copyright 2012, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 54, fall 2012

Andean realism and the integral sequence shot

by David M.J. Wood

In a didactic brochure produced for the exhibition of the 1989 Bolivian feature film La nación clandestina (The Clandestine Nation), the Ukamau Group’s director Jorge Sanjinés set out his critique of the Western concept of time. For Sanjinés, Western time

“begins with a genesis and is projected towards the infinite until meeting with the final judgement. It is a world-view in which what has passed can never return, and for that reason [the West] is a culture that disdains the past, casting it as outdated, obsolete, only fit for adorning museums.” (Sanjinés 1990)[1] [open endnotes in new window]

By contrast, his new picture La nación clandestina was steeped in a cyclical Aymara notion of time, in which

“the past constantly returns, people coexist with the past and the future can be behind us rather than ahead, […] in order to move forwards we need to look backwards, we must contemplate and reflect upon that past, but by incorporating it into the present we are turning it into the future.”

The highland Aymara, together with the Quechua, make up the bulk of Bolivia’s majority indigenous population; both groups are concentrated mainly in Bolivia’s Andean west. In drawing on the intellectual heritage of the Aymara in La nación clandestina, Sanjinés continued the Ukamau Group’s deep involvement with Andean culture that dated back more than thirty years.[2]

By working Aymara time into his film form, Sanjinés did not seek merely to conserve or to express an indigenous world-view. Neither were his Aymara protagonists to be seen largely as a privileged revolutionary vanguard for whom cinema might serve as a tool of consciousness-raising and political mobilization, in the manner of his earlier features such as El coraje del pueblo (The Courage of the People, Bolivia, 1971) or Jatun Auka (The Principal Enemy, Peru, 1973). Rather, in the 1989 brochure Sanjinés cast Aymaran temporality as the basis on which to build a new sense of Bolivian nationality, seeped in indigenous morality, democratic reciprocity and environmentalism. Faced with what he saw as a widespread crisis of identity on the part of a symbolically “uprooted” Bolivian people, La nación clandestina was to make the Ukamau Group’s case for

“an organic nation, complete, free and respected, in which all Bolivians, maintaining their own characteristics, have the same rights, are respected, loved, and accepted by the rest” (Sanjinés 1990; emphasis in original).

As I will argue in this essay, the ideological posture that Sanjinés adopts here and the formal strategies he develops to express it in La nación clandestina, both based on an idealized conception of Andean cosmology, are problematic in their reworking of European film theory’s discussions of realism. Yet they are also productive aesthetic discourses in the context of late 1980s Bolivian politics.

1989, the year of La nación clandestina’s release, marked the end of the second presidential period of stalwart Bolivian politican Víctor Paz Estenssoro. Paz had first come to power following the 1952 Revolution, when his Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) embarked on a populist program of nationalizing capitalist reform and modernisation of a deeply unequal, oligarchic and in some senses quasi-feudal society.[3] The MNR ruled until 1964, and although the following two decades were dominated by authoritarian military regimes, the post-1952 revolutionary nationalism continued to shape Bolivian politics.[4] During these years the mining and worker sectors provided the base of the left’s continued capacity for radical mass mobilization. Stable civilian rule returned with the democratic leftist presidency of Hernán Siles Zuazo from 1982-1985 (Siles had previously governed for the MNR from 1956-1960). Paz Estenssoro’s 1985-1989 term initiated the onset of neoliberal reform in Bolivia, against the backdrop of the traditional institutional left’s crippling weakness and the general decline of the MNR’s guiding narrative of revolutionary nationalism (Dunkerley 2007).

The short 1980s (from 1982), then, constituted a transitional period from military dictatorship to liberal-democratic rule. These years also saw an ongoing political realignment in Bolivia of the constituencies on which the Ukamau Group’s films had focused, and that had formed a crucial part of their audiences, since the 1960s: mining communities (most explicitly portrayed in El coraje del pueblo) and the highland Andean indigenous populations. The Aymara katarista movement dated back to the 1960s, when it had emerged as a counter-hegemonic ideological force articulated most forcefully by Aymara intellectual Fausto Reinaga, advocating self-determining Aymara political and cultural struggle in opposition to the MNR’s co-optation of Bolivia’s largely indigenous peasantry into its nation-building project. In the 1980s, though, katarismo underwent a process of restructuring that would give way to an electoral alliance between the movement’s moderate wing and the now-neoliberal MNR during the 1993-1997 presidential period. Katarismo’s more radical strain, meanwhile, would prove instrumental in the reconfiguration of the Bolivian political landscape in the early years of the twenty-first century (Albó 1992; Sanjinés C. 2004a; Sanjinés C. 2004b).

As debates over indigenous identity moved towards the mainstream of Bolivian politics, the miners’ historical political clout was fraying but by no means extinguished. The sector fell into crisis during the neoliberal adjustments of the second half of the 1980s. By April 1989, just months before La nación clandestina picked up a Concha de Oro prize during its premiere at the San Sebsatian film festival, protests by redundant miners were in full swing in La Paz to considerable public sympathy. By now, according to James Dunkerley’s account, “there was an increase in talk of the country’s historic debt to the miners, [and] public recognition of their sacrifice” (Dunkerley 2007: 174). Even so, many former miners were turning to the coca trade that served both the legal production and consumption of the coca leaf that was (and is) central to everyday life and ritual in the Andean region, and the illegal production of cocaine that boomed during this decade (Dunkerley 2007).

As several critics and commentators have noted, La nación clandestina in a sense marks a rupture with most of the Ukamau Group’s previous productions, which had been firmly anchored in the direct political contexts in which they were produced:

Although La nación clandestina indeed works on a symbolic, moral and allegorical rather than an immediately political level, both the film itself and Jorge Sanjinés’ comments cited at the beginning of this essay can be read in terms of a concern for a general social splintering in the face of neoliberal reform. They are also symptomatic of a search for a valid oppositional narrative responding to indigenous values at a time when both Bolivian revolutionary nationalism and the Marxist left of which Sanjinés was very much a part wwere losing currency both at home and globally. In the presidental elections of May 1989 Carlos Palenque’s nationalist and personalist Condepa party stepped successfully into this void: a political movement linked to Palenque`s popular television program La tribunal libre del pueblo (The Open Tribunal of the People) (Himpele 2008).[6] La nación clandestina offers a clear counterpoint to the mass-media appeal of Palenque’s populist mobilization of indigenous ethnicity (Schiwy 2009: 105).

