A young woman, weak from walking through reeds and mud, arrives at La Cocha, a remote lakeside village in the High Andes. Her name is Alicia (Joghis Seudyn Arias), and she seeks refuge at the dilapidated inn named La Sirga, owned by her estranged uncle Oscar (Julio Cesar Robles). Alicia tells Oscar that her family has been killed in a violent attack on her village.
“What color were their arm bands?” Oscar asks.
Though the perpetrators are never named, there are plenty of allusions in “La Sirga” (The Towrope) to Colombia’s infamous drug-fueled guerrilla conflict, and the violence that rages offscreen hovers over and threatens the fragile sanctuary.
Oscar lets Alicia stay but warns her that life in and around the inn is rough. Gradually, he warms to her, especially when Alicia proves herself a hard worker as she assists the La Sirga housekeeper, Flora (Floralba Achicanoy), in fixing rotting floorboards, covering the leaky roof with a tarp, and decorating the front porch with flowers for tourists who don’t seem likely to show up. The young Mirichis (David Guacas), who runs errands to and from the inn in his paddle boat, takes a liking to Alicia and asks her to go away with him (she refuses). Later, Oscar’s adult son, Freddy (Heraldo Romero), returns home with mysterious warnings about danger heading for the village and urges his father and Alicia to flee.
The film’s slow pace might only appeal to the most fervent fans of art house or Latin American Cinema (“La Sirga,” along with “Thursday Till Sunday,” is part of the New Latin American Cinema series at the Museum of Fine Arts). But Sofia Oggioni’s naturalistic photography establishes an atmosphere of isolation and William Vega’s sparse direction casts a hypnotic, ominous spell. “La Sirga” takes place in a world where impoverished people share even the most basic tools, eke out meager livings from the water, and breed young men who are eager to leave for places and futures unknown.
Arias is a compelling screen presence, even in the film’s near-documentary style. Despite the elusive plot, she makes us care what happens to Alicia, even when we know her fate is likely to break our hearts.