“Utama” means “our home” in the Aymaran language of the Bolivian Andes. In the arid Bolivian highlands, an elderly Quechua couple has been living a tranquil life for years, but now a long drought threatens their way of life. Virginio (José Calcina) and Sisa (Luisa Quispe) – both non-actors – raise llamas on land that is both severe and paradisal. The specter of climate change haunts the land, as one reviewer summarized, but to the aging couple it is just a lack of water. A visit from their grandson, who wants them to move to LaPaz, forces them to confront, in their own ways, the effects of a changing environment, the importance of tradition, and the meaning of life itself.
Join us on Sunday, February 12, 2023, at 10 a.m. for Utama as Cinema Art Bethesda continues in-person screenings and discussions at the Landmark Bethesda Row theater. As always, coffee/tea and bagels/cream cheese will be provided starting at 9:30 am. Admission is $15 per person (cash or checks only) for the entire program.
Utama is a visually jaw-dropping debut feature by photographer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Loayza Grisi. It premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. It is the Bolivian entry for the 95th Academy Awards as the Best International Feature Film.
In this powerful story of perseverance and looming change, writer-director Grisi presents a new take on an age-old (and old-age) dilemma. It is a tale of life and death and eternal returns plus never-ending struggles. Virginio is clinging to a life that’s disappearing as rapidly as the area’s water. Grisi, a trained still photographer, fames and focuses each shot with a purpose; the soundtrack of local and indigenous sources is evocative and unintrusive.
A review by David Hughes in “Time Out” magazine (London, November 2022) included a very clever line of praise: “If you only see one film about Bolivian llama farmers this year, make it Utama.”
Utama runs 1 hour 27 minutes; dialog in Spanish with English subtitles.
More Details about Utama
Distributor: Kino Lorber
IMDB Information: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10984580/
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96% https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/utama
New York Times, Manohla Dargis, co-chief film critic: “‘Utama’: This Bitter Earth” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/03/movies/utama-review-bolivia.html
“Utama pulls you in with an uneasy mix of beauty and dread.” … (The) ‘nonprofessional actors scarcely speak, (but) the texture and arc of their lives instead conveyed through quotidian rituals, small gestures and stoic expressions.”
RogerEbert.com, Glen Kenney: Utama
“The film’s resplendent, unfussy visuals … make the most impact. … Utama sounds like a warning even as it casts a spell, and the spell is one of life and death and eternal returns and never-ending struggles, and the rest we can try to take when the work is done for the day.”
The Wrap, Katie Walsh: “Bolivia’s Oscar Entry Examines the End of a Way of Life”
“Spare and yet unsparing film, and a bold artistic statement from an emerging filmmaker…. Calcina and Quispe … are seemingly of the earth itself, the solid planes of their faces as much a part of this land as the mountains.”
TimeOut (London), David Hughes: “Utama”
“The lives of Bolivian llama farmers make for a spellbinding experience in this poignant and transporting drama … an astonishingly assured and emotionally engrossing (directorial) debut.”