Sanjinés’ “organic nation” can also be read in the context of ongoing debates over the plurinational and pluricultural status of the Bolivian nation, which would be enshrined in the 1994 constitution instituted by the neoliberal MNR/katarista government, and that would take a more radical turn in the following decade under president Evo Morales. As I will discuss in the following section, La nación clandestina is centered around the figure of its Aymara protagonist Sebastian, whose story is cut across but not defined by the immediate political events surrounding him. Because the 1989 picture creates a more horizontal dialogue between indigenous identity and national politics, that film might seem to offer a partial corrective to the teleological vision of political progress that, for some critics, appropriated or eclipsed debates over cultural and ethnic identity in the Ukamau Group’s previous productions. Molly Geidel, for instance, holds that in the case of Yawar Mallku, “even as it condemns [the US model of] modernization, the film reiterates modernization theory’s imperative to transform populations from feminized passive indigeneity to masculine nationalist subjecthood” (2010: 764): a state in which the awakened indigenous subject “finally attains a revolutionary consciousness and returns to lead his people” (778). In the next section I will begin to consider the extent to which a similar critique might be leveled against La nación clandestina and Sanjinés’ broader conception of national renewal in late 1980s Bolivia.[7]

Indigeneity and national renewal

La nación clandestina dramatizes the Bolivian nation as a traumatic ethnic encounter, charting the journey of Sebastián Maisman (Reynaldo Yujra) from El Alto, the Aymara city above Bolivia’s de facto capital La Paz, back to his ayllu (community) Willkani.[8] Sebastián had previously forsaken his Aymara roots to live in the city: like Sixto, hero of Yawar Mallku, at one point he angrily declares “I’m not an Indian!.” His adopted surname “Maisman” is a Hispanized version of his original Aymara surname “Mamani.” Some years later, as community leader, he is discovered embezzling aid money for Willkani from a U.S. organisation. This leads to his definitive expulsion from Willkani. In the film’s narrative “present,” Sebastián embarks on a final return to the ayllu to dance the Jacha Tata Danzante, a long-forgotten self-sacrificial ritual performed in times of crisis by an ayllu member who dances until dying of exhaustion. The film closes with Sebastián dancing the Jacha Tata, just as it had opened with Sebastián as a young boy witnessing the since-forgotten rite.

The plot’s main strand, centred around the disgrace of Sebastián and his redemption through a rediscovery of ancestral Aymara values and traditions, is set against a historical backdrop that encompasses numerous key moments in recent Bolivian history. In the narrative “present,” Sebastián resolves to return to Willkani as bloody military action strikes La Paz. Although the film offers no precise historical reference, Souza (1999: 253-254) reasonably surmises that these scenes are set during the crisis of November 1979, when the brief but vicious fortnight of Colonel Alberto Natusch Busch’s military rule (1-16 November) was succeeded by the vulnerable interim presidency of Lidia Gueiler (16 November 1979-17 July 1980). The Gueiler government, following IMF dictates, delivered an economic package that included currency devaluation and an end to fuel subsidies. In response, the katarista-led CSUTCB, Bolivia’s national peasant union, organized a massive roadblock that paralysed the country’s transportation network and cut off the major cities for a week, provoking violent reactions from both military and non-indigenous civilian quarters (Dunkerley 1984: 249-291; Choque Canqui 2011: 27-28). This is the backdrop against which Sebastián’s story unfolds.

As Sebastián crosses the altiplano by foot, he remembers his own past that is cut across by political encounters and negotiations between the state and the Andean peasantry in recent Bolivian history. In one flashback, Sebastián, employed as a Ranger in the Bolivian military, vainly attempts to convince his brother and father to surrender the arms that they keep to defend themselves and their political rights. This is a clear reference to the Military-Peasant Pact secured by the regime of General René Barrientos (1964-1969): a system of patronage under which the indigenous peasantry pledged loyalty to the army in its fight against leftist subversion in exchange for the government’s guarantee to uphold benefits already gained by the indigenous peasantry such as agrarian reform, and educational and union rights (Dunkerley 1984: 132).[9] Sebastián’s final redemption owes much to his readiness to see the error of having sided with the indigenous peasantry’s collaboration with and co-optation by the authoritarian state. At the film’s close, Sebastián’s final arrival in Willkani to dance the Jacha Tata Danzante coincides with the return to the ayllu of his fellow community members, who bear their dead after fighting in solidarity with their mining comrades during the 1979 crisis. In stark contrast to the Peasant-Military Pact of the previous decade, this strategic alliance between the indigenous peasantry and the miners in opposition to the repressive actions of the military is seen as sowing the seeds of an emancipatory future.

This most crucial scene of La nación dramatizes the conflict between, on the one hand, the folkloric and historical revival of indigenous traditions embodied by Sebastián’s redemption, and on the other, the social and political struggle represented by the ayllu members’ solidarity with the miners. Freya Schiwy has read this dénouement of La nación clandestina as a vindication of the Ukamau Group’s consistent framing of indigenous knowledge “as the time of socialist revolution” (2009: 102). For Schiwy, La nación clandestina ultimately “insists on the primacy of social struggle over cultural revival”:

“The dance reintegrates [Sebastián] with his estranged community […], but his sacrifice appears utterly meaningless in this context […;] he no longer actively contributes to the present struggle. […] The film integrates indigenous culture at large into the Marxist-indigenista view that prioritizes class struggle against imperialism.” (Schiwy 2009: 105)

Schiwy argues that since Sebastián’s cultural redemption separates him from his politically engaged community, and since Sebastián’s ultimate sacrifice remains in the cultural sphere, emptied of any repercussions on the immediate political present, the film “seems to flatten the powerful Andean concept of nayrapacha”: the notion that “the past is seen as a guide for the future” (Schiwy 2009: 98).[10] In contrast, Schiwy holds that nayrapacha is one of the two Andean concepts of time that effectively structure contemporary indigenous video in Bolivia. [11]

The second concept is pachakuti. Unlike the linear, post-Enlightenment European notion of revolution that implies the progressive institution of a new order, pachakuti implies an epochal shift in which “the present can brew an “other” time, and that time can be at once a future and a re-play of the past”; it means that “a temporal cycle has matured and the time has come for an alteration, an overturning in which indigenous society will recover control over colonised space” (Rivera Cusicanqui 2011: 60-61). Following Schiwy’s argument, the detachment between Sebastián’s cultural restitution of the past and the community’s present-day political struggle prevents the film from being read as an epistemologically-grounded vindication of Andean concepts of transformation.

