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Altiplano Movie Review

Less a dramatic feature touching on the continuing plight under globalization of the indigenous rural population of Peru, than how gringos, however empathetic their intentions, misread their lives, the film Altiplano: Fragments Of Grace is so self-consciously stylized from a paternalistic Euro point of view, that the victims increasingly come off as pitiful representations, and nearly forgotten in the process. And in a continuing trend of the glorification of poverty porn on screen for the entertainment of privileged audiences worldwide, they are rendered less the subjects than in a sense re-colonialized aesthetic objects of visual consumption.

Written and directed by Belgian-US team Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, Altiplano is formulated as a tale of two troubled women from opposite sides of the world, who become drawn together by chance over tragedies taking place in their respective lives. Grace (Jasmine Tabatabai), an Iranian war photographer living in Europe, has withdrawn from life after her guide during a coverage assignment in the Iraq desert, is seemingly senselessly executed by insurgents before her eyes, and while demanding she photograph the killing.

Soon after, her perplexed spouse leaves for the mountains of Peru, to work as a doctor in a cataract clinic serving the rural peasants. When patients with a mysterious and untreatable ailment begin showing up in great numbers – who are all inexplicably going blind and mercury poisoning by mining corporations is suspected – their rage is turned against the physicians.

Among the protesters who gather to stone the doctors, is Saturnina (Magaly Solier), a young woman about to be married to a man who has succumbed to mercury poisoning polluting the mountain streams. And when Grace arrives there in the midst of the crisis to locate her husband, a metaphorical narrative thread is established between the two grieving strangers, inextricably united by both fate and the power of the image as personal and historical testament.

There exists within Altiplano the roots of a remarkable story, both politically and emotionally. But barely allowing that greater story to breathe, the film, however admirably creatively embellished, is smothered in European artistic and religious elements suppressing that existing indigenous cultural window into the reality and pain of those experienced lives.

Which is further exacerbated by misguided characterizations of Western intruders as victims of those besieged but dangerously impulsive, primitively portrayed populations of color, whether in Iraq or Peru. While the destructive, essentially genocidal invading corporations are never focused upon or directly indicted, and in effect quite nebulous and invisible as to motive or intent.

First Run Features


2 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.

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