Shown at Side Cinema Sunday 6th November 2003.
A floating film about a floating world high up in the Peruvian Andies. A political film about gravity and what happens when you come down. Simply shot powerfully voiced record of a way of life that seems doomed to extinction as ruthless market forces gather in, like sheep, the last of the stray ecomonically free tribal groups.
The film is a journey that starts high in the mountains, miles up above man and ends down in the town with man. The opening shots look down on the clouds like the old gods and then reveal a stone landscape where the people and their animals float across the screen. Like the stone everything is hard, like the stone there is little artifice. Cohen does not make a faked sentimental picture of these people. They are as other people: some are arseholes, some fucked up. Death hunger and illness are tightly woven into life but the people endure though their culture which gives resiliance and resolve. The physical and the mental. Then gravity the elementary force exerts its pressure as the film moves forward and leaves the floating plain falling down the side of the mountain - first into the jungle.
The rain forest is vital to the indians as a source of seed for their maize crop. But they don’t like the rain forest because it stifles them entraps them chokes them pinions them, with its folliage liens and tubers. The film’s descent stops at the town of Cuzco. Cuzco is the fall. Outside the gates of Eden. The future. It is what lies in store for the Runi. In Cuzco we see the actualisation of the political and social process that reduces the Indian to the level of beasts of burdon, lumpen proletariat carrying huge loads for remote economic forces. Where once the Indian used the llama to as a pack animal, now they themselves take on this role. The loads are of extrardinary dimensions: huge unwieldy shapes strapped to their backs so that they look like exotic insects, beetles with huge carapaces. And these loads, pinion them and press them down.
The indians of Cuzco are not of the air. They do not float; they stagger through the streets heads bent and bodies doubled over. The Runi of Qeros walk lightly, heads upright parading wonderful colourful hats . In Qeros the Indians carry their own loads. They do not carry other peoples cargo. Their llamas carry the loads of corn up the mountains, but not more than 50 pounds. Neatly stashed and trim, the llamas carry easy; it looks a reasonable load, more reasonable than the the burdons that the Indians have to carry in Cuzco. The film floats because the Runi Indians are at the moment free of burdons; they do not have to lump cargo that belong to other people's econonmic interests. They survive where they are and on what they have, with tradition and ingenuity and their piercing flutes. Flutes that play notes that are light and etherial and which bear no relation to the heavy melodic despotism of the commercialised Spanish music. This is music as energy and being. The sounds owe nothing to world of products or any rules governing artistic form or content. The sounds the Runi make are of the air and travel though the thin atmosphere going where they please.
Despite the hardship of life the Runi have a freedom which also lets their spirit soar and a freedom to move without burdons. And this lightness is something you carry away when the film is over: perhaps you are glad that you don’t have carry the huge loads of the enslaved Indians; and you yearn to experience life above the clouds. I can still here the flutes, breathy atonal piping.
Adrin Neantrour 2003
more about John Cohen can be found at www.johncohenworks.com