I agree that class analysis remains at the forefront of La nación clandestina. It is worth noting that in a 1989 essay setting out the formal, technical and philosophical bases of the film’s aesthetics, Sanjinés refers consistently and vaguely to Andean “cosmovision” and “ideology”: not once does he refer directly to nayrapacha or pachakuti. When writing on Andean music, he notes that its structures “obey a group logic, a collective practice, an ideology that prioritises communitarian interests” (1989: 69). There is more than a trace here of the “Inca communism” that the Peruvian intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui had proposed some sixty years previously, which sought to harness a supposed pre-existing communist tradition in indigenous society to promote the goal of a revolutionary national renewal.[12] Sanjinés, then, is far from achieving the effective “decolonization of knowledge” performed by the subsequent indigenous video projects on which Schiwy’s book focuses, which question and offer alternatives to the ideas of nation and revolution. I would argue, however, that La nación clandestina’s narrative structure and its revision of realist cinematic aesthetics equally suggest that in the context of post-dictatorship Bolivia, political action is meaningless if not accompanied by a corresponding cultural revival. Rather than simply subordinating the cultural to an existing model of revolutionary nationalism, I believe, Sanjinés’ 1989 picture can lay claim to a place in the (albeit limited) re-imagining of the Bolivian nation during its transition to democracy, even though some of its underlying philosophical premises might lack precision, and even though it may have been surpassed by later political and audiovisual developments.

The theory of Andean realism:

Some years ago, when I was looking into the links between Jorge Sanjinés’ cinematic praxis from the 1960s to the 1980s and contemporary European film theory, cinematographer César Pérez pointed out to me the formative influence that the work of Noël Burch had had for the group.[13] Indeed, the rejection of Western, industrial or bourgeois cinema expressed by the Ukamau Group during their militant phase, in common with other contemporary militant Latin American filmmakers such as the Argentines Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino (Sanjinés and Grupo Ukamau 1979; Solanas and Getino 1973), can certainly be aligned to an extent with Burch’s critique of the Institutional Mode of Representation (IMR) (Burch 1973).[14]

Burch poses that mainstream narrative cinema, with its roots in the nineteenth-century novel, creates an illusory “transparent narrative time” that, by negating the materiality of the cinematic process, equates its own ideologically-charged language with “reality.” The IMR’s narrative time is erected upon a “linear discourse,” resting on a set of narrative codes that ensures the seamless glide of plot at the expense of the symbolic or metaphorical properties of the filmed image. Such false transparency, which Burch describes as the “zero point of cinematic style,” has become stripped of its legitimacy and universality. It is therefore up to the oppositional filmmaker to forge their own idiom, finding

“a truly consistent relationship between a film’s spatial and temporal articulations and its narrative content, formal structure determining narrative structure as much as vice versa” (1973: 15).

Yet while Burch embraces a radical modernist film practice that might deconstruct the aesthetic premises of dominant cinema, the Ukamau Group has taken quite a different path. La nación clandestina, faced with the immediate social urgency of communicating with a wide constituency of viewers and of participating directly in political change, bypasses the deconstructive stage of Burch’s process and sets about building a “new” cinematic grammar based on Andean temporality. This would seem to confirm Michael Chanan’s (1997) observation, writing in 1985, that radical “new” film practices in Latin America since the early 1960s bore certain parallels with their European and North American counterparts insofar as their attemps to unhinge certain institutionalized grammatical norms in mainstream cinema. But, argues Chanan, while European and North American film cultures often tend to lean on structuralist and formalist theoretical concepts to call into question and deconstruct the truth-value of the image, for Latin American filmmakers

“truth is far more immediate and material [; … it] lies in the relationship with the audience, in the film’s mode of address, because the meaning of what is shown depends on the viewer’s position” (1997: 215).

With La nación clandestina, Sanjinés sought to construct a new cinematic grammar based on his own prior deconstruction of mainstream cinema, which in turn, by the filmmaker’s own account, was informed by many years of communication and mutual critique with indigenous actors and audiences.[15]

In what is perhaps his most important theoretical essay since Teoría y práctica junto al pueblo (Sanjinés and Grupo Ukamau 1979),[16] Sanjinés outlines the “integral sequence shot,” the visual and narrative lynchpin of La nación clandestina, which was still in production when the essay was written (Sanjinés 1989). Here, Andean thought is characterized as a system in which “the collective prevails over the individual,” while Quechua narrative form (“Quechua,” it seems, is used as shorthand for Andean here) “is built upon the prior divulging of the plot, so that the contents of the story take precedence over the ins and outs of the narrative” (Sanjinés 1989: 66). Western cinema, with its grammatical preference for close-ups, intrigue and identification with a single main character, is seen as dramatically consistent with a world-view founded on the Hellenic-Judeo-Christian belief in a unique deity in the image of man. This culture, for Sanjinés, is associated with a pervasive individualism that has spawned the sanctity of private property, personal accumulation and the dominance of man over man. Western cinematic narrative reflects Western philosophy’s conception of time and space as quantifiable, measurable and saleable substances, malleable to the needs of the individual. Its modes of storytelling naturally fragment time and space, re-assembling them according to the dramatic needs of plot.

