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Grisi’s Bolivian Tale Is One Of Year’s Best Foreign Language Films

Jan 16, 2023

Home Movie Reviews Utama Review: Grisi’s Bolivian Tale Is One Of Year’s Best Foreign Language Films

The simplicity of the production design combined with stunning costumes provides a movie-going experience unlike any other in 2022

Utama is simply beautiful. From performances to shot composition and tone, Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s Bolivian drama is one of the year’s best foreign language films. The simplicity of the production design combined with stunning costumes provides a movie-going experience unlike any other in 2022. Utama is laser-focused on the plight of a single family, yet leaves room for much larger themes with ease. One can reach out and touch the love expressed by everyone involved in the making of the film.
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A water crisis in the Bolivian highlands leads a small community to decide whether to stay in their ancestral home or leave for the city. Virginio (José Calcina) and Sisa (Luisa Quispe) have a herd of llamas and as the surrounding environment begins to change, Virginio seems uninterested in Sisa’s choice on the matter and wants to stay at all costs. The elderly couple is soon visited by their grandson Clever (Santos Choque), who gets along great with Sisa but is always bumping heads with Virginio. The two men argue over what is best for the family and ultimately disagree. When Virginio’s health deteriorates, the decision to leave becomes dire and the small family must choose between the unknown and the possible danger to the lives they’ve always known.

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The true champion of the film is cinematographer Barbara Alvarez (The Second Mother). Utama could be broken down shot by shot and hung in a museum. The wide shots, in particular, are absolutely stunning. She films clean and empty vistas with a single character in the center of the frame, giving the audiences the sensation of being at the edge of the world. In very simple shots where a character is just walking in a straight line, she uses a building and the alleys on either side to frame a perfect line of three identically sized images, not unlike the symmetry associated with Wes Anderson films. Alvarez outdoes herself with a combination of both styles in another perfect third shot, this time with a winding river as its centerpiece and women in beautifully colored clothing on either side.

Utama only features three main actors and at times feels more like a play than a movie. It takes place over miles of land, yet feels extremely contained and, at times, claustrophobic. While the film has clear themes and opinions on global warming, that notion is expressed in one man’s desire to never leave his home. As the film progresses, the full reality of what it means to live near these beautiful backdrops comes into focus. Viewers will go from wanting to visit the set to begging the main character to leave. That emotional rollercoaster is played perfectly, and supporting characters shed light on that feeling of being stuck in a big, empty place.

Utama is effortless in nearly every regard. The acting will not blow one away, but it’s also beautifully naturalistic. Calcina and Quispe’s performances are understated, but powerful. Choque and Quispe have such a chemistry that brings even more life to the film. It appears in a single shot — Choque’s Clever is telling his grandmother about his life, and it’s heartwarming. Similarly, Calcina looks on in the same scene, and without saying a word, evokes heartbreaking stubbornness in the face of being left out of a wholesome family moment.

No part of Utama feels fabricated. The costumes are a part of the environment; the camera work is as simple as it could be, but what is in front of the camera is elevated by a lovely stillness. Alvarez turns Bolivia into a series of portraits and Grisi is the perfect conduit to tell such a specific tale of love and life.

Next: Best Movies Of 2022

Utama released in theaters on November 4. The film is 87 minutes long and is unrated.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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