Review: ‘Sayariy’

(Quechuan and Spanish dialogue)

(Quechuan and Spanish dialogue)

Set in the remote Andes of Bolivia, “Sayariy” records a mysterious annual tradition in which two mountain tribes face off in a bloody ceremonial fight known as Tinku. A first feature-length docu by Bolivian-born Mela Marquez, who is an experienced film editor, pic contains much repetition and could benefit from some heavy-duty snipping. Overall effect is unfocused and less informative than a National Geographic ethnic docu. Market for this curiosity item looks limited to TV sales.

Every year, at the end of April, the mountain communities start preparing for Tinku. The leather-face men and women in bright Andes costumes and bowler hats seem to ignore the cameras as they go about their daily business.

Almost no explanation accompanies the obscure Tinku preparations. An offscreen narrator reads atmospheric poems by Blanca Wiethuchter. The only clue to the meaning of Tinku is the popular wisdom that “shedding blood renews life and increases the harvest.”

The men don plumed headdresses and play panpipes. By torchlight, an excited group burns the thatch roof of a house. The next day, men, women and children cross the hills and plateaus at a trot. When they reach the town of Macha, they confront a rival community and settle in for some serious fistfighting.

Docu’s central scenes, lensed with a hand-held camera, record a weird, giant free-for-all that fills the town with bloody noses. Soldiers stand by, ready to break it up when things turn mean. A few men get knocked unconscious, others are arrested. One man explains that “when we get drunk, we risk killing each other.”

The programmed fight has mostly ethnic interest, since individual participants are not picked out. After a herd of woolly llamas passes, a llama’s throat is slit as a sacrificial offering to Mother Earth. Tribespeople seem to follow a form of heathen Christianity, and it is odd to see a Catholic priest appear at one point.

In all of this, director-writer-editor Marquez remains an outsider looking in without much sympathy. Small wonder that the viewer is also left out in the cold , without any more tools to assimilate the colorful images than a casual tourist.




An Axelotil Film release (in Italy) of an Axelotil Film/Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia co-production in association with the Bolivian National Film Council. Produced by Gianluca Arcopino. Directed, written, edited by Mela Marquez.


Camera (color), Cesar Perez; poetry, Blanca Wiethuchter; music, Cergio Prudencio; art direction, Jose Bozo; sound (Dolby A stereo), Ramiro Fierro; line producer, Alfredo Ovando; second unit director, Rossella Ragazzi; second unit camera, Arnaldo Catinari. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Window on Images), Sept. 3, 1995. Running time: 75 MIN.


With: Gabriel Charale Acho, Felix Vargas Zuniga.
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