Sanjinés therefore argues for a film praxis that respects the natural unity of time and space by “neutralizing” plot and by using “integral” sequence shots and long-shots with deep focus, allowing the filmed image to encompass all of the protagonists of a scene rather than privileging a single character who drives the narrative forward. Decisions regarding scale and angle of shot, mobility of the frame, length of take and rhythm of editing are determined by the needs of the action: the cinematographer is subordinate to the actors playing out the scene. The proposal goes beyond a mere technical one: the “internal mechanics” must respond to a “clearly-defined proposal” (Sanjinés 1989: 66). Sanjinés is at pains to emphasize that the approach developed for La nación clandestina corrects the methodological and philosophical imposition of Western values that he himself had detected in the earlier film Yawar Mallku (1969). The 1989 picture is no longer an outsider’s interpretation of an “alien” reality, but rather the film writes itself into and becomes a part of that reality:

“In our previous attempts we basically tried to convey the impression that the viewer was participating within the scene. The camera’s movement was an interpretation of its own point of view and it selected moments and framing on the basis of the natural and logical interests of dramatic action […]

[In La nación clandestina], so as not to go on imposing an alien, external, intrusive, dominating point of view, […] the rhythm was to be determined from within [the action], by the movement of people and things, which both provided the motivation for and generated camera movements, close-ups and long shots that served to integrate the entire group.” (Sanjinés 1989: 68-70)

In the same essay the Bolivian director evokes the “reflexive space” that his new methodology opens up. Although Sanjinés does not mention André Bazin by name here, the integral sequence shot and its reflexive spaces owe much to the work of the French critic. I would argue that both in this theoretical essay and in the film it describes, La nación clandestina, Sanjinés both builds upon and surpasses Bazinian realism, not merely offering the viewer the opportunity to enter into and explore a cinematically-recreated reality, but to transform that reality as an extension of everyday life. The success of this strategy is a matter for debate.

Writing in the early 1950s, Bazin traced a tradition of realism, in opposition to montage-based cinema, back to the work of silent-era directors F.W. Murnau, Robert Flaherty and, in particular, Erich von Stroheim, in whose films “reality lays itself bare like a suspect confessing under the relentless examination of the commissioner of police” (Bazin 1967: 27). Bazin further admires the use of composition in depth, deep focus and the long take in filmmakers such as Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and William Wyler, as well as in Italian neo-realists Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio de Sica and Luchino Visconti.[16b] In the work of these latter directors, there is a determination to do away with the effects of montage altogether, “to transfer to the screen the continuum of reality” (Bazin 1967: 37). This historical tendency in cinema, for Bazin, signalled

“the regeneration of realism in storytelling and thus…[the capability] of bringing together real time, in which things exist, along with the duration of the action, for which classical editing had insidiously substituted mental and abstract time” (Bazin 1967: 39).

The realist aesthetic was seen as democratic in that its inherent ambiguity required the viewer to participate actively in the creation of meaning.

Some years before Sanjinés began experimenting with the sequence shot in Jatun Auka (1973), Jean-Luc Godard put the same device to a quite different use. Brian Henderson notes that in Weekend and La chinoise (both 1967), Godard uncouples the sequence shot from composition in depth: a combination that for Bazin was key to the realist aesthetic:

“Godard’s later style does require the active participation of the viewer, but not in Bazin’s sense of choosing what to see within a multi-layered image […]. Godard presents instead an admittedly synthetic, single-layered construct, which the viewer must examine critically, accept or reject. The viewer is not drawn into the image, nor does he make choices within it; he stands outside the image and judges it as a whole. […] Through flatness of frame and transparency of action, he seeks to eliminate ambiguity” (Henderson 1970-1971: 4; original emphasis).

Henderson goes on to argue that in privileging flatness over composition in depth, Godard undoes the latter technique's projection of a

“bourgeois world infinitely deep, rich, complex, ambiguous, mysterious. Godard’s flat frames collapse this world into two-dimensional actuality” (1970-1971: 14).

Sanjinés’ 1973 picture Jatun Auka has much in common with Godard’s deconstructive modernism. Although it concentrates less on visual flatness than do Godard’s cited works, the Peruvian film deflates narrative depth by other means, combining sequence shots with distancing techniques such as the use of an onscreen narrator that neutralizes narrative tension (García Pabón 2001).[17] The later movie La nación clandestina, and the theoretical apparatus erected around it, by contrast, would seem closer to Bazinian realism.

In rejecting the repressive nature of Western narrative, and in their consequent political imperative to reconstruct cinematic realism under a new law, by the late 1980s the Ukamau Group thus came back almost full circle to the Bazinian spatio-temporal unity that Burch had dismissed for its naïve, outmoded faith in the mimetic properties of film.[18] Sanjinés and his collaborators, though, go beyond Bazin’s liberal-democratic celebration of spatio-temporal unity, which implies “a more active mental attitude on the part of the spectator and a more positive contribution on his part to the action in progress” (Bazin 1967: 35-36). In La nación clandestina the maintenance of spatial and temporal unity remains a firmly anti-colonial enterprise that not only is consistent with indigenous spatio-temporality, but also aims to opens up space for the viewer to link screen reality to their own historical reality and to take political action in the present. Western narrative, on the other hand, “manipulates attention by closing down reflexive spaces and times” (Sanjinés 1989: 66). A (perhaps simplified) conception of indigenous narrative form merges into the type of militant spectatorship proposed in the heat of the New Latin American Cinema by the Argentine radicals Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, who put forward that

“a film that is closed in on itself casts the viewer down into a passive, spectatorial role, with the option of approving or rejecting. A film that transmits experiences and knowledge that are not yet concluded, and that invites its audience to complete them and to critically question them, transforms the viewers into co-authors and live protagonists of the action.” (Solanas and Getino 1973: 163-4)[19]

The “reflexive space” of the integral sequence shot, though, is far removed from the self-reflexivity of montage techniques and narrative disruption that both Sanjinés and other practitioners of the New Latin American Cinema had previously used. Writing on the more overtly militant 1960s and 1970s cinemas, Ana López traces an evolution from the earlier films and theoretical writings of the New Latin American Cinema, which held to “a naïve belief in the camera’s ability to record 'truths' – to capture a national reality or essence without any mediation,” to the later works in which

