Facebook dialogue: Regarding the other

  • Datum 14-04-2011
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During the Festival de Lima in Peru, Amsterdam based film and philosophy student Eva Sancho Rodriguez met Peruvian journalist Caroline Mercado. While working on the daily festival paper they discussed some recent Peruvian films. This is an abridged translation of a conversation they later continued on Facebook.


Eva Sancho 27 October at 20:15
Hi Caroline. Do you remember our discussion about the recent success of Peruvian films? On the sofa at Alicia’s party? You raised some interesting objections to some of these films that were completely new to me. Now I have (finally!) seen Claudia Llosa’s la teta asustada, so could you repeat what you told me? I only remember that you were bothered by how Brosens & Woodworth’s altiplano mixed Quechua with Aymara culture.

Caroline Mercado 28 October at 05:49
Hi Eva, I remember the part about Claudia Llosa’s madeinusa and la teta asustada very well, but I don’t recall if it was me that said that about altiplano. In any case, Quechua is not a culture, it’s a language. Aymara is used to describe both language and culture.

Maybe with time, my opinion has changed. I find la teta asustada increasingly implausible — the vision with which it presents the popular Andino world in Lima (the world of main character Fausta’s refugee family) is absolutely exaggerated, over the top. The photography is breathtaking, you can’t deny that, but it isn’t everything.

About madeinusa (Llosa’s first film), I can’t forgive the way it portrays local religious customs. It seems to cater to the people that say: "Look how these Indians use their religious feasts just to get drunk and fornicate."

Maybe the problem with these films is that they present the painful realities of Peru in a way that is just too beautiful, perhaps even bordering on kitsch. But with that argument we enter into the unresolved question of art as an instrument for social denunciation or as an individual manifestation.

Eva Sancho 28 October 2009 at 19:40
That’s a very good point. This film’s reception hinges on whether we take film as autonomous expression or as an instrument for social critique. la teta asustada is clearly related to both these aspects. It reflects and represents Peru’s traumatic recent history and at the same time the film is beautiful and art-infused, very stylized. I watched it again, with your comments in the back of my mind.

I think that this very issue is reflected and addressed in the film itself. For example, when you look at the role of the pianist (a rich lady who employs Fausta as a domestic). She takes a very personal, intimate song (which Fausta sings to herself in Quechua) about the horrors that have overcome Fausta’s family during the war, and turns its melody into a Romantic piece of music ’to suit European taste.’ Just to use for her piano concert. At first she seems benevolent and then it turns out that she is simply exploiting her. But what happens is still a catalyst for Fausta to come out of her shell.

It’s a complex and ambiguous relationship, don’t you think? With elements of benevolence and elements of distortion and exploitation. Perhaps the role of the pianist is comparable to the relationship the film has towards this painful history? Or the audience/the director towards this history?

I’ve been meaning to read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others; it may be relevant to this, so I’ll read it now. I think it’s about the response (and ethical responsibility) of spectators of horrific images (photos of war etc.) Maybe you’d like to read it too?

Caroline Mercado 17 November 2009 at 22:41
That’s an interesting analogy, between Claudia Llosa and the pianist, and the Europeanization of Fausta’s song. The university library has the book you mention, so I’ll read it too. Let’s read the first half and talk further.

Eva Sancho 18 December 2009 at 15:43
Hi Caroline, how’s the reading going?

Caroline Mercado 03 January at 15:14
Hey Eva, Happy 2010!
Sorry to have disappeared for a while, I was travelling; I will upload some photos soon.

I have this sentence from the book on my mind, on the images of suffering, which touched me deeply. It’s in Chapter 3. "Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it… or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be."

I wonder, through the film’s beautiful frames that reflect the needs and difficulties of the population of Manchay, the very poor area of Lima that was the location of la teta asustada: how does one break the barrier from being a mere onlooker to actually learning from it? What do we learn? Did the director even have any intention of lecturing to us?

Three weeks ago I made a trip to Cieneguilla, an area on the outskirts of Lima that reaches into the hills, where they form a valley, and there’s a river on whose banks the wealthy have some pretty nice country houses. But to get there, we must inevitably go through Manchay, where there is no nearby river or vegetation — it’s just one huge sandpit. I remember paying a great deal of attention to the endless stairs going over the hills. Remember those shots of the stairs in the movie? They’re beautiful! But when I saw them from the car, they seemed to me so very sad, and the drought and the sand became the protagonists.

When I looked at the stairs from the window and compared them to the mental image I had retained from the movie, I felt such an abysmal contrast. But I also wondered: if it hadn’t been for the movie, would I have paid any attention to the stairs? Perhaps if something decadent is presented to us in a beautiful way, it makes us give it particular attention.

But getting back to Sontag and her observations on the way we are becoming accustomed to images of pain that show the suffering of others: are beautiful images that show the suffering of others a new version/vision of the same?

From my particular perspective as a Peruvian woman from Lima, living in a sandy area is synonymous with misery. Images to which we have grown accustomed through local television have always been the most decadent, and whenever there was laughter or liveliness, it was to show some kind of social program in those areas, and there was always an outsider bringing a smile. In la teta asustada, this sandy spot took on a new prominence — it seemed to be a place to live in a more natural and almost dignified way among the whole aesthetics of the customs of the protagonists.

Perhaps the merit of the film was to show the happiness of the inhabitants within — admittedly — a framework of fiction. A joy that comes from themselves, where the painful past of terrorism is almost nonexistent — with the exception of the character Fausta — and the lack of water and other ‘necessities’ is simply another way of life.

Now I must ask you: aside from the beauty of photography of the film and the exoticism of the story, do the images succeed in conveying the hardships of the settlers in the sand?

Caroline Mercado | Eva Sancho Rodriguez

Read Eva’s answer on a Facebook profile called *Eva Caroline Filmkrant*. Facebook is great, but the way it encourages you to make ‘private’ information ‘public’ is not.

Caroline Mercado studied journalism in Lima and has worked for Punto Edu, the weekly magazine of the Catholic University of Peru. She hopes to combine her work as a journalist with her interests in film.
Eva Sancho Rodriguez is Spanish, Salvadorian and Dutch. She is currently writing an MA thesis on philosopher Stanley Cavell’s The world viewed.