Utama review – gentle study of Bolivian family facing the end of their way of life

Meditative drama follows non-professional leads playing a farming couple being driven from their home in the Andean plateau by global heating

Superbly shot … Utama

Bolivian director Alejandro Loayza Grisi started his career as a photographer then turned to cinematography; now he makes his feature debut with this slow and beautiful-looking drama set high on the Andean plateau. It’s a film that unfolds at such a measured pace that at times it felt to me like a piece of cinematic mindfulness or a concentration training exercise. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a voiceover gently interrupted proceedings, like a mindfulness app, to gently instruct us not to let our thoughts wander.

Utama opens with the staggeringly gorgeous image of an elderly man walking towards the sun rising golden over mountains. This is Virginio (José Calcina), whose weathered face is as cracked as the earth beneath his feet. Virginio spends his days tramping across the plain grazing his flock of fluffy llamas; he and his wife Sisa (Luisa Quispe) live without running water or power. They are a couple in real life, non-professionals discovered by Grisi as he drove around scouting locations. You can see that closeness in every gesture, in Sisa’s arthritic fingers tenderly patting her husband’s hand.

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