Chac: The Rain God (1975/2002)

Original title: Chac: Dios de la lluvia. A unique Mexican feature film, shot in Tenejapa, Chiapas with Tzoztil (amateur) actors and speech in Tzotzil and Lakandon/Yukateko. This may be the only feature film made entirely in Maya languages. Not even the recent Guatemalan film, Donde acaban los Caminos/Where the Roads End (2004), dared to permit the indigenous actors speak their own language.

Director and writer Rolando Klein lived with indigenous people of Chiapas for two years, cultivating the friendship that made possible the production of such an extraordinary film.

Chac

After the distributor had gone bancrupt, this film was forgotten and unavailable for many years until fans and friends of the director urged him to take out the negative rolls from a dusty cupboard. The film was transferred to digital format for its 2002 dvd release. It can now be ordered from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

A major advantage of the dvd is the director's commentary track in English, where he helps us understand each scene and explains the significance of the mythical elementsof the story. The image transfer is very beautiful and impressive, even if the burnt-in English subtitles do take away some of the aesthetic value. My only real complaint about the dvd edition is that an option for Spanish subtitles is lacking, making the film unavailable for the non-Enligsh-speaking audience. Shame on you, people at Milestone dvds!

When the film commences, the villagers are desperate, because rain has not come as expected. The shaman has not been able to deliver, and the village has lost faith in him. They need help from outside. And so it is that 12 young men from the village embargue on a journey to find the man, who can make rain return: A shaman from the Lakandon jungle. He promises to bring rain if the whole village will participate in a rain ritual. But the question is: Can he really control the rain?

The first scenes of the film are truly unnerving and awe-inspiring in their extremely pure presentation of images and scenic elements. Nothing in clothing, language or object reveal where we are situated in time or place (unless you speak Tzotzil or course). Then at once we are confronted with the modern world, in shape of a doubtful and progress-orientated young man carrying a flashlight, which creates quite a shocking effect. But this is just the first of a series of shocking details, ever more unnerving and frightening.

In spite of its feeling of "trueness" and authenticity, the film does not escape the problems of depicting an indigenous culture through the eyes of the "White" (European or Mestizo) man. The depiction of the rain ritual is a rather free fantasy of th director, and the film ends up with the same kind of difficulties as most other "White" films about indigenous cultures. All the many White approximations to indigenous cultures cry out loud for an indigeous film about the indigenous world. But until then Chac: The Rain God will do. A very impressive achievement for a film of 1975.

Mikkel Møldrup-Lakjer
(About me)

[More about this and other Guatemalan films]

Opdateret d. 7.9.2005


Guide til Guatemala