‘El Gran Movimiento’ Review: Subsistence and the City

In the first shot of “El Gran Movimiento,” the second feature from the Bolivian director Kiro Russo, who also wrote the script, the camera zooms in from high above La Paz toward a half-standing building. As the image gets closer to ground level, the sounds below — traffic, construction, possibly voices — grow louder. Throughout the opening montage, Russo peers at the city through a defamiliarizing lens, surveying the buzzing wires of the aerial cable cars or pondering the reflections of vehicles and people in glass.

Yet “El Gran Movimiento” can’t simply be described as a city symphony — or simply as anything at all. You would be forgiven for assuming that long stretches of it consist of vérité documentary, but this cryptic, experimental film, shot on 16 millimeter, unfolds in a never-quite-identifiable mode that blends nonfiction and performative elements. That much of it is carefully staged and framed is certainly clear by two-thirds in, when the principal subjects suddenly engage in a synth-scored dance sequence.

The oblique plot, not easily apprehended from the film itself, involves Elder (Julio César Ticona), part of a group of miners who have walked for seven days to La Paz to find jobs; he and his friends take work hauling produce, but Elder has a bad cough. Separately, for a time, Russo follows Max (Max Bautista Uchasara), a disheveled man who lives in the woods and makes folk remedies for problems like Elder’s.

“El Gran Movimiento” has clearly been designed as an intuitive experience, and frustrations are to be expected. Russo is more interested in found surreality than in narrative. But as an incantatory exercise, “El Gran Movimiento” is pleasingly disorienting.

El Gran Movimiento
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. In theaters.