Saturday, 23 January 2010


Based on real events in 1960s Bolivia, Yawar Mallku tells the story of a population control program implemented by the local government, and executed by American Peace Corps volunteers. The program targets the indigenous Quechua people by setting up a clinic in an unnamed village and promising them first-class health care. In reality, the unit is sterilising the local women in the hope of removing the tribe completely. When the truth is discovered, the Quechua wage war on the Americans, but it becomes clear that the corps’ militant demeanour is too overwhelming for them. Nonetheless, the natives refuse to give up, using a wounded man who is refused treatment at the clinic as a martyr for their cause.

The film was understandably a significant contributor to anti-U.S. feelings at the time, and actually led to the dismissal of the Peace Corps in Bolivia. That this reflection of the injustices perpetrated on a minority could inspire such swift action is testament to the immediacy of cinema. But while the cause at heart is tragic, and the film’s existence de rigueur, Yawar Mallku is little more than a historical artefact. Director Jorge Sanjinés is known for his continual support of working-class Bolivians, particularly those ethnic minorities which enrich the fabric of Bolivian culture, but this film doesn’t seem to exhibit much in the way of cultural identity or pride. Perhaps this is just Westernised snobbery, as the film is still a remarkable work given the political and financial constraints at the time.

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