“La Nación Clandestina” (Bolivia, 1989)
Director: Jorge Sanjinés
Music by: : Cergio Prudencio
Photography: César Pérez
Editor: Jorge Sanjinés
This is a film that captivated me, not as a Bolivian watching a Bolivian film, but simply as a human being existing in time and space.
The film, which narrates the story of a young man called Sebastian Mamani, travels alongside his memories as if the camera itself is traveling inside his own thoughts, understanding the “motion” of thoughts as “cyclical” and forever returning to themselves inside our mind.
This cyclical displacement of the story, the camera and the scenery is a faithful interpretation of the cyclical cosmovision of space and time for the Inca civilization, who thought of time not as something lineal (as oppose to the Occidental cultures): a start inside the past, and an ending in the future, but rather as a spiral process, where both the past and future happen at the same time as part of the same space through the present. This idea was not only present in their day to day lives, but also in their economic, social, political and agricultural structures.
That is how the protagonist Sebastian, will live his story, living a past full of memories and nostalgia, and a future that represents it, all carried by the symbolic idea of the “Tata Danzante” (or Dancing Grandfather/Old man) mask, a mask that resembles a sort of devil, not viewed as an evil satanic creature for the Inca civilization, but more as an archetype of the Demon-God being, product of the Aymara and Inca mythology in the Andean cultures of South America. That is Sebastian’s present, carrying the mask towards his return to his past (his hometown and community) and the coming future, involving the ideas of death, forgiveness and the eventual honor of his roots, the ones he had forgotten and denied while migrating to the city of La Paz.
The mask is a symbol that truly amazed me throughout watching the film because it will be something that Sebastian sees as a child (when another man is dancing with it) but also seems to be a symbol he will carry in his mind all his life, until the day he decides to buy one for himself. Just as he gets the mask his journey begins, like achieving a motive or a reason to accomplish what he has to do now. And this aspect of the film is something that I identified with (maybe because of my own roots), I felt like under the idea of having to do what the character had to do with the mask, is something that outside may feel like a cultural obligation, he has to go back and dance in order to pay respects and die, but through the way of living of the Inca culture this is more than that, it is a calling. This calling is represented through the mask, as time and space is represented throughout the entire film’s cinematography, rather than a man going back home (as Hollywood often summarizes its films where the main character is involved in a personal journey), this is a man aware of his own fate, when his own loss of respect towards his roots, his community and his family thrives between the own country’s current events and the death of his own father, sort of like pushing him towards return.
Finally the long awaited ending comes, when Sebastian puts on the mask and the music starts playing, amongst the townsfolk, which by the way reminded me of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films, specially of “La Montaña Sagrada” where surrealism prevails all around the “cultural” aspect of the film, as in this particular scene of La Nación Clandestina. And I can say that personally I felt a rush of sadness by seeing the protagonist dance his way into (symbolic or not) death. A sacred death, a forgiveness from the “devil himself”, but all in all the idea of “dancing towards death” sounds not only metaphorical or even satirical, but also, as our culture demands (with all the festivals and carnivals throughout the year in Bolivia) resembles the joy of life and the fearless acceptance of death as a returning of itself to the ground, to the earth, to our roots, like a seed; only to sprout one day as (maybe) another human being.