Destinations

What Books and Films are Set in Peru?

Discover some of our favourite books and films for Peru inspiration...

Perhaps the earliest reference to Peru that many British and American audiences can remember is in the Paddington Bear books and TV series. Paddington, a spectacled bear who’s managed to stowaway from “darkest Peru”, was the creation of English author Michael Bond. The character and his decidedly UK-centric adventures became an instant hit from first publication in October 1958.

Inspiration for a popular favourite

Another popular creation that doesn't take its inclusion of Peru seriously is Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Although the final scenes of the film are supposedly set in Peru, they were actually filmed in Hawaii and feature Aztec rather than Inca architecture. Archaeological accuracy obviously wasn't high on director Steven Spielberg’s list of priorities when resurrecting his archaeologist-hero for the silver screen. 

Authentic scenery

They say TV puts on 10 pounds, but in this case it’s more like 240 tonnes... Fitzcarraldo, a 1982 film by German director Werner Herzog, dramatises the attempt of rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald – named Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald in the film – to move a 32-ton boat between rivers in the Peruvian jungle in search of Inca gold. Fitzcarraldo actually depicts a 360-ton boat being lugged through the jungle in one piece, even though Fitzcarrald actually had his – much smaller – boat dismantled first before the epic act of portage. Still, the jungle scenery is authentic Amazonia circa 1982, even though some of the film was shot in neighbouring Ecuador. Herzog and star Klaus Kinski knew the environment well enough, having filmed the similar hubris-in-the-rainforest story Aguirre: The Wrath of God in Peru’s Ucayali region ten years before. The underlying message of this deranged filmic duo? If you’re already a tad mad, the jungle will send you deep into certified territory.

Political

The Dancer Upstairs (2002), a film by John Malkovich based on the 1995 book of the same name by Nicholas Shakespeare, was inspired by the impact that Abimael Guzman and his Andes-based Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) terrorist group had on Peru in the 1980s and 90s. A study into the wider psychological impact of terrorism, The Dancer Upstairs is set in Lima, the Peruvian capital, but was shot in Ecuador, Portugal and Spain. If you’d rather see a Peruvian perspective on the activities of the Shining Path, take a look at Paloma del Papel and La Boca del Lobo instead.

The formative experiences of another revolutionary – Argentine-doctor-turned-Cuban-icon Ernesto Guevara – were saved for posterity in diary form by ‘Che’ during the early 1950s and committed to celluloid by director Walter Salles 50-odd years later. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) depicts Che’s 5,000-mile shoestring expedition around South America with friend Alberto Granado, and show how their experiences in Peru helped to crystallise the former’s socialist ideology. Cuzco and Machu Picchu are therefore effectively turned into backdrops for stories of indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed by colonial invaders. Machu Picchu and Lima are henceforth presented as symbols of the relative merits, or otherwise, of Inca and colonial society. Not so much a travelogue, then, as an ‘ideologue’ – yet it still rings true to the muddled spirit of independent travel.

Mountain exploration

Another documentary-style double bill of book and film, Touching the Void relates the attempt made by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in 1985 to conquer the 6,344-metre Siula Grande mountain in the Andes. Unlike their scenic turn in The Motorcycle Diaries, here the Peruvian mountains are front and centre – the serrated, frozen peaks are characterized as awesome-yet-impassive observers of the dangerous ambitions of man. Despite the desperate real-life situation that the 1988 book and 2003 film portray, both will undoubtedly deepen any desire you may have to journey into the Andes.

Literature

Noble Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa is to Peru what Gabriel Garcia Marquez is to Colombia (incidentally, the former famously punched the latter in the face in 1976). Covering themes such as politics, social mobility, the military, millenarian history and indigenous rights, Vargas Llosa’s novels range from thrillers to comedies. Among his best-known works set in Peru are Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The Time of the Hero and Death in the Andes. Curiously, Vargas Llosa is perhaps at his best when writing historical novels set outside Peru, such as War of the End of the World and The Feast of the Goat. For a companion piece to The Storyteller, Vargas Llosa’s novel about the clash of indigenous and Western cultures in the Peruvian Amazon, take a look at Peter Mathiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965) and the film adaptation of the same name (1991).

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