Quiet, hypnotic, unmannered in its presentation by a non-professional cast, Ixcanul is an age-old story of an arranged marriage where the bride-to-be has her eyes on a younger man.
Living and working on a coffee plantation on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala, the Kaqchikel parents of 17 year-old Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) are only too delighted to see their daughter promised to the recently widowed plantation foreman. He has young children who need a mother. Only Maria is determined to leave for the US with Pepe, a labourer – and to ensure he keeps his promise, Maria lets Pepe ‘taste’ her. He, of course, steals away – and leaves Maria with something to remember him by.
In his feature debut, director Jayro Bustamente skilfully captures a film of simple, great beauty with committed, nuanced performances from Maria and her mother (María Telón) particularly memorable. As the old indigenous customs and new worlds collide, rituals are acted out as they have been for centuries – but the modern day denouement is wholly unexpected.