Cinema ranking: Iwianch, el Diablo Venado (The Devil’s Deer) [Ann Arbor 2021]

Iwianch, the devil stag [Ann Arbor 2021]

Directed by José Cardoso

March 31, 2021
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Director José Cardoso didn’t want to make the film he ended with. The documentary filmmaker is a man who is familiar with the Achuar, an indigenous people from the Amazon. He has previously spent time with families in the area, has an affinity for the people and the stories they tell.

He is familiar with the story of Iwianch – a devil who takes the form of an anthropomorphized deer – but has never intended to make him his central focus. When he arrives at the village, it turns out that a teenager recently disappeared in the woods. The family knows he is not lost. “Achuar is not lost,” says a family member. Maybe he was bitten, poisoned, and couldn’t return home. There is a suggestion that his body could be tripped over, although recent search efforts suggest they would have already done so.

It has been about two weeks since the boy’s disappearance, and the family decides to find him less orthodox than just looking. Instead, they recruit the help of a local shaman. This is the point at which Cardoso’s film restlessly fades into a darkness that ultimately obscures the film. As the shaman tries to identify the root of the boy’s absence, Cardoso leads us into an unclear area and obscures what we see and hear through a series of sick hallucinations that are more reminiscent of a terrible glitch than a psychedelic journey . The shaman quickly realizes that Iwianch is involved, that the boy was taken rather than lost, and that the shaman will bond with the boy and lead him home.

Iwianch feels like real-time tragedy for the most part. A family with a missing child who is looking for and waiting for him. But Cardoso manages, partly because of his own curiosity and perhaps his skepticism, along with the families who have not accepted the shaman’s diagnosis, to turn it into an eerie story of belief and disbelief, the known and the unknown.

The film never feels as deadly as fate might have made it. There is always that strange feeling that the shaman has guaranteed that the narrative will take the direction he set. And if the film succumbs to this suggestion as the only explanation, it cannot escape a surreal horror, a horror into which Cardoso, unsure of the truth, seems to bow with rather frightening results.

Author rating: 8/10

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