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Pachamama (2018)

Pachamama is the Earth Mother that ancient Peruvians make offerings to for abundant crops and good weather. During the village ceremony where the offerings are being made the Inca tax collector arrives and takes from the village their gold artefact. Telpulpai, a precocious young boy is determined to retrieve it for the village and prove his valour. He is joined on his journey by Naira and her (cute) pet llama where they are set to learn about themselves and the very real world beyond the village boundary.

Pachamama is directed by Juan Antin and is produced by Folivari, a company set up by the producer Didier Brunner (who also produced Ernest & Celestine ). It is a computer animated film which has a really nice 2D styling (although it was done in 3D). This animated film is a co-production between Luxembourg, France and Canada which is why it is available in French and English languages. Its world premiere occurred at the Animation is Film festival on 20 October 2018

Pachamama takes place during the 15th century in what is now around Peru. It shows how the superstitious inhabitants of a village live their lives and make sense of the beautiful world around them. They honour and respect the environment, their ancestors and each other. Of course, when this world butts up against the developed Inca empire tension was bound to arise. The catalyst for the journey Telpulpai undertakes with Naira is triggered by one such encounter.

On this journey, Telpulpai is full of arrogance and bravado fueled by the energy of youth. Naira, on the other hand, is dutiful and incredibly intelligent, taking time to think things through before rushing in. Along their journey they will need both their skills and personalities if they wish to retrieve what was stolen from them.

It is a pretty film to look at, it really is. Although I knew it was computer animated at the beginning I thought I was watching a stop motion film. It has quite a unique look to it. The world and its environment are wonderful. The tiered fields of the village, the variety of crops and how they are depicted, the houses, costumes and characters ...there was so much to take in. There is a sense of texture to everything. The colours in the village are bright and vibrant and the crops feel alive. The night sky is full of stars and shapes and you couldn't help but make up patterns when looking at it. Every frame is full of details that you can't help but drink in with your eyes.

When our intrepid pair (and llama) went on their journey and the world changed - it became a bit more uniform, less vibrant and in the city it was sterile. As a consequence, it was less interesting to look at until the Spanish invaders arrive. I suspect this was a deliberate decision to remove that vibrancy from the colours and flatten out the textures. The colours (reds, blacks and greys) return where the film starts to look more apocalyptic and at the same time it regains its visual inventiveness.

My engagement in the story reflected how I felt about the world I was being shown. I was quite happy with the slice of life village life because it was so colourful and vibrant to look at. A film about that culture just getting on with life would have been marvellous. It was gentle and sweet and could easily have woven in the environmental message more neatly and completely.

The view of invasion from the point of view of those who were invaded was also an interesting or engaging element of the film. The Spanish, with the obsession for gold, were almost alien in the appearance and actions with their technology (armour, weapons) and horses. They spoke in a foreign tongue compared to the other characters (it was not quite Spanish but it hinted at it) but you could tell what they were after and what they would do to get it. There was a genuine sense of menace from them, especially their captain. Whilst this would have been quite a bleak film in the main (and perhaps not too appropriate for the family audience) it would have been a fascinating tale to explore.

I actually found the elements with the invading Spanish to be the most memorable. Yes, there was a bit more action in them but I genuinely didn't know where it was leading. They really created a set of villains for the story. Most importantly it brought to life a sense of the chaos and selfishness of that period of history. (I also studied that period of history at school so I was genuinely interested in the depiction and an alternate viewpoint that came from the research into the time period.)

The bulk of the film, however, was a quest which dragged on a bit. We've seen it all before in a multitude of other films (Eleanor's Secret for example), it was very predictable and by the numbers. It wasn't bad but compared to other elements of the story in the film it is definitely the weakest element. There were so many competing storylines in Pachamama (which are explained later) that it felt like something much bigger had been squeezed and trimmed to make this. There is a hint of an environmental message but it is swamped by the other competing elements.

Following its UK premiere at the 2018 London Film Festival there was a short Q & A with the Juan Antin (director) and Didier Brunner (producer) who were fresh off the plane from LA. Antin told us that it took 14 years to bring Pachamama to the screen and that it was originally a 120 page script. During the 14 years lots of work was done researching the Inca period both from text and by living with South Americans. Staying with the tribes gave an insight to the shamans and offered them the opportunity to be told tales from the time Pachamama is set. This explains the wonderful look and feel of the film.

Antin pitched Pachamama to Brunner on multiple occasions. It was only when Brunner had set up his new production company Folivari that he took the opportunity to fund it and together they shaped the film into what it is now. The 120 pages of script were stripped down because, as Brunner said, there was 3 films worth of material in it (which likely explains why there were so many threads and elements in it). Similarly, the film was changed from a stop-motion production to a 3D animation saving the production both time and money. A 2-minute stop-motion reel exists however and was used by Juan Antin to pitch the idea to Brunner. Antin explained that he was disappointed going to 3D animation but once he saw some of the early footage he was very happy with the results and could see the research and effort from the previous years on the screen.

Pachamama is a lovely film to look at where the world really jumps out from the screen and you can really see the effort and research that they put into it. I was less taken by the characters and without wishing to be dismissive, the mixture of the coming of age quest tale featuring an invasion told from the point of view of the invaded didn't grab or engage me. There is a lot going on in the film and I was entertained whilst I watched it but very little of it has stayed with me.

FORMAT: Cinema [screened at festivals, wider release TBC]  FROM: Sales SC Films International RATING: Not Rated [US] U [UK] RUNNING TIME : 1hr 12m

IN A NUTSHELL: Pachamama is vibrant, colourful and distinctive to look at and crams a lot into its runtime- at times to its detriment.