The Musings of a Cinematic Globetrotter

Blood of the Condor (Bolivia, 1969)

First off, apologies to my faithful few for the long gap between entries! School has been busy lately…

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss Blood of the Condor. Directed by Jorge Sanjinés, it’s a primarily Quechua-language black-and-white film featuring the “peasants” of Kaata, a small Bolivian village. It depicts the deleterious effects of the neo-colonial presence of the “Progress Corps” (a thinly veiled stand-in for the Peace Corps) in 1960s Bolivia.

Cursed Womb

The film opens with the chilling juxtaposition of two passages, the first by Martin Bormann regarding the occupation of Ukraine: “We are the master race. Slaves must work for us. When no longer needed, they can die. They need no medical attention. Let them use contraceptive methods and abort as often as possible. Education is dangerous. An educated person is a potential enemy. Let them practise their religion only as a diversion. They should receive only enough food to keep them alive.” The second, an excerpt from a speech to CIT by the scientist James Donner, reads: “The developed world does not identify with the hungry of India or Brazil. We see them as a different species, and, in fact, they are. In the next 100 years we will find appropriate ways of dealing with them. … They are simply animals. They constitute a malignant disease. … Result: The rich and strong nations will devour the poor and weak.”

After this, we are introduced to Ignacio and Paulina, a couple whose three children have all recently died. “Now I’m alone,” Ignacio says, telling Paulina that she is unlucky and the cause of the deaths of their children. He’s quite intoxicated. The next day the pair treks to the top of the mountain to bury symbolic dolls and other objects; Paulina sports a nasty black eye.

Turns out, Ignacio is the leader of the community, and he has beef with the local police chief, who orders him to be shot. Paulina and Sixto, Ignacio’s brother, attempt to save him, taking him to the city for a life-saving blood transfusion. An eerie Bergmanesque score accompanies their arrival amidst the skyscrapers of La Paz. Unfortunately, their blood is not compatible with his, and they can’t afford the 350 pesos needed to purchase a transfusion. The doctors don’t speak Quechua, and they’re not exactly willing to help them, either, prompting Sixto to observe that “they’ve forgotten the gods in the city.”

Gringos Bring Disaster

A series of flashbacks, interlocking with scenes of Paulina and Sixto’s quest in the present, fills us in on how Ignacio came to be in this predicament. Their three children died during an epidemic, right around the time Ignacio was elected as village leader. Trying for another child, he and Paulina seek the advice of a soothsayer, who tells them that “something’s blocked inside her. It stops children.” Paulina and her friends and family then discuss why she might not be able to have children. A spell from an enemy? A lack of proper supplication to the gods? One of them suggests that “the evil was brought to our community by the gringos. Gringos bring disaster!”

The gringos referred to are the aforementioned Progress Corps, a group of bumbling, culturally illiterate young upper-middle-class white Americans with New York accents. (They’re names are Tom, Jim, and Kathy, incidentally.) They want to purchase the eggs that Paulina is taking to market, but she refuses to sell to them, much to their consternation. Ignacio asks around the village to see where some of the village women had their last children, and for many of them, that turns out to be “at the maternity centre run by the foreigners.” The police chief attempts to put his constituents at ease: “These gringo gentlemen have come to help your community, so please cooperate with them and listen to them. I’m asking you as the government representative in this community.” Furthermore, he says, “they want you and your wives to go to the centre for treatment.”

But the townspeople aren’t ready to welcome the Progress Corps with open arms. A religious leader from the town performs a ceremony dedicated Pachamama (the Earth Mother figure in traditional Andean religion) to ask for the continuation of their people and of the fertility of their women. When Ignacio investigates the maternity centre, the police chief tells him that he has to be more cooperative with the Progress Corps, but Ignacio refuses to have anything to do with them. Uh oh…

When one of the local women dies in the centre, the villagers realize that “something very evil is happening in that centre.” And indeed, neighboring villages are suffering the same lack of fertility as Kaata. The soothsayer divines that “the gringos are sowing death in the bellies of our women”—in other words, they’re performing forced sterilizations. Armed with the truth, the villagers collectively approach the maternity centre that night, seize the Progress corps members and tell them that they know what’s going on. “They seem to know everything”—Tom, Jim, and Kathy are terrified. “Tell them, we only sterilize women who have too many children!” Kathy exclaims. But now the shoe is on the other foot: “It’s because of you that our women don’t have children. We will do to you what you do to us.” The film ends with the image of several rifles pointed to the sky, heralding the beginning of a revolution.

Up Next…

The Forest (Central African Republic, 2003)

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