“‘Realism,’ no longer seen as tied to simple perceptual truth or to a mimetic approximation of the real, was increasingly used to refer to a self-conscious material practice. The cinema’s powers of representation – its ability to reproduce the surface of the lived world – were activated not as a record or duplication of that surface, but in order to explain it, to reveal its hidden aspects, to disclose the material matrix that determined it.” (López 1990: 407-408)

Sanjinés’ integral sequence shot holds just as much faith in cinema’s capacity to document reality as does Bazin’s notion of the reconciliation of real and dramatic time, and the two theorists share a belief in the complexity of cinematic reality’s construction. The French critic celebrated deep space as a mode of conveying a spatio-temporal universe artificially constructed by the director and cameraman, who “have converted the screen into a dramatic checkerboard, planned down to the last detail” (Bazin 1967: 34). In the same way, Sanjinés recounts the complex camera maneuvers involved in achieving the integral sequence shot in La nación clandestina using dolly, crane and an agile crew, adding that each shot must be “rehearsed to perfection” (1989: 71). This was a great improvement on the Ukamau Group’s previous attempts in Jatun Auka and Lloksy Kaymanta!, in which a lack of planning had hampered the actors’ freedom of movement, creativity and improvisation. This limitation was only partly corrected This limitation was only partly corrected in La nación clandestina by pre-filming on video the more spontaneous actions produced in rehearsal, and reconstructing them with precise direction upon filming (Sanjinés 1989: 69). Sanjinés, though, goes beyond Bazinian realism in justifying the formal reconstruction of reality as a vessel to express the broader philosophy of his protagonists. Sanjinés’ camera is endowed here with the capacity to reflect, document and participate in an already existing material and cosmic reality, and is seen as an engine of potential social and political tranformation.

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui latches onto this point when she comments that previous films such as Jatun Auka are “constructed from outside the story” in a naturalist manner, “as if” a transcultural understanding between Marxist guerrillas and indigenous peasants were possible (Rivera Cusicanqui 1990; original emphasis). La nación clandestina, on the other hand, uses non-naturalist techniques and “reconstructs the lives of the inhabitants of Willkani’; “the fiction is managed […] as a symbolic, archetypical representation of this reality” (Rivera Cusicanqui 1990; my emphasis). This again chimes strongly with Bazinian aesthetics in which, for Gilles Deleuze, “the real was no longer represented or reproduced but ‘aimed at’” (1989: 1). Deleuze, writing on neo-realism in the nouveau roman, goes on to paraphrase Alain Robbe-Grillet, who describes traditional realism as that which “presupposes the independence of its object” (in Rivera Cusicanqui’s words, an object conceived “from outside”). Conversely neo-realist description, in Deleuze’s summary of Robbe-Grillet,

replaces its own object, on the one hand it erases or destroys its reality which passes into the imaginary, but on the other hand it powerfully brings out all the reality which the imaginary or the mental create through speech and vision” (Deleuze 1989: 7; original emphasis).

A great deal of consonance can be found here with a later theoretical piece by Sanjinés, in which the director outlines his bid to “create a reality that is more real than the impression of reality that we live every day,” by “fascinating the viewer, bewitching him with the magic of the images and sounds” (Sanjinés 1999: 34, 41). Here, Sanjinés condemns mainstream cinema not for its seductive use of film language per se but for its tendency to employ that language in the service of a “deceptive,” formulaic and often violent view of reality. It is therefore the job of the scriptwriter (and by extension, one can assume, the director) to “capture” the viewer in a “hypnosis” deriving from a studied and “truthful” depiction of the world (Sanjinés 1999: 35).[20] Recognizing that the film is consonant with her own society’s “internal rhythms,” the viewer will naturally engage in a creative and poetic (rather than rational) determination to change, or to participate in the ongoing construction of, that reality:

“A script, the spirit and soul of a film, can lay out the means whereby the true and profound dimensions of reality can be conveyed, transforming everyday life, reinventing it, deforming it, changing it, through a process, that is to say art, that goes beyond rational intelligence, that is closer to the power of intuition, so as to bring to us the true nature of things in a marvellous way…” (Sanjinés 1999: 34)

The praxis of Andean realism:
the flashback and the integral sequence shot

Upon release, La nación clandestina was not universally celebrated for successfully merging Andean temporality with film style. The poet Eduardo Nogales Guzmán (1990), for one, cast the Ukamau Group’s movie as a violent imposition of European thought onto an entirely misunderstood Aymara reality, reading the film as a Foucauldian dissertation on medieval concepts of madness and redemption. Nogales Guzmán, along with other critics and participants in the contemporary Bolivian audiovisual sphere, have also seen a problematic purity of Andean values and structures of thought even in La nación clandestina, the most nuanced of Sanjinés’ films in terms of its exploration of the transcultural relationships between indigenous and mestizo (mixed-race) Bolivian society.

The rights and wrongs of these arguments are beyond the scope of this essay. What interests me here is rather the way in which the integral sequence shot combines a (perhaps essentializing) notion of the nature of “the people’s internal rhythms” with a political will to place the collective empathy deriving from the instinctive recognition of those rhythms at the service of social change. As I have outlined above, it does so by rejecting a Western realist narrative tradition that converts time and space into fragmented units of exchange, replacing it with what we might call an “Andean realism” that both idealizes and normalizes Aymara time.

The cinematography and editing of La nación clandestina spatially integrate “historical actors’ into the topography of the altiplano:a technique much used throughout the Ukamau Group’s films. In the same way, as I observed above, the film’s narrative structure knits Sebastián’s personal journey into the wider, mythologized journeys of indigenous and national history in Bolivia. As Sebastián walks back to his ayllu Willkani, earlier episodes of his life are narrated via flashbacks, in which his personal experience as an acculturated Aymara cuts across recent Bolivian history. The Ukamau Group had already made wide use of flashbacks in Yawar Mallku (1969), but according to the group’s own self-critique, that film’s temporal structure responded to the rhetorical requirements of dramatic tension: a classical technique in which editing is employed to manipulate the plot’s presentation of story time.

