Imagine living in the middle of a jungle, shielded from the outside world save for five days a year. One day, you’re told a group of people from the big city are coming to help you. Seems pretty far from the concrete-painted landscape of Montreal, right? Well, in AndrÃ©s Livov-Macklin’s documentary, A Place Called Los Pereyra, this is a reality.
The jungle, to be precise, is a region in the northern Argentinean province of Chaco, known as El Impenetrable, and the helping hands come in the form of a group of girls from the prestigious Buenos Aires private school Northlands, who are known to the Los Pereyra schoolchildren as the Godmothers. The film follows the merging of the two groups over the span of a week, as the girls arrive in the isolated community and try to help the kids in the village’s only elementary school by bringing them food and supplies, and offering them friendship.
A far cry from the type of situation that can be fixed with the wave of a fairy godmother’s wand, the girls’ visit makes the audience question the reason behind their act of charity in the first place. “We often try to help other people without asking questions to ourselves or the other people, just for the fact that it makes us feel good to help,” said Livov-Macklin.
Not only does the film expose the audience to a way of living that may be foreign to their own – it goes further by showing how the girls reflect the ways of a larger group of privileged people. “I wasn’t much surprised about [the locals], but about me and about the girls in the movie, because they are a metaphor of me,” he said. “They represent me and they represent the audience as well that goes to see the film.”
With the contrast between the wealthy city students and the kids who have never stepped foot outside their secluded village comes the realization that the latter have things which cannot possibly be provided for them out of a non-perishable can of soup. “Sometimes it feels we’re in more need than they are,” said Livov-Macklin. “They have things we don’t have, as well. They have a sense of warmth we don’t have.”
Given the way the film was shot, it was no surprise that some unexpected twists came about, namely the fact that no individual characters are pointed out. Instead, the camera looks at the kids going about their week in clusters, which Livov-Macklin said was unforeseen.
Particularly with fly-on-the-wall films, he said, “You go and you have an idea of what might happen, but you don’t control anything, so what happens, happens.” This approach allows for a sense of realism to set in, lending itself to a truthful depiction of the differences between the city and the village kids.
It is with this unflinching honesty that Livov-Macklin hopes to have an effect on audiences continents away from Los Pereyra, especially in the way they view the idea of doing charitable work. Drawing from his own experience while shooting the film, his advice for those who opt to help others by immersing themselves in different communities is to “just observe and talk to them and see what’s best and be open to other solutions and never do things because you feel good, because it’s not about you.”
This is a concept which the girls had a hard time accepting. “They think that the film’s about them, but it’s not,” Livov-Macklin explained. “I have used their story […] to tell something more universal, to move people in certain ways.”
The change he wants to instill in viewers, he said, is the ability “to ask themselves questions and not always take everything for granted, not always try to impose their views.”
Although A Place Called Los Pereyra provides revelatory insight into both the privileged and impoverished worlds, in the end the audience has to look beyond the objective gaze of the camera to get at its message.
“It’s up to each person who watches the film to decide why it’s important,” said Livov-Macklin. “One of the properties of this film is that it won’t tell you anything. It’s up to you to figure it out.”
A Place Called Los Pereyra plays March 11 to 17 at CinÃ©ma ParallÃ¨le, 3536 St-Laurent blvd. For more information, check out cinemaparallele.ca.