By Stephen Philip
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2799

The Great Movement—a rich portrait of poverty in La Paz

This film layers documentary realism with surrealistic kitsch to tell a story of workers’ struggle and resilience in a sick society
Issue 2799
Elder, the main character in The Great Movement , sits with his eyes closed as if sleeping

Sick miner Elder is beset by strange events in the city, in The Great Movement

The vast sprawling metropolis of La Paz is laid out before us, underscored by a vividly rendered impressionistic soundscape. The incessant noise of cars ­honking, drilling, hammers ­pounding away. The hum of cable cars, market callers, discordant trumpets. The sound of a city crumbling and heedlessly expanding.

As we attune ourselves to a sense of Latin American urbanisation, the juxtaposition of striking miners chanting for justice now appear. We hone in on three miners from the Miners Jobless Movement, who have walked for seven days, searching for secure work, moreover justice.

Elder, one of the miners is sick from swallowing dust, a hazard of his occupation. His story forms the central thrust in the wayward narrative of The Great Movement.

While traversing the city in a cable car the miners are offered a panoramic view of the vast expanse of La Paz. Its luxury accommodation sits cheek by jowl with poverty and images of urban decay.

Realising of the extent of his sickness, Elder visits a doctor, where he receives X-rays, blood tests and medication. But it is only booze, violent TV shows and dancing to cheesy techno music that give the miners the antidote to their harsh and precarious existence.

A Godmother figure emerges, claiming Elder is her godson, despite the fact he has never seen her before. She takes Elder under her wing, intent on finding him work. The film now twists towards the superstitious and supernatural as a Shaman figure, known as Max, rises from the forest’s noisy undergrowth. His prophesies are ridiculed by the market stall women, but can he be trusted to work his magic on the dying Elder?

Discordant scenes and images jostle against one another, none more so than a lurch into a 80s style dance sequence with disco flashing lights and smoke. What was a ­realistic, documentary style mood poem further adopts a fresh layer of kitsch to its complex canvas.

The singular vision of La Paz from director Kiro Russo in The Great Movement is simultaneously entrancing, slow moving and frustrating.  His symphonic treatment of the bustle and chaos of Bolivian life is solidly anchored in Elder’s sickness as a metaphor for the ailment of a city undergoing a dramatic transition.

The Great Movement is a highly atmospheric cinematic treatment of modernity and its discontents, subtly and finally highlighting workers’ resilience as the hope in its hopeless world.

  • The Great Movement is in selected cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday 15 April

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