ARP Selection’s acquisition marks the first distribution deal to go down on “Ixcanul,” which is raising large expectation after it made the Berlin Competition cut last month, competing with such seasoned directors’ latest as Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups,” Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” or Benoit Jacquot’s “Diary of a Chambermaid.”
The fact that ARP Selection has bought “Ixcanul” is noteworthy. Buying mostly from Europe, ARP targets often art films with potentially wider audience appeal: Ari Folman’s “The Congress,” with Robin J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call,” and Paulo Sorrentino’s Sean Penn starrer “This Must Be the Place.” ARP Selection’s biggest recent release was Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” which sold 485,823 tix, per CBO.com – about €3 million ($3.4 million) at the French box office.
Produced by Bustamante’s Guatemala-based La Casa de Produccion and Edgard Tenembaum’s Paris-based Tu Vas Voir Productions, producer of Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Ixcanul” is set in the extraordinary Guatemalan highlands of Bustamante’s childhood. It turns on María, a 17-year-old Mayan girl who is left pregnant by a fickle boyfriend. Shamed and ostracized, after her family’s eviction, Maria is driven to ever more desperate measures, enrolling Mayan customs and myths, to expunge her guilt and regain her honor; with which “Ixcanul” builds in narrative drive from social portrait to romantic drama to near social thriller via multiple twists and turns.
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It’s when Maria is rushed to hospital, and finally makes contact with the modern world she dreamt so much about, that “Ixcanul” delivers its sucker punch about what Bustamante calls one driving theme of “Ixcanul”: the “impossibility of an underage woman, who is Mayan and lives far from a big city, to determine her own destiny.”
“Gabriel Garcia Marquez embodied magic realism, Unfortunately, a more appropriate term for Guatemala would often be tragic realism,” Bustamante told Variety at San Sebastian where “Ixcanul” was seen in rough-cut at the festival’s Films in Progress.
“This is not ‘contemplative’ cinema,” said Tenembaum. “It’s set in a Mayan village outside our civilization but which has the same desire for love, for gaining one’s independence, for change and modernization as ours and in this sense it’s very modern, and packs a surprise finale.”
Further sales on ”Ixcanul” will begin at Berlin with Film Factory opting to not send out screeners or links before the world premiere.