In La nación clandestina, the transitions between the narrative “present” and “past” are not marked by the fades or dissolves that would denote a temporal disruption in classical cinematic narrative. In classical cinema, flashbacks “are usually motivated as mental subjectivity, since the events we see are triggered by a character's recalling the past” (Bordwell and Thompson 2008: 91-92). However, Bordwell and Thompson explain, these moments of subjectivity are most commonly subordinated to an overarching objective narration. In Sanjinés’ 1989 film, in contrast, the “past” sequences appear less as prompts that add historical depth and subjective insight to a narrative, objectively-narrated present. They exist rather on an even epistemological footing as the “present” scenes,[21] as equal parts of a temporal sphere constructed around Sebastián’s psyche, which in turn slips in and out of synch with the memorial time of his ayllu.

This formal strategy is foreshadowed in the opening sequence when Uncle Tankara, a village elder, proclaims that

“our past comes back to the present. It is the present. We live in the past and present at the same time.”

From its outset, then, the film lays out, in a schematic and didactic fashion, the multi-directional nature of Andean time that is to frame the Ukamau Group’s aesthetic of national redemption in La nación clandestina. In Andean (Quechua and Aymara) thought, the categories that Western rationality separates out into “time” and “space” are encapsulated within the broader cosmic category of pacha.[22] Accordingly, In La nación clandestina, the temporal device of the flashback is deeply linked to the spatial implications of the “integral” sequence shot.

After Sebastián has been discovered embezzling North American aid money as community leader, the six-minute sequence from his capture, through the community meeting and up to his final expulsion, contains just three cuts. Actors, cinematographer and editor use space through 360 degrees. After Sebastián is rounded up the camera spins right round on its axis to establish a new plane of action as it accommodates the gathering crowd. The hand-held camera hovers at the edge of the group of villagers as Sebastián is dragged to the front, remaining in long-shot as various speakers move forwards from various angles to air their views. The camera paces around the edge of the group and crosses the centre circle as the speakers shuffle in and out of shot. It approaches one speaker to move him into medium close-up at the right-hand edge of the screen, with Sebastián standing at the opposite edge. The rest of the screen is filled by the crowd, which looms in the background but occupies centre-stage and is clearly visible in deep focus. As the villagers argue over the traitor’s fate the hand-held camera establishes its point of view behind the speakers. But a cutaway to Sebastián’s wife, mother and brother joining the meeting flips the plane yet again to the opposite side of the axis, opening up a further field of space to reveal yet more villagers looking on in the distance. The camera integrates itself into the crowd to the extent that it appears to encompass all the available space.

There is no deconstructive suggestion here of a “lacking” or absent off-screen space or time; there is no possibility for a narrative “outside” of the action we are shown. Unlike the distancing effects used in some of the Ukamau Group’s previous films, La nación clandestina is seeped in the mythologized idea of Andean spatio-temporality as a permanent, immutable cycle: a notion that bleeds into the film’s formal structure. The spatial dynamics of the integral sequence shot described above, in which the unseen (offscreen space) is constantly re-integrated into the frame, can in turn be read as a metaphor for the management of time in the film’s plot as a whole. Time is constantly reframed throughout La nación clandestina in order to incorporate both Sebastián’s personal perceptions of history, as an urbanized Aymara striving to recuperate the values and memory of his ayllu, and the great events of national time.

The point here, though, is not that this spatial and temporal integrity is static, discrete and holistic. Rather, the community’s progression towards the future depends on a simultaneous and redemptive return to a past, following the Andean sense of nayrapacha (discussed above). Sanjinés draws here on the common cinematic figure of the returning exile who redeems both himself and his homeland through a renewed connection with his origins. La nación clandestina, though, does not seek to dislocate or interrogate the yearning for the homeland in the style of many of the “accented” filmmakers discussed in Hamid Naficy’s (2001) study of exilic, diasporic and “ethnic” cinemas. Rather, Sebastián’s ultimate rediscovery of a forgotten ancestral dance is to be conceived as a symbolic and political act of progress: indeed, the trope of Sebastián’s recuperation of the Jacha Tata Danzante itself stands as a narrative metaphor of the entire film’s spatio-temporal dynamic. The integral sequence shot thus reflects the notion that lived time is both historically unchanging and integral, and engages with ongoing processes of social upheaval.

If La nación clandestina in some respect narrates the clash between indigenous and non-indigenous histories, the Andean conception of history as a cyclical repetition of an organic process (rather than a Western march towards national progress) is embodied in one of the film’s visual motifs. As Sebastián is ousted from the ayllu, a high-angle extreme long-shot frames him from a mountain ridge, being carried slowly on the back of a donkey across the vast altiplano below. A steep tilt up reveals that it is from Sebastián’s point-of-view (in the present, journeying back to Willkani) that we have been observing this scene. Many of the film’s “flashbacks” end with a similar shot, and it becomes clear that Sebastián’s personal past exists within his own present as he undergoes the long process of atoning for his wrongdoings.[23] In La nación clandestina’s final sequence, though, individual identification is cast onto the broader plane of a communal, trans-historical indigenous consciousness.

After his performance of the Jacha Tata Danzante brings Sebastián’s death, his funeral procession is framed in a slow, baleful extreme-long-shot before a closer shot then pans and tracks across the mourners as they walk past. The camera comes to rest on the last mourner in the group: Sebastián himself. He stops and watches the ceremony proceed; the frame freezes in medium-close-up and the credits roll. In observing his own funeral Sebastián completes his personal journey of self-consciousness, of realising his individual role both as a vessel of indigenous cultural memory and as an agent of Bolivia’s national renewal. Executive producer Beatriz Palacios found that this message struck a chord among viewers at the film’s premiere in Sucre (Gamboa 1999: 241). But in transcending the narrative “now” of his lifetime, Sebastián also acts as an organic spiritual presence informing and renewing the cultural and political memory of his community.

The film’s abiding image, I would argue, is not so much that of Sebastián perishing just as his compañeros return from their concrete political struggle alongside the miners, but rather that of them bearing aloft Sebastián’s corpse which comes to embody the reactivation of Willkani’s collective oral, visual and ritual memory. On a broader allegorical level, Sebastián can be taken here as an incarnation of the new national subject that might offer an alternative to Bolivia’s slide into neoliberalism.[24] Given that the integrationist revolutionary nationalism of the post-1952 era had been falling into obsolescence for some years by the time of La nación clandestina’s release, Sebastián's cultural renewal of his Aymara community seeks not so much to renew the MNR’s co-optation of the indigenous for the national project, but rather to re-align the national project along the lines of Aymara culture.

