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La Llorona is a Spellbinding Horror Movie About the Silent Holocaust Against Indigenous People

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest


Acclaimed filmmaker Jayro Bustamante talks to Cassie da Costa about his latest, which explores Guatemalas Silent Holocaust against the Mayan-Ixil through a ghost story.

Cassie da Costa

Whereas Jayro Bustamantes debut, Ixcanul, takes place almost entirely in a Mayan village in modern-day Guatemala, his third and latest film, La Llorona, reverses the setting, with Ixcanul stars Mara Mercedes Coroy and Mara Teln returning as maids Alma and Valeriana in the home of an Alzheimers-stricken former general, a fictionalization of the right-wing Guatemalan General Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia. Still, similar themes emergeof indigenous womens dispossession, of unsettling forces driving toward a future unforeseen by some.

ishonest No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

Lucas Garcia was never tried for his crimes despite an extradition request from a Spanish judge since his wife informed the Venezuelan tribunal (the couple had fled to Venezuela after a 1982 coup) that her husband was too ill to face trial.

In La Llorona, the general, this time called Enrique, faces trial with a human rights tribunal in Guatemala, and actually has to go despite his condition. Mayan women, covered in traditional veils, come to testify. One elder tells of her experience being hunted down by military men, having her children ripped from her and killed, and being rapedall in translation. When on the stand, Enrique fervently denies that he did anything wrong and justifies his drive to build a national identity in Guatemala. The court finds that the evidence is against him, that he ordered the killings, and that he is guilty. He collapses, and is sent to the hospital. Days later, his family visit him and hear, on the news, that the government has thrown out the decision; Enrique will go free. But not so fast.

La Llorona is obviously a ghost story as well as a revenge movie that centers terrorized women who come to embody the pursuit of justice. In this way, the film is in conversation with Mati Diops Atlantics. A major thematic difference, however, is that Bustamante modeled the film to be digestible by mainstream Mesoamerican audienceshe wanted people to actually watch, and listen, so he devised his own take on a superhero movie, which he discovered was the most popular genre in the region. I started my research and I found La Llorona. La Llorona, in Mesoamerica, is a kind of hero because shes so famous. But at the same time, shes a horror figure.

Literally the woman who cries, La Llorona represents a righteous yet relentless figure. In the film, she appears out of nowhere, a young, beautiful Mayan-Ixil woman from head maid Valerianas town whos answered a call to come help at the house after all the housekeepers have fled, wary of bad vibes that have accumulated during and after the trial. Mercedes Coroy told Bustamante that she wanted to play Alma/La Llorona as inspired by her grandmother and offer a model for Mayan women to speak out and refuse to be silenced.

La Llorona is both a claustrophobic and panoramic film, where legions of protesters, holding images of the murdered and disappeared, assemble around the house. A peoples quarantine is enforced. Enrique and his familyhis wife Carmen, his doctor daughter Natlia, and his granddaughter Saracannot leave. Valeriana, a Mayan woman who has lived for most of her life with the family, is loyal yet waryshe knows the spirits are discontent. When Alma arrives, Enriques violent sleepwalking, during which he often carries a gun, shifts and intensifies. Scenes of Alma and Sara each plunging in water repeat throughout, as if the haze of Enriques Alzheimers is pierced with a new presence. Bustamante tells me he was also inspired by horror films like Dracula, the elegance and terror combined into a singular cinematic experience, as well as Japanese films, as he believes Mayan and Japanese cultures have certain things in common.

Bustamante emphasized that the major blockages in thinking amongst Guatemalans of mixed heritage that he saw were in the culture of machismo. The women in Enriques life are certainly complicit in their acceptance and ignorance, but as they are forced to face the scale of their patriarchs violence, they are thrust into a new paradigmthe message being that we cant vanquish evil until we stop internalizing it.

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