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Chac: The Rain God

     A highlight of the Milestone Films retrospective touring America is Rolando Klein's striking, most unusual 1974 Mexican film, in Tzeltal and Mayan dialects with English subtitles, in which an almost-all native cast perform an archetypal folk tale that possesses the ritualistic resonance of Greek tragedy. There's no rain falling on a Chiapas rural village, and the enfeebled tribal shaman is far more interested in drinking himself into oblivion than getting through to Chac, the Rain God. In desperation, twelve villagers march into the mountains for secular aid: calling on a pony-tailed diviner (Pablo Canche Balam) to rescue their sun-beaten town. He agrees to help, but takes the twelve on a circuitous route home, through Rousseau-like jungles and to meetings with strange men speaking a stranger tongue, who lie about on hammocks smoking cigars. So here's the rub: is the diviner's twisting-and-turning voyage a necessary one? Or is he, like some sadistic Euripidean deity, a nefarious witch putting the villagers under his spell only to destroy them? Is he just taunting them when he promises rain in three days? Chac: the Rain God answers these riveting questions as it should: with a cloudburst of a climax.

(August, 2000)


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