Eldorado XXI. 2016. Portugal/France. Directed by Salomé Lamas. In Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara; English subtitles. 125 min.
Salomé Lamas’s Eldorado XXI immerses the viewer in the breathtaking views and extreme conditions of La Rinconada in the Peruvian Andes, the highest-elevation permanent human settlement in the world. Here, some 17,000 feet above sea level, miners face misery and lawlessness in the hopes of striking gold, chewing coca leaves to stave off exhaustion. They toil for weeks without pay under the inhumane lottery system known as cachorreo, gambling on an eventual fortune if they can survive the despoiled landscape long enough. Life in this remote outpost of civilization seems to unfold in the grip of an illusion, and the film itself frequently resembles a hallucination, not least in an extended tour-de-force shot that reveals an endless stream of miners trekking up and down the mountain as we hear radio reports and stories of their daily lives. Full of unforgettable images and sounds, Eldorado XXI is a transporting, fundamentally mysterious experience that renews the possibilities of the ethnographic film.