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Thursday November 2, 2000

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'Chac' difficult and dreamy

By Ian Caruth

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Cine Latino's first selection slow but hypnotic

"Chac: The Rain God" is the quiet, poetic story of Mayan Indians and their quest for rain. Featuring a cast composed entirely of novice actors drawn from the ranks of the Tzeltal Indians, "Chac" depicts a tribe in the midst of a drought, desperate for water.

After being disappointed by their own shaman's failures, the tribe turns to a mysterious outsider who promises to bring rain. Though they are initially wary of this oracular hermit, he begins to gain their trust, and they eventually devote themselves to his strange methods.

After living among the Tzeltals for over a year, director and former UCLA film student Rolando Klein emerged with a screenplay bringing together elements of tribal rituals, legends and stories. After the difficult process of selecting a cast and crew, they began to shoot on location in Tenejapa, a primitive village in Chiapas.

What resulted is an often-startling film that allows American viewers a glimpse of a culture completely different from their own. The characters live in a culture steeped in superstition and magic, with no trace of the trappings of what are generally regarded as a part of modern society.

Klein coaxes superb, natural performances from his actors, many of whom had never even been photographed before. Though they speak an ancient dialect and are certainly not classically trained, the players' acting is remarkably nuanced and expressive, and communicates meaning almost telepathically.

Though there is some dialogue, the film is designed to be largely visual, with speech mostly ornamental. The quietude of the film, its glacial pace and some gorgeous imagery from cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr. contribute to the film's gently hypnotic atmosphere.

"Chac" is a sometimes obscure, always challenging film. The first half in particular borders on the inaccessible, but viewers who endure the more difficult portions will be rewarded by the beautiful, meditative ending images. As a chance to view something far outside the realm of mainstream film, "Chac" is a valuable opportunity for American filmgoers.