Blackstar Film Fest 2023 Review: A Community Held Back Looks Forward in Violeta Ayala’s “La Lucha”

“When we’re vulnerable, this is where we get our strength,” Marcelo Vasquez tells the ragtag group of disabled activists that have joined him on a march from Cochabamba to the capital city of La Paz in Bolivia in “La Lucha.” His wife Felizia Ali, also wheelchair-bound, admits that opposites attract when it comes to their relationship when her husband is more likely to negotiate and make concessions than she would be, but nonetheless, it looks like neither will be doing so any time soon as they collect more and more followers en route to a sit-in to take place at Plaza Murillo where the national government convenes with the aim of securing a monthly pension of 500 Bolivian Boliviano or approximately $70 per month to help with expenses in a country that has done little to accommodate the handicapped.

If the protest itself was designed for people to take notice, there couldn’t be anyone more ideal to capture it than director Violeta Ayala, who previously made the gasp-inducing “Cocaine Prison” that illustrated a penitentiary system where the inmates paid for the type of cell they’d have and all find themselves relying in one way or another on the drug trade even after they’ve been incarcerated for being a part of it. The filmmaker doesn’t waste time in “La Lucha” grabbing your attention, opening with a scene of a man on crutches stopping traffic on a busy thoroughfare in the city, with cars and trucks slowing to his pace and it’s indicative of what’s to come as she joins Vasquez, Ali and Rose Mery Guarita, another leader in the Bolivian disabled community as they set off on a 35-day trek across mountains and freeways, accumulating more and more supporters as they go.

The march is treacherous as those with health issues already are threatened with pneumonia and malnutrition, but it turns out to pale in comparison with what’s awaiting them in La Paz where the eight gates around Plaza Murillo are fenced off for the first time in recent memory and the activists set up camp outside. Ayala’s films always feel raw and scrappy, but she has a sixth sense for capturing the unreal, not giving any ground when police and protestors begin to push one another outside the palace and observing the memorable sight of Guarita suspended in mid-air in her wheelchair from a bridge, speaking to supporters down below. All politics may be local, but there is no doubt from the bold subtitles used at the start of “La Lucha” — big and bright – that it is designed for an international audience, and the struggle being portrayed is one that’s neither limited to Bolivia or the time it takes place in – 2016, only being all too modern in the government’s tactics to quell the protests by launching an expensive communications campaign suggesting they’ve done more than enough for the disabled community, paying a PR firm to improve their image rather than engaging with the activists.

While Ayala could be accused of serving the same purpose for the activists when she is hardly impartial, there is only one side to be on when seeing the activists blasted with fire hoses and given little regard as they start a hunger strike. But there is little need for the filmmaker to add much at all to the raw footage as “La Lucha” is able to illuminate the confidence gained by those who have lived without feeling as if they have an equal say even when the stated goals of their protests appear to be in doubt of being resolved and simply being around to hear them speak is powerful enough.

“La Lucha” is available to stream on Blackstar Film Festival‘s virtual platform through August 6th.

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