“Heart of dynamite”: how two women fight for their love in guatemala

If you see Claudia and Maria rattling through Guatemala City on their motorcycle again and again, then there is a reason for it. There they feel protected. Sheltered from everyday sexism and male sexual violence. The motorcycle is a symbol of self-assertion for young women. In the course of the story, however, it becomes clear that they cannot simply speed away from the problems of their society, which has been battered not only by years of civil war.

At first glance, the two seem like best friends. Increasingly, however, a deeper emotional bond becomes palpable. Apparently they have not yet found a final form for it. Thus the film is initially vague. "Do you love her?", Claudia is asked by her grandfather. Her answer: "Maybe someday."

Youth without a future

The two also feel connected by their despair for their country, which does not promise them a promising future. Crime, corruption and a weakening economy are like a shackle for the young generation, which is also experiencing a disintegration of familiar family structures in the face of ongoing emigration. Adding to the gender violence is the fact that the conservative society, significantly influenced by the Catholic Church, denies full civil rights to the LGBT community.

By accompanying these women through their everyday life, which is like a permanent state of alarm, the problems of an uprooted society, which meets unresolved problems with resignation and silence, become clear in subtle nuances. "It’s really dangerous outside," Claudia says. Meanwhile, Maria fingers the pistol of her imprisoned father. Shortly thereafter, they experience firsthand the sexualized violence and arbitrariness that was systematically used as a weapon in the civil war.

The two only narrowly escaped rape. The traumatic experience makes the relationship between the women much clearer and more dynamic. The latter is also a question of opposites. While Claudia is finally determined to turn her back on Guatemala and head for the USA, Maria is out for revenge.

Feminist approach

"Heart of Dynamite" is the feature film debut of director and screenwriter Camila Urrutia, born in Guatemala City in 1979. In her first short documentaries she dealt with women talking about their rapes. She also made fictional short films about queer women’s fates. "Heart of Dynamite" builds on this. Urrutia’s feminist approach is reflected in the perspective of two women who want to go their own way at any cost.

This perspective finds its counterpart not in wordy dialogues, but in a realism-oriented narrative full of key moments. In one scene, we see Claudia go to the police station to report the attempted rape – knowing full well how motivated male police officers are with such reports. Meanwhile, Maria seemingly stoically prepares her revenge campaign.

The fact that this film offers a high degree of suspense and atmospheric density right up to the end is also due to the fact that the contrasts between the protagonists extend far beyond their dealings with sexual violence and are not immediately obvious. Claudia lives with her leftist grandfather. He would love to win them over to the fight for the interests of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. Maria belongs to one of these ethnic groups. The fact that her father has been in jail for years is a heavy burden for the family.

Playing with cliches

What this different socialization means becomes all the more clear as the plot thickens. Another attraction is that Camila Urrutia cleverly plays with cliches. Claudia, outwardly wiry and robust, is called a "man-woman" by others, but in fact turns out to be the more timid of the two women. Maria, at first glance classically feminine, is a daredevil.

Ultimately, both figures remain elusive as individuals. All the more clearly, they reflect the collective fate of a society that one can only wish would come clean with itself and finally throw off its shackles.

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