An Aesthetic of Resistance

Lecciones para una Guerra, by Juan Manuel Sepúlveda, Mexico, 2011 - Paris, March 29, 2012. 

Lecciones para una Guerra begins with a plain, black screen superimposed with a white text that relates the history of the Ixil people, an indigenous community who found refuge in the Northeastern mountains of Guatemala in the 1980s to escape extermination by the Guatemalan army, in their radical bid to defeat guerillas. During the next 97 minutes, we share in the daily life of this exiled community, who lost more than 200,000 of their number in resisting oppression, and who now endeavor to survive in extremely harsh conditions – and in constant fear of new persecutions to come.

To make this movie, Mexican film director Juan Manuel Sepúlveda made a deal with the Ixil community. Making clear the film would not change their lives, Sepúlveda offered to create an “equality space” where the community could pro-actively participate with the camera crew in making a movie about their history, current situation and vision of the future. Based on an approach elaborated by French philosopher and art theorist Jacques Rancière, the idea was to empower them with new, visual, artistic ways of expressing their history and socio-political grievances.

The outcome of this approach is a rich composition of individual scenes of family and community life, chosen and subtly staged by the Ixils themselves, empowered but not directed by Sepúlveda. While some viewers might feel uncomfortable with this approach, the result is an innovative film that explores straightforwardly the frontiers between documentary and fiction. It also contains more personal direction and montage choices which reinforce its visual impact. The cyclical structure of the movie, and the use of meteorological elements - showing the continuous passing of days with their own succession of sunny dawns, dark pre-storm skies, marches in the mountains, heavy rains, restive moments, unquiet twilights and rare festive moments - are powerful metaphors of the history of the Ixils, who have had to face cycles of violence, displacement, resistance and exile ever since the first conquerors set foot on their land.

Frederique Guerin, Special Correspondent, The Global Journal.


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