Written and directed by Lars Edman and William Johansson, in the mid-1980’s the Swedish mining giant Boliden dumped 20,000 tonnes of hazardous waste in Arica in Northern Chile. Thousands of ‘Ariqueños’ were affected with cancers and other serious illness, now a group of survivors are seeking justice.
It’s a harrowing affair to think of all of the consequences and victims around the world for past poor safety standards and conglomerates pleading blissful ignorance of their actions. Arica is one example of such criminally lax standards and the companies that refuse to take responsibility for those actions. It moves through the legal procedure of seeking justice and the many obstacles that stand in their way. Unfortunately, it gets too wrapped up in that procedure and it affects the way this story is told, moving at a slow and overly calculated pace. The result is that it feels too bland, the energy and movement is very one-note, the directorial style is highly influenced by those that have come before it but lacks a bigger strength to bring through the emotion of its images.
One of the hinderances is that it’s missing a central focus, it’s speaking in terms of the issue as a whole, without giving someone to lead this story or bring a personal perspective. Mostly, it’s viewed through the filmmaker’s eyes and while Lars Edman is clearly passionate and dedicated to the people of Arica’s struggle, it isn’t quite enough to get to the heart of the story. The telling is also very stretched out, it doesn’t provide a clear introduction to the topic, or a concise explanation to add a bigger context, rather moving in a gradual fashion. There’s also a fairly limited exploration to the health issues resulting from the hazardous waste, it would have been helpful to dive deeper into the overall affects, to balance out the time spent following the court case.
It provides an interesting insight into just how difficult it is to prove fault in cases such as these. It may sound plain and simple that dumping toxic waste within a stone’s throw of a community, would of course lead to increased health problems, but the legal view is much more complex. Although where others might build a suspenseful atmosphere around that fight, it’s missing here. The tone stays along the same level throughout, instead of making use of a growing intensity or emotion, which then makes it struggle to hold your attention effectively.
Arica follows yet another injustice of people vs giant corporations, showing the difference between how obvious their culpability feels and the maze of legal obstacles to prove it. The style feels inexperienced, there are some familiar choices in shots but no definitive style or energy. It’s missing out on a key focus to pull it all together, or a strong atmosphere to keep you drawn in. It moves quite slowly and while it has a worthy story to tell, despite the filmmakers’ clear experience and knowledge of it, they can’t quite delve deep enough to do it justice.