La nación clandestina’s integration of Andean thought into film form, of course, has its limitations. We might reasonably object that the entire theoretical basis of the integral sequence shot derives from a reworking of realist cinematic aesthetics that foreground visuality: an originary property of both cinema and photography that is steeped in a colonial logic of surveillance and control (Schiwy 2009: 87-90). If reality is to be “aimed at,” in Bazinian fashion, the film in some ways does not quite get there, in the same way that Sebastián himself can watch from a distance, but no longer participate in, the material progress of his community. The indigenous appropriation of visual technology would thus seem to be incomplete. The space that separates Sebastián from the ongoing struggle that his compañeros conduct at the end of the film is analogous to the space that separates the symbolic or metaphorical realist aesthetic from the reality it documents.

Andean structures of thought and social struggle, then, do not entirely permeate film form in La nación clandestina. Rather, the indigenous presence is used strategically and didactically in order to signal an alternative path for Bolivian nationhood as a whole: a theme mantained in the Ukamau Group’s two later works Para recibir el canto de los pájaros (1995) and Los hijos del último jardín (2004). After all, the essay “El plano secuencia integral,” which I have discussed at length here, emphasizes from the outset that the Ukamau Group’s cinema is no longer mainly for the consumption of Andean indigenous peasants. It is equally intended to open the eyes of Europeanized highland mestizos for whom “centuries of Aymara and Quechua thought have infiltrated their being in spite of their own racism” (Sanjinés 1989: 65).[25] Yet La nación clandestina’s failure to envisage currents of thought that decenter the question of the national altogether, means that the film’s stance of national redemption has in some senses been rendered outdated as a critical discourse.

The fact that La nación clandestina works precisely on the level of nationality leaves it open to the critique of masculinist national redemption voiced by Geidel in relation to Yawar Mallku and cited above. Geidel argues that a similar patriarchal mode of “nationalist redistributive politics” is currently embraced by the government of the Aymara president and former cocalero leader Evo Morales, and contrasts it to contemporary “post-statist feminist scholars,” who consider the issue of territory in conjunction with that of female and indigenous autonomy (Geidel 2010: 782-783). Despite coming to power in 2006 thanks to a great extent to popular mobilization, Morales’ subsequent government has attracted criticism for marginalizing the decolonizing logic of pachakuti, and for allowing a destructive “mestizo mediation” to frame indigenous struggle within an instrumental and centralizing vision of national rebuilding (Rivera Cusicanqui 2011: 72).[26]

Even so, La nación clandestina remains of great interest both in terms of aesthetic accomplishment and as a provocative political statement that challenged the guiding logic of mainstream politics of its day, proposing an “indianizing” of the public sphere even as Bolivia forged its new model of (neo)liberal, “pluricultural” democracy. It remains, though, far more than a statement of political intent. Still regarded by many as one of the best films ever produced in Bolivia, it stands as a film that asks the viewer how far he or she is able to identify, on both a rational and an emotional level, with Sebastián’s voyage in which collective history, indigenous struggle and subjective identity are closely intertwined.


1. All translations from Spanish-language sources are my own unless stated otherwise. [return to text]

2. Most of the Ukamau Group’s films, from Sanjinés’ debut feature Ukamau (And So It Is, 1966) to his most recent picture Los hijos del último jardín (The Sons of the Last Garden, 2004) are spoken mainly or wholly in Quechua and/or Aymara. Eastern, lowland Bolivia, with a much lower proportion of indigenous inhabitants, features little in Sanjinés’ films and writings. Sanjinés’ earlier independent short Revolución (Revolution, 1963) has no direct sound; in his subsequent short Aysa! (Landslide, 1965), only a single word is spoken: the Quechua “Aysa” of the title.

3. For a thorough account of the background, politics and repercussions of the MNR regime, see Dunkerley (1984).

4. From 1964-1982 Bolivia had 13 presidents, the longest-standing of whom were René Barrientos (1964-1969) and Hugo Bánzer (1971-1978).

5. Although the Peace Corps promoted the US government’s agenda of birth control in Bolivia, little concrete evidence has been found that it conducted enforced sterilisation of indigenous women: an issue that interested Sanjinés in a metaphorical more than a literal sense (Siekmeier 2000). I analyze most of the Ukamau Group’s films in depth in my doctoral thesis (Wood 2005).

6. Himpele (2008: 183) notes that in La tribunal libre (and by extension in Condepa’s politics), “just as the popular classes themselves felt abandoned or marginalized by the promises of the paternalist nation-state that had dominated the twentieth century [Palenque’s] voice recuperated desire toward the fantasy he conducted of a prosperous popular nation-state.” On the strong bargaining power that Condepa obtained following the 1989 elections, see Himpele (2008: 142-143).

7. For an analysis of La nación clandestina in relation to nationality and to the intellectual and literary currents of indigenism to which it refers, see García Pabón (2001).

8. It does not seem coincidental that the name of Sebastián’s ayllu evokes that of 19th-century Aymara leader Pablo Zárate Willka.

9. It was during Barrientos’ presidency, in October 1967, that guerrilla leader Che Guevara was captured and killed at Ñancahuazú in south-eastern Bolivia.

10. Rivera Cusicanqui (1991: 45) points out that “nayra means ancient, in the past, but also eye, or vision’.

11. Schiwy studies the work of CEFREC (Centre for Cinematographic Training and Production), established in La Paz in 1989 by Iván Sanjinés, son of Jorge. CEFREC has offered workshops at rural locations across Bolivia for indigenous media practitioners since 1996. According to the website of the National Indigenous Plan for Audiovisual Communication, which is coordinated by CEFREC and CAIB (Indigenous Audiovisual Coordinating Body of Bolivia), in its first ten years the Plan trained over 300 indigenous communicators who produced more than 400 videos of various genres as well as regular television and radio programmes; see www.sistemadecomunicacionindigena.org/inf/PlanNacional.aspx (consulted 27 June 2012).

