We’re all familiar with the tropes of the spaghetti western: high-noon sunlight searing a barren desert landscape, twangy guitar arpeggios, rugged gazes shot in extreme closeup. Ironically it’s this crop of mid-60s Italian films shot in the Spanish desert that has given us our most lasting images of the American West. But with films like A Fistful of Dollars or Django, the genre’s iconic directors weren’t so much interested in the specificities of American history as they were with universal themes like violence, revenge, justice, and the thin line between civilization and barbarism.
In other words, there’s no reason why the western genre has to be limited to the American West. And in case you needed proof, we now have Peru’s first-ever western, Pueblo Viejo (Old Town). Helmed by novice director Hans Matos Cámac, Pueblo Viejo takes us into a re-imagined version of Peru’s Mantaro Valley in what appears to be the late-19th century. When two humble brothers seemingly lose their prized cattle in a fire, they quickly discover that they’ve actually been robbed by the town’s merciless patrón, Don Abelardo. Bereft of their humble patrimony, the brothers undertake a dangerous battle to restore justice to the town of Pueblo Viejo.
The film’s trailer suggests a surprisingly mature style for the first-time writer-director, with impeccably framed widescreen cinematography capturing the pale green and yellow hues of the central Andes. Convincing performances by veteran actors Juan Manuel Ochoa and Christhian Esquivel buoy a generally strong cast, while the classic spaghetti western guitar score is given an effective Andean twist. With the exception of a few forgivable low-budget gaffes (see: the low-powered consumer hose doubling for a rainstorm at 1:57), Pueblo Viejo hits all the buttons fans of the genre will love, while bringing Peru’s difficult history of injustice and oppression to the fore.