In 1974, on a trip to Peru, Swedish journalist Mikael Wiström met Daniel Barrientos, a young man crippled by polio, who was scavenging with his wife Nati in a Lima garbage dump, where their newborn daughter had nearly been eaten by wild pigs. Mikael and Daniel's encounter grew into a complicated friendship that continued through correspondence and was renewed when Wiström returned in 1991 with a movie camera to document the life of the Barrientos family.
Some thirty years on, COMPADRE brings the story of this unusual friendship up to date, as Wiström returns to Peru once again to document the continuing story of Daniel and Nati, who, despite a life filled with hardship and sacrifice, have succeeded in raising their four children-daughters Judith and Sandra and sons Dani and Nata. Black-and-white photos and footage from the 1991 film are blended with contemporary scenes of the family's everyday life. Although the couple no longer scavenges rubbish for a living, they still lead a hardscrabble existence, with Nati working as a cleaner and a nanny, and Daniel driving a motorbike taxi. The daughters, now young wives themselves, must deal with their own economic and emotional problems. As Judith explains, "If this were a 'real' movie, it would have a sad beginning and a happy ending, but in this one everything is so sad."
More than just another exposé on poverty in Latin America, however, COMPADRE soon reveals itself to involve broader issues of social inequality, as the privileged Western filmmaker becomes increasingly implicated in the story of his impoverished Latin American subjects. In the film's periodic voice-over commentary, Wiström comments that "poverty is a constant threat" to the friendship, and the always present but submerged class differences eventually surface. At one point Daniel wonders whether all this filming "serves any purpose," and an unrealistic request for payment to continue the filming leads to a temporary breakdown in the friendship.
COMPADRE features intimate scenes of family life, with heartfelt conversations between parents and their children and between siblings, as well as such emotionally moving scenes as Daniel's visit to the Andean Mountain home he left 45 years before, Judith's decision to leave a loveless marriage in which she is emotionally and financially dependent on her husband, and the departure of Sandra and her husband for a new and hopefully better life in Brazil.
COMPADRE is thus a compelling documentary that functions on two levels, both as a revealing examination of the economic hardships faced by the majority of Latin America's populace, as well as an unusually revelatory look at the tension-fraught relationship between an anthropological filmmaker and his subjects.
"A dense, well-wrought portrait... a highly self-aware exploration of the potentialities and limits of the human relationships between the structurally poor and structurally rich... a brilliant and beautiful film that would be of great utility in courses of anthropology, Latin American Studies, and the sociology of class." —John Burdick, The Americas
2007 Latin American Studies Association Film Festival
2006 Fieldworker's Prize, Society for Visual Anthropology
2006 Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival
Best Documentary, 2005 Madrid Documentary Festival
Terre des Hommes Prize, 2005 Paris Human Rights Film Festival
Sol de Oro Prize, 2005 Festival Internacional de Cine del Medio Ambiente (Barcelona)
Best Film on the Survival of Indigenous Peoples, 2005 Pärnu International Documentary & Anthropology Film Festival
Joris Ivens Competition, 2004 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival
2005 Human Rights Watch Film Festival
2005 Amnesty International Film Festival
"Often handsome, finally touching... nags at the dilemma of sustaining a friendship across such a vast disparity of wealth." —Time Out
"In the small microcosms that this film covers, poverty and migration in Peru is explored in a way that has never before been done in our country. It also treats the identity and vacillation of many young persons, with or without money. The film does all this not in the pedagogical, emphatic and illustrative way of Michael Moore and many of the frequent and well intentioned documentaries, but in the visceral and vibrating way of the best Cassavettes." —Cinemaperu
"Beautiful and tremendously touching." —GP (Sweden)
"A very interesting film on many levels... Recommended for all libraries and especially for higher institutions where film studies and social class studies are prominent." —Jane Sloan, Educational Media Reviews Online