Monday, April 16, 2012

Third World (orig. Tercer Mundo) [2009]

Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

Third World (orig. Tercer Mundo) is a low-budget indie style "sci-fi" film directed by Chilean-born, Cuban-educated Cesar Caro Cruz that played recently at the 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival.  As an "indie-style sci-fi film," stylistically it has similarities with critically well received North American indie films Another Earth [2011] and The Future [2011].  Yet since it takes place in three different locations in Latin America -- in Bolivia, Chile and Costa Rica -- it also has similarities to the much higher budget Hollywood produced Babel [2006] which involved three simple stories involving ordinary people occurring on three different continents, yet stories which interlocked in various ways.  Yet, though stylistically similar to the first two films and perhaps influenced by the third, Third World (orig. Tercer Mundo) is a story emphatically told from a Latin American and then "feet on the ground" Latin American perspective.

What do I mean?  First, the film is based in both pre-Columbian Latin American history and contemporary Latin American pop-culture.

In one of the three concurrent stories taking place at the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, the abuelo/grandfather Jesús (played by Hugo del Pozo) of 20-something Amaya (played by Carmen Tito) is very proud of / well versed in his Aymara heritage.  Showing a picture of a Bolivian rock-painting (according to the film) from 600 B.C. portraying someone who looks almost exactly like a contemporary astronaut, he takes it for granted that the Andean peoples had been visited by extra-terrestrials millennia ago.  Indeed, he appears rather proud of the implication - that extra-terrestrials would have found the peoples of the Andes/pre-Columbian Americas worthy of visitation.  That's the "pre-Columbian historical" aspect of the equation.

Then there's the Latin American pop-cultural aspect: when I was first sent by my Order to Mexico in 1999 to learn Spanish, I found it jaw-droppingly stunning when in the course of one of day's lessons my teacher told me that recent polls indicated that some 80% of Mexico's population believed in UFOs.  Apparently there had been some widely publicized sitings of plasma ball UFOs (ovnis in Spanish) around the famous Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl volcanos outside of Mexico City (YouTube) and ever since Mexican public opinion has been hooked.  (Remember, Mexico is another country with an enormously rich history of pre-Columbian civilization and that the image on the sarcophagus of one of the Mayan rulers, Pacal, buried in neighboring Guatamala could be interpreted as if he was flying a spaceship).  All this is to say that Latin America, particularly the parts of which with heritages of advanced pre-Columbian civilizations, offers fertile ground for _indigenous_ sci-fi speculation.  

However, there is a second, far more "hardnosed" / "feet on the ground" / "down to earth" aspect to this film because it does challenge the viewer to ask:  From the point of view of someone living in what's called (often derisively) "The Third World," would not visitors from "The First World," ("Gringos") seem like  "extra-terrestrials?"  That's the hard-edge of the movie.  Remember here that this movie was made by a director from Chile but one who got his film-school education in Cuba, hence someone who would not be particularly afraid to force that question of whether a "Gringo" would seem to someone from the Third World to be something of an "extra-terrestrial" (not of this/their world).

All three the stories in this film carry that hard-nosed edge:  Richi (played by Luis Miguel Sanchez) a young, hardworking auto-mechanic is dumped by his girlfriend Anita (played by Carolina Bello May) for a "Gringo" named Arnold.  The angry, crest-fallen, jilted Richi keeps calling him "Schwarzenegger" even though Arnold doesn't look anything like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Instead, he appears to be simply a reasonably amiable American "surfer-dude" who came down to Costa Rica meeting Anita on the beach one day.  When Richi asks Anita why she dumped him for Arnold even though he had been working his butt-off in that garage to hopefully build a good life for the two of them, she tells him quite sincerely: "I know that you're a good hardworking guy, but you're also a bit boring."  To make himself "more exciting"/"less predictable" therefore, Richi decides to go to a Costa Rican lake with his much lazier friend (and "onvi"/UFO buff) to see if they could spot one of those "onvis"/"UFOs" during a passing solar eclipse.  

Then while Amaya's grandfather would like to teach Amaya all sorts of things about the ways of their ancestors, for most of the film, Amaya's just interested in finally discovering who her actual father was.  Eventually, she's told by her mother that he was a Costa Rican tourist who had passed through some 23-24 years ago.  To Amaya he might as well have been from Mars...

Finally, soft-spoken Chilean pilot Juan (played by Juan Pablo Garuti) is training to be an astronaut and told that he'll be "the only Latin American" on a particular NASA space mission.  He's told by his Chilean commanders that he'll both be representing all of Latin America as a result AND since it's NOT necessarily "a go" yet with regards to the mission THAT HE CAN'T TELL ANYONE that he's going to be on this mission.  The poor guy is lonely and, as a technician, kind of a nerd.  Between the dual weights of the responsibility and the secrecy that his mission entails, he simply has no idea what to tell the cute and similarly shy Paloma (played by Bibiana Alvarez) at the Santiago, Chile coffee-bar/tabacco-stand who he's desperately trying to impress.  Finally, he tells her "I can't tell you much, but one day soon you'll see me on TV." (Oh boy, what girl would want to hear that?  Is he gonna turn out to be a mass murderer or something...?)  But yes, she does come to see him "on TV."  It's just that by that time, he's in Space, having been launched presumably from Cape Canaveral in North America, thousands of miles from Santiago, Chile ...

So do we become our own "space aliens" to each other?  A simple but fascinating movie ;-)


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