Disneyfication

Anda corre vuela posterAnda, corre, vuela (“Go, run, fly”) brings together characters from the Grupo Chaski’s earlier films, Gregorio and Juliana. Several years have gone by: Gregorio now is an off-and-on student who also works two other jobs, as gas station attendant and roadie for a rock band; Juliana has not made her way quite so far up in the world, as she still runs a gang of street kids, now mostly young girls who sell flowers to couples on the streets and in the restaurants of fashionable Miraflores. On the side, Juliana also has a line in pickpocketing, which is how she first meets Gregorio as she offloads a stolen wallet into his backpack.

From Gregorio, Juliana learns that the takings from the gas station are transported in an old oil can, and seeing an opportunity for some easy money she sells this information on to a couple of professional thieves. For some reason, however, perhaps because she’s already taken something of a shine to Gregorio, she turns up to try to warn the gas station owner of the impending robbery. But then she, the robbers, and Gregorio alike are taken by surprise by a gang of Senderistas who shoot the owner, graze Juliana, and set the whole place alight with a car bomb. Gregorio, straight-laced and cooperative, identifies his new rather problematic acquaintance to the police, who are convinced that the young woman must be a terrorist in on the plot. The thieves believe the same thing, so soon Juliana is pursued by all sides.

Anda corre vuela stillThe film’s central problematic is the difficulty of convince anyone of your innocence in a context of social chaos, official incompetence and paranoia, and generalized fear and distrust. Gregorio seeks a lawyer who will defend Juliana, but the man he finds, a professor from the university, is a hopeless alcoholic who has lost seventy per cent of the cases he has fought, and who gloomily pronounces that “these days it’s very difficult to prove innocence. Now not even children are innocent.” And, later, “We’re all afraid. We’re standing on a volcano.” So even the representative of the law tells Gregorio it’s best if his friend takes cover or flees. Which is what she spends the best part of the movie doing, though first she needs money.

Here comes a subplot about whales, with which the film opens and closes. We learn at the outset that a whale has beached on the Lima shoreline, and that the people have naturally enough scavenged the carcass for everything they can get. This includes some kind of plaque, presumably a means by which to identify the whale, which has been superstitiously taken to be some kind of divine message and pinned to the virgin in a local shrine. But a gringo biologist, ignorant of the plague’s resting place, has pledged Gregorio and the gang of shoe-shine boys who (for some unexplained reason) hang around with him that he will give them $200 if they bring the thing to his office. Gregorio and the boys, steadfastly moral as they are, have baulked at desecrating the shine. But when Juliana’s in a fix, they see no problem passing on the information to her, so she can claim the biologist’s money and head out of town.

Because in the end, nobody is innocent. Juliana may not be a terrorist, but she is a petty thief plugged in to the criminal underworld. Gregorio too is soon both wanted by the police and helping a crime suspect escape. Indeed, ironically enough, if anything the only people who are not portrayed as part of this corrupt and corrupting everyday street reality of the capital city are the terrorists themselves, who appear from nowhere and leave never to return. They are the shady other who justify the law’s draconian measures, but such a justification is hardly necessary: here in fact everyone is guilty; or rather, the very distinction between guilt and innocence unravels in people’s everyday attempts to scrape a living on the streets.

So far, so good. But as in Juliana, the film-makers once again seem to feel the need to tack on a happy resolution. For it turns out that that gas station owner was not killed, but only seriously wounded. If he can only recover consciousness, then he can clear Juliana and all will be well. Lo and behold, the Peruvian medical service pulls off a miracle: and the police are present at the old man’s sickbed to hear him declare that Gregorio’s friend was at the site of the attack only to warn him, not to blow the place up. Phew! So Gregorio and Juliana can finally consummate their long-brewing romance, and in the movie’s final scene, every Tom, Dick and Harry of the juvenile rescue squad accompanies the happy couple to a rock show put on at a place called The Whale.

The ending to this film as well as to Juliana really are too cute for words. They turn both films into something like Peruvian street-kid Disney, for all the self-declared serious political purposes of the Grupo Chaski, and no doubt their hostility to imported mass culture. It is interesting to consider why this is. Is it just a coincidence that this Peruvian populism coincides so closely with its imported version? And I mean populism here is a rather loose sense, of course, though as in the strict sense what’s encouraged is a solidarity or sympathy that is strictly meaningless, as we’re told that everything will always work out for the valiant people in the end. (In more strictly political terms, the state is castigated for not being on the side of the people, but the people are shown also as transcending the state after all.)

Disney itself has long stolen or invented similar stories of plucky youngsters ganging together against a hostile adult world: from say One Hundred and One Dalmations to The Rescuers, this is a classic topos. But I wonder if the influence isn’t more subtle. Much is made about the ways in which these Peruvian film-makers consult their non-professional streetkid actors to ensure realism in their portrayal of the urban milieu. And perhaps these same kids have seen enough Disney, or in any case retain a childish utopianism, to demand precisely such happy endings, replete with music and dancing, however grave the previous hour and a half’s adventures have been.

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