Bridge. The only impelling goal here is owning five or six houses and an Impala. And we leave Johnny in this perennially unfulfilled state.

On what is supposed to be the “bad guys” side, Carlos, a Spanish bribe-taking bureaucrat, has a wife who hates him, a passion for alcohol and gambling, and dies mysteriously during a brothel-binge, leaving his wife muttering vacant oaths and his office partners still delivering bribes. During this segment, an Indian who resembles Isico enters the metal-desked office and is roundly ridiculed, though interestingly enough, his swarthy skin, ancient features, ernest expression, and incredibly woven garments are infinitely more beautiful and praiseworthy than the Westernized Spanish decor. In any case, only the office janitor can interpret this Indian’s dialect, and clearly all the “best” people speak only Spanish.

The final portrait is Patricia, the “elitist” daughter of a Spanish government official who sets up an arts foundation to give prizes for poetry he doesn’t care about. Patricia, weary of tea parties and fancy clothes, attends a university where a union-organizer boyfriend educates her on how arts prizes rarely help the people. She leaves the university, marries another elitist, while her former boyfriend is exiled, and in a closing shot, looks out an expensive sports car window and sees poor little Isico, burdened like a packhorse. The Indian’s labor reminds her of her own guilt—no one is happy.

Chuquiago, in surprisingly unrepetitious narrative style, shows that no one seems to profit in a system where people are obliged to carry out only the roles allotted them by tradition, class, or society. Its four-segment format seems metaphorically to close a door behind each human subject, as if, despite continuity in time and place, any passage out of the “box” weren’t at all assured. The beautiful color, dynamic scenes of ethnic song, costume, and dance, and horizontal, sandy landscapes continually mock the general flatness which defines these ritualized existences and their individual human content.

C. L. Morrison