‘El Gran Movimiento’ & the Return of Cinéma Vérité (Review)

El Gran Movimiento (The Great Movement) is a mystifying and staunch recollection of scenes in the midst of industrial La Paz, Bolivia. Directed by Kiro Russo, El Gran Movimiento follows a young mine worker, Elder (Julio César Ticona), who moves to La Paz in search of more steady work. Hoping for a more prosperous life, the only thing Elder encounters in the winding and dusty urbanization of La Paz is disease and endless chaos. However, not all remains lost as Russo’s magical film offers more than a bleak outlook on the life of the oppressed. Refusing to lose that which makes Bolivia a country rich in culture, El Gran Movimiento shines a complex light on what happens when that culture clashes with an ever-growing industrial wheel. 

A mystical white wolf in El Gran Movimiento (COURTESY: ADRIFT)

The film is fused with an 80’s nostalgic aesthetic that makes it hard to pinpoint the time, until a modern phone makes an appearance every now and then. There’s a clear interest in collapsing time. Time is also directly linked to the cultural bridge between the indigenous population of Bolivia versus the colonizer Western impulse of the industrial machine. El Gran Movimiento expresses concerns about mass acclimation and its direct impact on the general population of Bolivia. Through Elder, the film weaves a narrative of explosion as two worlds collide in an experiment gone wrong. You have visuals of people living in the streets of La Paz superimposed on the growing infrastructures that surround them. 

Grand buildings strongly contrast the much smaller and tenuously built brick structures that look on the verge of collapsing from the high mountain tops. Advertisements of American films surround bridges that also host a large portion of indigenous communities segregated from their homes due to poor economic opportunities back home. But more than showcasing poverty and a growing number of displaced indigenous communities, Russo is also concerned with illustrating the beauty of Bolivia, highlighting the beautiful mountain tops, the green shrubbery just outside the cityscapes, and the culture that permeates the city, people, and visuals. 

Max Bautista Uchasara as Max in El Gran Movimiento (COURTESY: ADRIFT)

El Gran Movimiento paints a much more complex picture of an industrialized La Paz, Bolivia. While it does account for the pitfalls of colonization, especially in the economic and social disparities of the indigenous community, it celebrates that which makes Bolivia so grand. Russo celebrates the strength and power of the people of Bolivia. Much of this is through Max’s (Max Bautista Uchasara) characterization and visual representation on screen. Through him, the life of the indigenous spirit lives as Russo visually pairs it with white wolves and long shots of the beautiful Bolivian landscapes. Of shining lights and flash mobs dancing to generic 80’s music you’d see in an early 80s James Cameron film. That’s one particular sequence I’ll be revisiting for quite some time. 

In the end, Russo poses a much more significant question: can the rituals and prayers of Max – and by extension the indigenous community – be enough to stop the ever-growing dust storm that’s the urbanization of what was once nature’s domain? I think the answer is a lot bleaker than we might want to acknowledge. I know, personally, things have drastically changed since my grandfather once lived in Bolivia. Before he passed, he used to reminisce on the simplicity of life before industrialization truly permeated the lives of Bolivians. 

Russo’s El Gran Movimiento is a fascinating look at cinéma vérité and magical realism through the lens of modernity and its impact on Bolivian culture. How the blend of documentary and fiction collapses time, space, and narrative. How it becomes a much more potent experience in highlighting the struggles of everyday people hoping to survive another day. 

Rating: 8/10

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