Luisa Quispe and Jose Calcina in ‘Utama’, written and directed by Alejandro Loayza Grisi. An official selection of the World Cinema: Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Utama (Our Home) was by far my favorite from the Sundance 2022 lineup. The stunning landscape shots capture the beauty and isolation of the Bolivian Highlands in this subtle but profound tale of inevitable change.
We follow the lives of Virginio (Jose Calcina) and Sisa (Luisa Quispe) as they struggle to cling to their roots in an increasingly hostile environment. When we meet the older couple, we are told that there hasn’t been rain in over a year. The small community that they live in is dwindling fast in the face of the drought, yet Virginio is determined to stay and wait for the rain.
The sound design is quiet and subtle, interrupted by the soft sounds of their daily routines, llamas and the harsh coughing of Virginio as a mysterious illness plagues him. The arrival of their grandson Clever (Santos Choque) kicks off the main plot with the odd sound of a motor engine disrupting the soft soundscape. Clever wants his grandparents to move to the city. Sisa is hesitant, but Virginio outright refuses to go live in the city. We can see the generational divide, and in the grand scheme, we can see this as a metaphor of urbanization at the risk of losing one’s cultural roots. Virginio is a condor, living his long life in the Andes until he can no longer serve his purpose. He will die on his own terms, and he will die living the life he has been living with his wife.
The cinematography from Bárbara Alvarez is truly a triumph of this project. It brings so much depth to the story, emphasizing the struggles of Virginio and Sisa both as they work to survive. Without spoiling the plot, the ending evokes a sense of anxiety about the uncertain future ahead. We are forced to confront the idea of mortality and the loss of agency in the face of the inevitable.