Film slider — 15 January 2013

Rick Segreda

“¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca?”, AKA “Who killed the white llama?” is receiving an extended showing at Santiago’s Plaza Cultural la Moneda, good for the cinema-loving citizens of that city. This wild, witty, caustic black comedy from Bolivia constitutes a high-water mark in Andean film making. It boldly takes on some of Latin America’s biggest social issues and flouting the solemnity often associated with Latin American auteurs.

The plot is a Bolivian variation on Bonnie and Clyde. A a young couple named Jacinto and Domitila who the narrator tells us earn their living by “all activities in the criminal universe, including assaults and the murder of small animals in car rides.” The Brechtian narrator, who addresses the camera directly throughout the film, also serves a combination Greek chorus and political pundit.

He is complimented by an entertaining music video mise-en-scene, full of fast edits, freeze frames, and Photoshop interludes, but also something which is clearly influenced by the black comedy styles of Danny Boyle and Quentin Tarantino.

Having acquired some folk legend cachet for Jacinto and Domitila for their aptitude in eluding capture, their services are petitioned by a white-skinned, blue-eyed, gray-haired gringo called “El Negro”, who offers them a hefty fee to transport 50 kilograms of cocaine across the country. They are pursued by two narcotics officers, who are as corrupt, incompetent, and racist as they government and society they serve.

Indeed, racial and cultural insecurity, in particular, soon emerges as the principle theme of the picture. Jacinto and Domitila are both “cholos”, a term that denotes people of indigenous or semi-indigenous heritage, who happen to be the majority population in Bolivia, a supposed to “criollos”, usually applied to people of purely European or African heritage.

To underscore the issue, Duston Larsen, a real-life, tall, white, US-educated son of an American rancher, but who won the “Mr. Bolivia” male beauty pageant in 2004, appears in the film as himself. There is also a reference to the white-skinned winner of the Miss Bolivia contest that same year, who boasted that “I’m from the other side of the country [the eastern, European side] We are tall, and we are white people, and we know English.”

Thus, one can forgive the director, Rodrigo Bellott, and his screenwriters, Juan Cristobal Rios Violand and Alvaro Ruiz, for being somewhat harsh towards the “gringo” and “criollo” characters in the film, almost all of whom come off as racist buffoons; real-life comes off as more absurd than anything presented in reel-life. Still,Bellott and his screenwriters are just as eager to poke fun at their chollo creations. Indeed, Bellott and Ruiz themselves appear in the movie as Hara Krishnas.

However, they imbue Jacinto and Domitila with enough affection and compassion to make them more than just caricatures, and to make the film more than didactic dramaturgy. There is an ironic answer to the question posed by the title, and it is worth seeing this movie to findout.


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