Mayan Romance ‘Ixcanul’ Is Guatemala’s Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

In the six months that have passed since the Guatemalan feature Ixcanul(Volcano) premiered at the Berlin Film International Festival, director Jayro Bustamante’s debut feature has gone on to become the most award-winning film in that country’s history, with important prizes from festivals like Guadalajara, Cartagena, Toulouse, and Berlin. Then, just before the film’s Guatemalan premiere in late August, they went ahead and kicked it up a notch:Ixcanul will be Guatemala’s second-ever submission for Academy Awardsconsideration.

Filmed almost entirely in the Kaqchikel dialect spoken in Guatemala’s coffee-growing highlands, Ixcanul dramatizes the story of María, a young Mayan woman who is promised to the coffee plantation foreman, despite her desire for a lowly coffee cutter named Pepe. Dreaming of absconding with Pepe to a romanticized vision of the United States, María eventually has the encounter with modernity she so yearned for, but not for the reasons she had hoped.

In addition to the impressive naturalistic performances from the film’s non-professional cast, Ixcanul has mostly turned heads for its astonishing cinematography and earned Bustamante comparisons to master directors like Werner Herzog and Peru’s Claudia Llosa. The film’s trailer gives us a sense of just why critics have gone gaga over Ixcanul’s powerful visuals, with radiant bronze skin tones, textured interiors, and the requisite breathtaking landscapes.

But don’t think this film is merely about the pastoral beauty of life in the Guatemalan countryside. As we see in the trailer’s emotionally intense, visually unstable closing shots, Ixcanul explores difficult themes of gender and racial hierarchy in Mayan culture and Guatemalan society as a whole.

Update 9/1/2015 at 5:00pm: An earlier version of this story referred toIxcanul as Guatemala’s first ever entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It is actually Guatemala’s second submission. El silencio de Neto (The Silence of Neto), directed by Luis Argueta was Guatemala’s first entry in 1994 for the 67th Academy Awards. It did not earn a nomination.

Mont Pelee attraction, Coney Island, 1904

Mont Pelee on the Caribbean island of Martinique began its volcanic eruption in late April 1902. Ash began to fall on the nearby city of St. Pierre. At first the city’s inhabitants weren’t too concerned, but some began to send their woman and children to safer ground as the volcano became more active. Finally on May 8th at 7:52 A.M. the mountain’s upper flank facing the city opened and an intensely hot cloud of black vapor shot out towards the city like smoke from the muzzle of a cannon. In less than a minute the hot gas, a mixture of super heated steam at 1900 degrees, lethal gases and explosive dust, reached the city and everything in it burst into flame. At the same time a second black cloud rolled upwards and spread darkness for fifty miles across. Of the 30,000 people trapped in the city only two survived. The city itself burned for days. The show’s auditorium seated 1200 people and was equipped with 11 exits to assure safety in the event the pyrotechnic display got out of control and set the building afire.


In 2009, the International Space Station flew over the Sarychev Volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula just as it was erupting and punching a spectacular hole in the clouds. The photos and videos of it are some of the best we’ve ever seen of an erupting volcano from above. Take a look at the pyroclastic flows streaming down the sides of the peak as the station passes (shaking is the camera position adjusting as the ISS moves).