In Peru, Gonzalo Benavente Secco‚Äôs controversial documentary La revoluci√≥n y la tierra, has drawn huge cinema audiences, perhaps because its subject, the 1969 Land Reform Act, still bitterly divides opinion more than fifty years later. So much so that TV Peru bowed to pressure and refused to broadcast the film, which skillfully folds scenes from old Pervuian films into the mix, in the run up to the elections of 2021. Santiago Pilado-Matheu‚Äôs deceptively simple soundtrack uses ambient electronics, loops, dubby Afro-Latin rhythms, Andean drone and melody, film dialogue, and speech excerpts by peasant leaders, to create a comforting yet sinister landscape of memory.
My off-the-cuff knowledge of Peru consists of four facts. Michael Bond‚Äôs fictional bear Paddington came from "darkest Peru" and legendary broadcaster John Peel died on holiday there. It was the location for Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, filmed on the stone steps of Huayna Picchu, on tributaries of the Amazon river, and in the Peruvian rainforest. Herzog claims to have written the screenplay in less than three days, mostly on a long bus trip with his soccer team - one of whom vomited on several pages which Herzog had to discard. Lastly I recall Peru‚Äôs Teofilo Cubillas, in hs nation's fabulous white kit with diagonal red slash, smashing in a wicked free kick with the outside of his right foot, the first of his two goals that vomited on Scotland‚Äôs hubris at the 1978 World Cup.
Of course, the opening scene from Aguirre is arguably the prime example of music‚ÄîPopol Vuh's moog and "choir organ" masterpiece‚Äîmatched to film. While¬†I don't yet know how well this music fits into¬†La revoluci√≥n y la tierra, it is an enjoyable album which actually got me reading about Peru's agrarian reform of 1969. Critiques of the reform are varied and complex: an overhaul of the previous unfair system - a legacy of Spanish colonialism - was needed, it was wrong to compensate owners for the land nationalization, it was a mistake to let bureaucrats oversee the process, and predictably foolish to disregard the voices of peasants especially in coastal areas, full consideration should have been given to the differing quality of the land, the reform had lasting consequences (intended or unintended) which were bad, or good but limited, US influence was unhelpful, reform changed nothing, grievances deepened perhaps leading to the formation of the Shining Path terror group, and so on. Opinion of the documentary is also divided: an airbrushing of Juan Velasco Alvarado's military dictatorship, the blend of popular culture and historically significant images recalls Adam Curtis's approach, there is too much reliance on academics, a few snippets of peasant leaders are heard but once again the voices of ordinary peasants are ignored, and so on.
However, this amazing soundtrack ought to be a point of consensus. From the opening heartbeat-like drum on "1968," Pilado-Matheu's approach is uncluttered and generates a sense of foreboding, of lurking violence, of struggle and regret. "Chambi" is one of several slow-paced instrumentals; it is simple and affecting, twinkling and creaking as if glued together from bells and the sound of coffin lids being pried open.¬†"Asesinato en el colegio" is one of only two tracks lasting much beyond four minutes and is the most "rocking" piece, with a repetitious clang and thumping drive reminiscent of Savage Republic. By contrast the four tracks entitled "Teirra" are more fluid. "Tierra 3" is lilting and haunted; it sparkles, trickles along and loops around like water irrigating a parched field. "Popachorao" is cool and spacy, with shuffling rhythm and twinkling sunspot electronics. "Cumbia" begins with a clip of a speech, then settles into a funky dub with unsettling percussive aspects. "Funeral" follows and the gritty scraping synth tone and sombre flute (or pipe) brings to mind a shovel and a lone bugle salute. "Tierra 4" seems plucked and tapped on twangy junkyard instruments as it extends the doleful mood of both absence and belonging. Finally, "Obetura" is a dirge-like piece, with sparse bleeps and synths sounding rather like a breeze blowing through trees and echoes of a thunder storm. I pretentiously imagine a slowed cassette tape accompanying flickering images of a battered army retreating a battle many years earlier, or people trudging from a cinema, feeling a mix of rebirth and defeat, but perhaps not resolution.
Peru has now elected rural teacher Pedro Castillo as President. He is the son of peasant farmers who never learned to read or write. He has never previously held any public office and has declined to live in the Presidential palace. Maybe he enjoys film and knows that Peru's record label Buh continues to release genre-defying music. Land reform does not sound too glamorous a topic for a movie, but then again neither did striking miners or Algerian independence and Harlan County, USA and The Battle of Algiers are riveting cinematic masterpieces. Certainly this intriguing soundtrack makes me want to see La revoluci√≥n y la tierra.