Extirpator Of Idolatries
Mar 17, 2023
Paulina Bazan, Diego Yupanqui, Oswaldo Salas, Magaly Solier, Augusto Casafranca
In 1621 Father Pablo Joseph de Arriaga published his book, The Extirpation Of Idolatry In Peru. Being as it was more of a thesis or a 'How To' manual, in it Father de Arriaga outlined the best ways to convert the local Indians to Catholicism from their idolatrous pagan ways. He gave accounts of the religious practices which could be methodically used to root out the priests and sorcerers, the festivals and sacrifices and the objects of worship which the native Peruvians held onto as a matter of custom and culture.
Today the division between the Spanish settlers and the native Peruvians still exists, with the latter still managing to hold on marginally to their old customs and beliefs despite the best efforts of Father de Arriaga and his ilk. In his 2014 film writer/director Manuel Siles decided to tackle this topic head on.
Augusto Casafranca is the eponymous Extirpator Of Idolatries who gets recruited by a shady backroom organisation and sent to the villages in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes. Living in one of these villages is a young boy (Yupanqui) and his mother (Solier) who try to create a life for themselves within the modern world whilst still holding onto their culture and their roots. The boy prefers to skip school on any given day and instead wants to follow a young girl (Bazan) who he walks with into the countryside so that they can be around the nature and the environment that they love. As they walk by the river one day they spot some commotion where the police are investigating a dead body, one which appears to have been decapitated.
On the case is Detective Waldo (Salas), a Peruvian Indian himself, who has to deal with his own oppression and discrimination from his pompous, egotistical, Spanish descended superior officer (Gianoli). Doing his best in bad circumstances, Waldo tries to get to the bottom of things while the religious fanatical killer still runs free and the children walk the land.
Siles does an excellent job of setting the scene and stitching the different threads of his story together. Along with director of photography, Marco Alvarado they capture the beauty and unspoilt nature of the surrounding countryside which the characters inhabit alongside the mystical spirits of the land who have always lived there. Siles moves the camera well and picks his shots to get the best from his narrative while Diego Eslava's traditional music helps to build the depth of feeling from the history and culture of the country as the viewer follows what's happening on screen.
There are some really nice moments which Siles manages to create in Extirpator Of Idolatries, especially those involving the children and the spirits of the land. There are some things which he doesn't quite manage to explain fully within the eighty-six minute runtime, or which get lost in translation, but nothing that detracts from the overall feel of the film. While a lot of the themes being discussed may feel a little too niche for some, for anyone willing to open their minds and expand their horizons there is a lot to recommend this film and the things it has to say.