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Milestone Film & Video presents
Chac: The Rain God (1974)

"You do not trust me. If you have no faith in me, why do you seek my help?"
- The Diviner (Pablo Canché Balam)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 29, 2002

Stars: Pablo Canché Balam, Alonso Méndez Ton, Sebastian Santis, Pedro Tiez, Antonio Castellanos
Other Stars: Antonio Osii, Antonio Ton
Director: Rolando Klein

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, violence, brief gore)
Run Time: 01h:34m:14s
Release Date: April 30, 2002
UPC: 014381952520
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ABB+ B+

DVD Review

When one visits the Mayan ruins of ancient Mexico, there are representations of a bizarre-looking god by the name of Chac, god of rain. Many of the Mayan religious texts were destroyed by the conquistadores, but the important text, Popol Vuh managed to survive. Chilean director Rolando Klein in his debut film provides a look at the still-extant worship of Chac using the Popol Vuh as a springboard, and also the uneasy balance between the old gods of Mexico and Christianity in the modern world.

The cacique (Alonso Méndez Ton) or headman of a peasant village in the mountains of rural southern Mexico has a problem: a serious drought threatens the existence of his people. Reluctantly, but encouraged by the grandfathers of the village, he and 12 companions head into the mountains to find a Diviner (Pablo Canché Balam) who knows the ancient ways. They bring the Diviner back with them in a desperate attempt to summon Chac and save the village.

This picture has a cult reputation, due in part to its completely alien character. Much of the film seems surreal and events seem inexplicable. However, there is significance in its symbols and a meaning that manages to make an impact even on the viewers in the modern world. Cryptic events, such as the owl that turns into a hunchbacked priest who then attacks the cacique, make this a viscerally disturbing picture. But it's also a beautiful one. The photography by Alex Phillips Jr and William Kaplan Jr is gorgeous, with unspoiled jungle and mountain scenery, beautiful sunrises in alien landscapes and most famously a sequence of the band walking on water through a massive waterfall and its rapids.

What's intriguing about this film is that it starts off looking like a period piece, taking place hundreds of years ago. There's a near-electric shock when the cacique pulls out a flashlight; this tableau of primitive life is taking place in the present day! Other indications are visible here and there, such as the crosses that some of the villagers wear, but by and large this is an anthropological snapshot of a way of life that is much the same as it was a thousand years ago. As the commentary notes, they've all been modernized beyond a simple flashlight in the intervening years.

The cast is almost entirely amateur (excepting only the hunchbacked priest mentioned above), and they come across naturally and believably. The Diviner is appropriately stoic, though conscious of the fact that he is not exactly trusted by the villagers who have summoned him. Méndez Ton does a superb job as the cacique, vigorously depicting the conflict of belief and contempt for gullibility in his face.

Deliberately paced, this film may make some viewers impatient, especially in its more surreal moments. David Lynch fans and anyone interested in Native American religious beliefs will find much of interest here.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Unfortunately, the 1.85:1 widescreen picture is presented in nonanamorphic format. This isn't quite as bad as it sounds because for the most part the picture is still quite good. However, there are unavoidable moments of combing that will be distracting on larger screens. That's too bad, because it's clear that this could have been truly breathtaking. Color and black levels are excellent, as is detail. The picture is grainy and periodically unstable, but these are surely artifacts of the low-budget shooting on location in jungles on mountain-sides. The print is generally pristine, although the segments where optical effects are used can be predictably scratchy.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoTzeltal and Mayan Dialectsno


Audio Transfer Review: I expect that this mono track will be the only one in dOc's database for quite some time using the languages Tzeltal and Mayan. I can't understand a word of what they say, but the expression comes through fine, which is slightly surprising since there is no overdubbing; all of the dialogue is live. There is a persistent minor hiss that isn't terribly distracting; such things often bother me but I soon forgot it here. The music sounds fine. The roar of the waterfalls come through quite well making for a surprisingly effective mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Rolando Klein
Packaging: EastPack
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo galleryStill gallery
Extras Review: As mentioned above, there is an informative commentary from the writer/director, Rolando Klein. Here he describes more of the background derived from the Popol Vuh as well as explaining many of the mysterious goings-on in the picture, so those who prefer to work such things out may want to pass on this. He also provides stories of the difficulties of filming in the jungle with amateurs who were mostly not familiar with movies at all, as well as the delicate balance of documenting their culture and disrupting it. Klein also goes into the reception of the film as well as his run-ins with Werner Herzog.

A photo gallery of 53 stills, color and black & white, plays automatically. Unfortunately, they're uncaptioned. They're also fairly small within the screen, so those with 4:3 sets will see quite small pictures. A full-frame trailer is provided, and the English subtitles are burned in. All in all a very nice presentation of a minor item.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A beautiful and cryptic examination of Mayan life and the struggle between the modern and ancient worlds in the microcosm of a village, though many of the mysteries are cleared up in the highly informative commentary. Quite commendable, except for the nonanamorphic transfer. Nonetheless, this is an intriguing and very different film that's worth a look.

 


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