Pachamama (2018)

Director: Juan Antin
Writer: Juan Antin, Patricia Valeix, Olivier de Bannes, Nathalie Hertzberg
Cast: Andrea Santamaria, India Coenen, Saïd Amadis, Marie-Christine Darah, Vincent Ropion, Jean-Marc Pannetier [I saw the film in English, these are the French voice actors]
Seen on: 23.3.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) colonialism

Tepulpai (Andrea Santamaria) wants to become a shaman like Shaman (Saïd Amadis). When its time to prove that he is willing to sacrifice his most treasured possession to Pachamama and thus prove that he is becoming an adult, he can’t do it – unlike Naira (India Coenen) who is ready to sacrifice her small llama Lamita. When a tax collector shows up in their village and takes not only more than the village can afford, but also their Huaca, a sacred idol, Tepulpai hopes he can prove himself after all – by bringing back the Huaca.

Pachamama is a really beautiful film with a political core, but the story and the voice acting didn’t quite work for me.

The film poster showing Tepulpai and Naira flying on a big Condor bird. Lamita is watching them from the ground.

I saw the English language version of the film (I thought it was the original language, but I was probably wrong about that) and I was a little weirded out by the fact that in that version Tepulpai had a (French?) accent that comes and goes a little. Generally, each of the actors seemed to have a different accent. I usually don’t have an ear for this, but it was so obvious here, there was no not hearing it.

Apart from that strangeness, I also struggled with the sudden turn to colonialism in the film. When Spanish invaders show up, things turn very brutal – more brutal than I’d expect from a children’s film. And when they manage to best the colonizers and get the Huaca back, knowing that the Incas were ultimately almost entirely wiped out makes that victory feel very hollow indeed. Maybe it would have felt different if actual indigenous people had told the story.

Naira and Tepulpai looking at a firefly.

And one final point of contention from me: the dynamic between Tepulpai and Naira and their respective characterization was heavily and stereotypically gendered. It would have been nice if the film had brought in a little more deviation here.

Despite these misgivings on my part, I have to say that Pachamama is a visually stunning film with its very own style. There is no other animated film that looks like it (I think) and it really is beautiful to watch. If you love animation, you probably have to watch it for the visuals alone. But the rest of the film just didn’t speak to me that much.

Shaman and kids sleepping with Walumama holding the Huaca.

Summarizing: beautiful but otherwise meh.

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