12. For Mariátegui (1975: 60-65), the regime of collective ownership and labour in pre-Hispanic Inca society formed the basis of an agrarian communism that was analogous, although different in form, to Marx’s concept of communism in industrialized societies. In his critique of Mariátegui, Juan Carlos Grijalva (2010: 325-326) notes that the Peruvian thinker relies on a nostalgic and idealized concept of Inca society and that his vision of social change “still believed in the ‘ontological centrality’ of a revolutionary subject, the Indian, who represented a homogenous and single political entity that would transform history through revolution.” Sanjinés openly acknowledges Mariátegiu’s intellectual influence on his filmmaking practice.

13. Pérez is director of photography of Sanjinés’ three most recent features La nación clandestina, Para recibir el canto de los pájaros (To Hear the Birds Singing, 1995) and Los hijos del último jardín (2004).

14. Burch’s Theory of Film Practice, a compilation of texts previously published in Cahiers du Cinéma, both builds on and diverges from existing intellectual currents in French and European film theory and criticism and in critical and political theory more broadly. See Annette Michelson’s introduction to Theory of Film Practice (Burch 1973: v-xv) on Burch’s renewed appeal to the modernist tradition, against André Bazin’s antimodernist celebration of democratic realism in the cinema. On Burch’s debt of gratitude, in defining the “zero point of cinematic style,” both to Eisenstein and to Bertolt Brecht’s notion of theatrical identification, see Burch’s own introduction to the English-language edition of his book (1973: vi-xx). On the various ways in which Burch’s IMR builds on the work of Jean-Louis Baudry, Umberto Eco, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes and others, see Rodowick (1988: 111-125).

15. For Sanjinés’ own self-critique of the cultural misunderstandings implied in the methodological and grammatical approach of Yawar Mallku, and on the Ukamau Group’s subsequent attempts to overcome such cultural barriers between themselves and highland indigenous communities by altering their own filmmaking praxis, see his essay “La experiencia boliviana” (Sanjinés and Grupo Ukamau 1979: 13-33).

16. The 1979 book was translated into English in 1989 as Theory and Practice of a Cinema with the People (Sanjinés and Grupo Ukamau 1989).

16b. On the links between Italian neo-realism and the Ukamau Group’s film Yawar Mallku (1969), see Hess (1993).

17. According to Sanjinés, the narrator in Jatun Auka follows the tradition of the storyteller in Andean popular culture, who provides a synthesis of the story before narrating the details, thereby eliminating suspense (Sanjinés and Grupo Ukamau, 1979: 111).

18. See Annette Michelson’s introduction, cited above, in Burch (1973: v-xv).

19. Solanas and Getino’s clandestine, tripartate film-manifesto La hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1968) was conceived along just these lines, not as a finished and self-contained product after the fashion of mainstream cinema, but as a trigger for debate in which the spectator completed the film’s “meaning.” Most militant Latin American filmmakers of the era shared a similar notion of film spectatorship as active process rather than passive voyeurism. Sanjinés held and maintains a strong conviction that his films should be viewed and debated collectively.

20. For Sanjinés, quoting formalist critic Rudolf Arnheim, the films of the New Latin American cinema that retained their relevance over the years were those that “bewitched through their art, through the direct impact of sounds and moving forms, and not through their discourse” (Jorge Sanjinés 1999: 40). The fact that the Bolivian director quotes Arnheim here shows that his faith in abstractionism that characterized his first feature Ukamau is still very much alive; see Wood (2006).

21. The undermining of the classical relations between objectivity and subjectivity in cinematic narrative is in itself by no means an original technique: Bordwell and Thompson go on to cite examples by Fellini, Buñuel, Haneke, Resnais and Nolan that similarly present alternative narrative modes.

22. For an attempt to render the polysemous Aymara and Quechua term pacha into a Spanish/Latinate framework, see Estermann (2006: 155-158). As an adjective pacha can mean “inside”; as an adverb, “immediately” or “same”; as a suffix, “all” or “whole.” As a noun it can encompass the notions “earth,” “world,” and “time.” As Estermann explains, “Pacha could also be a homomorphic equivalent of the Latin term esse (‘to be’): pacha is ‘what is,’ all that exists in the universe, ‘reality.’ It is an expression that refers to what is beyond the division between the visible and the invisible, the material and the immaterial, the earthly and the celestial, the profane and the sacred, the external and the internal” (2006: 157). For an explanation of the grammatical complexities of Andean notions of time, see Estermann (2006: 195-206).

23. Hanlon (2010) reads the use of the sequence shot in La nación clandestina, and specifically its role in uniting distinct temporalities as discussed here, as an adaptation of techniques used in Theodoros Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players (1974).

24. As García Pabón (2001) has aptly observed regarding this scene, “what is buried is the impossibility of being Indian and being Bolivian at the same time. […] For the filmmaker, the only possible form of Bolivian nationality now is one of imagining the nation within the framework of Indian community values, within the framework of moral and cultural relations that the indigenous groups can propose to the Bolivian community.”

25. The criollo dwellers of the lowland Santa Cruz region, “unmixed descendants of the Spanish colonizer, isolated by the green wall of the rainforest from the Andean region,”(Sanjinés 1989: 65) appear to be excluded from this new “national” vision. It is interesting that, although Sanjinés here critiques the Europeanized Bolivian intelligentsia with a broad brush, his own characterization of the inhabitants of different regions of Bolivia according to topographical regional features taps into a long tradition of Bolivian thought linking landscape with national and regional traits; see Sanjinés C. (2004: 66-106).

26. Again, the rights and wrongs of such critiques of Morales’ government are beyond the scope of this essay. The ideological proximity between Sanjinés and Morales is illustrated by the president’s recent decision to personally announce the impending premiere of Sanjinés’ latest film Insurgentes, which he had viewed in a pre-screening: “Evo anuncia estreno del filme de Jorge Sanjinés,” PaginaSiete.bo, 19 April 2012. Available online at www.paginasiete.bo/2012-04-20/Cultura/Destacados/29Cul02200412.aspx (accessed 29 June 2012).

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