‘Manco Capac’: Minimalist film is Peru’s hope for Oscars glory
By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, Nov 30 (EFE).- Peruvian filmmaker Henry Vallejo needed more than a decade to complete “Manco Capac,” a minimalist film about a young internal migrant’s perseverance that has been chosen to represent the Andean nation in the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film category.
The native of the southern Peruvian region of Puno began writing the picture’s screenplay in 2010 and started filming in earnest two years later, but the project stalled due to insufficient funding and the departure of the lead actor, who had abandoned the set after earning a scholarship.
In the end, however, the director succeeded in bringing his bare-bones story, a narrative devoid of all sensationalism, to the big screen.
“What happens if you take away all that external stuff, what’s nearly always used thematically and stylistically? It’s quite difficult … it was a personal challenge, a big risk, (but) in art you have take risks (because) if you don’t there’s no progress in terms of aesthetics or the story,” Vallejo said in an interview with Efe days before the movie’s Dec. 9 premiere in Peruvian theaters.
Filmed in Spanish and Quechua in the southern city of Puno, “Manco Capac” tells the story of Elisban, a young man who arrives from the countryside with only two soles ($0.50) and a cellphone SIM card.
After the job that brought him to Puno fails to materialize, Elisban struggles to overcome adversity in a city that is celebrating carnival and seemingly indifferent to his plight.
“It’s a story that any Peruvian can relate to, and the central theme ends up being perseverance, just as was the case with the filming,” said Vallejo, who set out to show that “any place in the world becomes hostile when you don’t have money.”
The director said the film’s title (a reference to a leader that some historians say was the founder of the Incas’ first dynasty) was a means of paying tribute to that indigenous empire.
But he refused to offer more details, saying he wants to avoid spoilers.
Vallejo said his goal from the outset was to make film-goers reflect on real-life situations and offer a departure from mainstream cinema, which he described as “quite artificial and pointless.”
“Manco Capac” therefore has little dialogue and dispenses with incidental music, instead allowing the hustle-bustle of the city to provide all of the background noise.
Vallejo also uses long takes in nearly every scene, with the camera following the protagonist as he moves incessantly about the city.
Other challenges included seeking out actors in the small city of Puno and particularly finding someone to play the role of Elisban, which the director finally assigned to Jesus Luque after a three-year search.
The young man, a native of a remote peasant community in Puno Department, came across a casting-call notice by chance while training at a soccer academy and working with his uncle in the construction sector, Luque told Efe.
Although he had no prior experience as an actor, Luque said he had listened to the novels of Peruvian-born Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa on the radio while tending sheep and had the urge to embark on an adventure similar to one of his characters.
He said he tried to portray Elisban’s “humility and simplicity,” though noting that his own personality is “completely different.”
Luque won best-actor honors at the 24 Festival de Cine de Lima for that role, which jump-started his career and led to his enrolling at the Superior National School of Dramatic Art in Lima. EFE