Greeting audiences with several of many arresting images to come, Kiro Russo’s El Gran Movimiento brilliantly sets the scene in its opening moments. Showcasing a model specimen of urban sprawl, the camera reflects on a congested city, subsequently zooming in to immerse us in a atmosphere of imposing buildings, blaring car horns and the shuffle of myriad citizens going about their daily lives. Immediately, it becomes clear that the most prominent character in this captivating film is the city of La Paz, Bolivia in all its well-worn grandeur.
La Paz is the adopted home of Elder (Julio César Ticona), a former miner who has arrived from the outskirts hoping to reclaim his job. When a workers’ protest proves unfruitful, Elder sees his hopes dwindle in this pitiless metropolis. Settling for a job in the market, he is soon struck with an illness which leaves him coughing and struggling to catch his breath. As he seeks a lifeline for his professional aspirations and his personal health, an atmosphere of decay threatens to consume him. But a kind older woman named Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro) promises healing by way of an eccentric witch named Max (Max Bautista Uchasara).
Metaphors abound throughout El Gran Movimiento, as Elder’s dwindling health suggests a commentary on the perils of urbanization. And the respiratory nature of the illness also resonates universally as an allegory of the current COVID-19 crisis. All this parallel urban and physical decay is captured with a documentary-like verisimilitude by Kiro Russo. There’s a keen sense that he cares about these people and this city. As the camera roams through side alleys and mountain slopes alike, weaving in and out of conversations, we feel like we’re bearing witness in real time. Coupled with enveloping sound design and sincere, unaffected performances, the film feels truly alive.
Indeed, apart from a foray into Max’s rambling solitude in a forest, El Gran Movimiento is a transfixing viewing experience. And even those less compelling Max-centric scenes are seamlessly integrated and essential to the narrative’s intermittent surrealism and the conflict between spirituality and modernity. That conflict is no more expressive than when the cinematography treats us to stunning wide shots of the landscape of the world’s highest capital city. As we gaze upon this densely packed city framed by the natural beauty of the mountain rages, it invokes meditation on what it was, what it is and what it could be.
El Gran Movimiento is now playing in select theaters.