By Don Malvasi
Republished from Cinedork.com
Dirt-poor with no running water nor electricity, and unable to read or write, Maria (unprofessional actress Maria Mercedes Coroy) is set up by her strong-willed, well-meaning parents for an arranged marriage to the foreman of the coffee plantation they inhabit. What transpires is a revealing glimpse into the Mayan culture of the Guatemalan highlands. Maria’s gaze is so intently piercing, it isn’t hard to figure out she is constantly alert for danger. She and her parents, who speak the Kaqchikel language and virtually no Spanish, do things the way they have been done for centuries.
When Maria begins to question things, she proceeds cautiously. Yet her drive for self-expression holds steady through a caldron of superstition and physical danger, including a host of poisonous snakes. I left the film with a deep fondness for these indigenous people, high admiration for Maria’s dynamic mom (a terrific Maria Telon), and nothing but respect for Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante. Bustamante’s excellent helpers include cinematographer Luis Armango Arteaga and veteran sound designer Julien Cloquet, who had me wondering whether the theater’s sound system was going haywire only to figure out that it was actually the eerie roar of the smoldering dormant volcano in the background. When Maria asks her friend Pepe what is on the other side of the volcano, he flippantly replies the U. S. with that little thing Mexico in between.