Monday, May 24, 2010

Cinema Tropical: The Wind Journeys

We know the Devil loves music. After all, he played a mean fiddle down in Georgia and tuned Robert Johnson’s guitar at the fateful crossroads. According to local legend, he also cursed a certain accordion particularly well suited to the Vallenato music of tropical Colombia. A world-weary musician sets out to return that instrument to its rightful owner in Ciro Guerra’s The Wind Journeys (trailer here), Colombia’s official 2009 submission for best foreign language Oscar consideration. Following an acclaimed run on the film festival circuit, including Cannes, where it won the Award of the City of Rome, Guerra’s Wind now screens in New York for two nights only starting this Thursday as part of Cinema Tropical’s series at the 92Y Tribeca. However, it is also currently available on Film Movement’s VOD Film Festival Channel.

The itinerant Ignacio Carrillo and his horned accordion are famous among the hardscrabble villages of northern Colombia. Mourning his late wife, he has had enough of the wayfaring life. Yet, he will only relinquish the notorious instrument to the master musician he apprenticed under. It will be quite a trek to reach his secluded cottage, but Carrillo has the unforeseen help of Fermín Morales, a young teenager wishing to learn the troubadour’s trade from the taciturn accordionist.

Visually, Wind is an absolutely arresting film. Cinematographer Paulo Andrés Pérez captures the ferocious beauty of Colombia’s unforgiving countryside. While Guerra can dazzle with his artfully choreographed shots, he also displays restraint when called for, patiently holding his camera for moments of closely observed drama. Despite the archetypal imagery and demonic motifs, Guerra surprisingly de-emphasizes the allegorical suggestions, grounding the story with a tactile sense of place. Indeed, the pacing is intentional languid, but there is a considerable “there” there.

For the most part, Wind is a quiet fable, but when Carrillo and his rival Vallenatos perform, it sounds amazing. Played by real life Vallento musician and composer Marciano Martínez, who obviously knows his way around a button accordion, Carrillo naturally takes the honors during the film’s musical sequences. However, he has first class support (or competition) from fellow Vallentos Beto Rada, José Luís Torres, Rosendo Romero, and Guillermo Arzuaga in their accordion duels, which appear to be truly hardcore cutting contests mixed with the dozens. Martínez is also quite a fine actor, evoking the buried pain and regrets of the stoic journeyman. Yet, perhaps the film’s most intriguing turn comes from the truly cinematic looking Agustín Nieves as a suitably mysterious hermit, who also happens to repair satanic accordions.

As an entry in Cannes’s Un Certain Regard competition, Wind is obviously a film for discriminating audiences. However, any viewer with an adult attention span should be struck by the film’s subtle power. A work of visual and musical beauty, it is a richly rewarding film that should not be missed. Currently on VOD, it screens at the 92 Y Tribeca this Thursday (5/27) and Friday (5/28).