Di Kurse a di Xtabai – A movie review

Friday, September 21st, 2012

by Mary Gonzalez

I am not a movie critic by any means, but I do know when I love a film and when it leaves me hanging. I finally got a chance to catch a showing of the film “Di Kurse a di Xtabai” directed by Matthiew Klinck. Filmed in Creole/Kriol and featuring all first-time actors, the movie was shot in my home village of San Antonio, Cayo. San Antonio was the place where I grew up, listening to my tiny, wizened grandmother speak of the various folktales of our history. Told in Mayan, those stories always brought chills to my cousins and I, and when told right before bedtime, when all of us had to line up and go to the outhouse one last time before bed, the mere sound of the wind rustling in the trees had to mean the Tata Duende, or the Xtabai or Sisimito were lurking just waiting to snatch one of us.

So, I know a little bit about the story of the Xtabai. I know that the stories I was told always involved men in some drunken form or another, stumbling down the dark roads trying to find their way home. Legend has it that they are suddenly charmed by the apparition of a beautiful woman, so beautiful she is irresistible, and men walk up to her in a trance, embracing her. And there, it gets ugly, as she folds them in her arms, and turns into a prickly tree, piercing the men’s skin, and causing great agony and high fever that can only be cured by the bush doctor.

When I walked into the theater to catch “Di Kurse a di Xtabai”, I wasn’t sure what I was going to experience. I know what I like, and if I don’t like the movie showing, I generally can change the channel, or walk out. Well, I didn’t walk out. But I certainly had issues with the movie.

The message was quite clear: Oil seekers, in their greed and ambition, mow down the wall of a sacred cave in a Maya community, releasing an evil spirit that curses the village. Simple: with the hot topic of offshore oil drilling, the mere thought of the drillers destroying our precious Barrier Reef and ecosystem could be catastrophic, a curse, if you will.
But that is where the movie lost me. I generally prefer a nice plot, with proper editing, and a respect for the story being told. According to “Di Kurse a di Xtabai”, the Xtabai is a freakish, “horror-film-type” woman who can appear both at day and night, seducing and luring men into the water (that story is actually La Llorona). She also appears to women - perhaps she is a modern Xtabai who knows that in this day and age, women can be attracted to other women as well. If so, kudos! Other headscratchers include: the fact that a girl can be running away from the defense force into the bushes, spend a crazy night sleeping in the jungle, and still wake up and look beautiful with bright lipstick in the morning! (Editing could have been polished). And, I don’t know about you, but whenever I am running away scared for my life, to the hills where there are waterfalls and rivers, I always pack my swimsuit.

Put simply, the movie featured first-time actors, so the acting could certainly use a bit of polish. But still, for the first time ever in front of the camera, the young men and women certainly did well. The soundtrack was beautiful, featuring the Garifuna drums and melodies, Maya sounds by Pablo Collado and more. The setting, of course, was a great one – not that I’m biased or anything. I’m also still very unhappy that shrubs and small plants were chopped inside a national park - how was that allowed?!

All in all, Di Kurse a di Xtabai was shot in four days.

It showed.

But it also showed that we have a budding film industry that, with the right management, enough time and a little research into the storylines (I’m looking at you, future filmographers of our lost folktales), we can be looking at a little Hollywood right here in Belize. Mathiew stated that since he’s been here, (arrived October 2011), he has been inspired by so much of what he’s seen. So much so, he is now gearing up to film his next feature, a comedy, right here in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Called “Rice and Beans”, being filmed in Kriol/Creole again, it will begin shooting in November.

I do look forward to this film, hoping that the misses from “Xtabai” are fixed, because I believe Klinck is sincere in his desire to bring an excellent film industry to the country. Sure, there will be a few hits and misses, but here’s hoping for more hits and less misses.

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