The representation of indigenous peoples is always fraught territory, as a recent Coca-Cola ad campaign can attest. Outsiders tend to focus on the indigenous lifestyle either as an idyllic, exotic alternative to Western society, or as one beset by poverty, violence, and hardship. Rarely are we treated to an outside perspective that appreciates life in indigenous communities on its own terms, free of prejudices, and open to new discoveries. The documentary Narárachi, by first-time Mexican director Susana Bernal, may just be one of these rare cases.
Following a mestiza woman named Cecilia through the daily rituals of her life in a Rarámuri (or Tarahumara) community of Chihuahua, Bernal rejects classic narratives in favor of a structure that tends more toward the poetic and sensorial. Rather than presenting some explicit thesis about Cecilia or the Rarámuri in general, Bernal trains her eye on the seemingly inconsequential moments that can nevertheless evoke a sense of transcendence. A child playing on a jungle gym, a father bathing his daughter, a mother swinging her child in a hammock; these are small gestures, but ones that seem to have an almost mystical resonance in Bernal’s documentary.
Bernal’s exceptionally sensitive eye, along with that of her co-cinematographer Santiago Torres, finds evocative angles and pools of soft light to lend each image a strong poetic charge, while sound designer Alicia Segovia has put together an equally expressive soundtrack that effectively heightens experience and invites multiple interpretations. Narárachi premiered in the Mexican Documentary section of this year’s Morelia Film Festival, which hopefully suggests a bright future for this imaginative young director.