‘Madeinusa’ is a Coming-of-Age Story Made Not in the USA, but in Peru

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Written and directed by Claudia Llosa in the year 2005, Madeinusa is a beautiful but emotionally brutal film about a young girl, Madeinusa, discovering herself when a handsome young stranger comes into the picture and calls into question traditions that are all she has ever known (JRL: 4/5). 

Review by FF2 Associate Julia Lasker

In a small indigenous village in Peru called Manayaycuna (translating to “the town no one can enter”), lives a fourteen-year-old girl named “Madeinusa” (Magaly Solier). Her name is a play on the phrase “Made in USA,” but pronounced “Ma-day-ah-noosa”, an allusion to the capitalist, religiously free world that exists outside of their village but that never seems to enter into their consciousness. She lives with her younger sister “Chale” (Yiliana Chong) and her father, “Cayo” (Juan Ubaldo Huamán). He is also the town’s mayor. Madeinusa’s mother has fled to a nearby city, Lima, and in her absence, Madeinusa tends to the house. But she also endures disturbing sexual assault from her father, which she attempts to thwart by telling him that “God is watching.”

But it just so happens that, as mayor, Cayo upholds a longstanding tradition within the town: for the three days between Good Friday and Easter, when God is dead, he does not see sin. For these three days, the town engages in a festival for purging; any sin can occur because God is not watching. 

Moments before the festival begins, a stranger from Lima, “Salvador” (Carlos J. De la Torre), finds himself in Manayaycuna when a flood interrupts his travels. He stumbles upon the festival’s opening ceremony where Madeinusa, her younger sister, and other girls are showcased to the town, elaborately dressed up as the Virgin Mary. Madeinusa is crowned the prettiest virgin, a revered symbol of Catholic purity in a village that is about to erupt in sin. Salvador is in love on sight.  

Salvador ends up locked in Cayo’s barn until the festivities are over, where Madeinusa visits him and they quickly develop a passion for each other. Salvador is a perfect foil to the life that Madeinusa had previously known. He fights against the abuse she endures from her father. He brings a new perspective to the traditions she never questioned, and he inspires her to act for herself rather than acquiescing to whatever she is told. Thus her mind opens to a world beyond the borders of her town. 

Madeinusa is quite a beautiful film. It is bursting with color and elaborate costume, and amid the festival’s chaos, it manages to find many lovely moments of peace. Magaly Solier gives an incredibly captivating performance as Madeinusa. The story is well-crafted, and the dialogue is good. At the same time, this is a tough film to recommend. The sexual assault scenes, as well as other scenes of violence within the town, are quite upsetting. Some critics have even pointed out that the film is a potentially harmful portrayal of an indigenous society behaving “savagely.” I think this idea is reductive given the nuance of the film’s behavior, but the sentiment is there. However, it’s important not to shy away from art that makes you uncomfortable. The people of Manayaycuna are not shown doing anything that wouldn’t have happened within our own society, and it’s important to face that. You can’t shy away from stories that make you uncomfortable because they are the ones that often hold the most powerful messages. Madeinusa is no exception to this rule. At its core, Madeinusa is a universal story of growing up and beginning to question those traditions and beliefs you have always known.

© Julia Lasker (10/26/2020) – FF2 Media

Photo: Madeinusa film poster. Credit to IMDB.

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