The Wind Journeys (2009) dir. Ciro Guerra
Starring: Marciano Martínez, Yull Núñez
By Alan Bacchus
In the Colombian rural countryside that is setting of this film the accordion player is characterized, like a doctor or priest, as an important and valued member of society. These travelling musicians, called Troubadours, fulfil a number of roles in society, most importantly to bring light through entertainment to the very very poor farmers.
Guerra’s lead character Ignacio Carrillo is one such man, an elderly and revered soft spoken musician as loquacious as Alan Ladd’s Shane. But success in life has come at a price. After the death of his wife, he’s convinced his accordion is cursed, not unlike the blues legend Robert Johnson who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. The only way to break the curse is to give the accordion back to its maker – like Lord of the Rings, replaced by an accordion. Along for the ride is a younger musician who may or may not be Igancio’s son, but an apprentice who desires to absorb the essence of the type of musician his absentee father might have been.
The result is a lengthy and epic journey across the stunning landscape of Columbia with allusions to the American Western, the said Tolkien classic, the good ol’ fashioned road movie and the familiar literary rites of passage and mythological resonance of an Odyssian journey.
It’s these familiar and grounded archetypal relationships which give this minuscule Colombian festival art film immense pathos and cinematic gravitas. It’s stunning piece of cinema one of those miracle discoveries which falls into ones lap by chance. It’s the July DVD of the Month from the Film Movement – the unique film distributor that essentially chooses and programs these films to its subscribers.
Along the journey the pair encounter a number of situations which make for often stunning set pieces. There’s a lengthy accordion duel in the first half which features the village champion squaring off against any claimers to the title of champion - a thrilling trash-talking show off, like an 8-Mile with accordions. There’s also an encounter between two men who duel to the death by machete on a bridge over water. And the young man's baptism by the blood of a lizard after proving his worth on the bongo drums is the stuff masterpieces are made of.
It’s also very arty and thus imposing to mainstream viewers. Guerra sets a ‘deliberately paced’ elegant and almost rhythmic style. Some might also call it 'slow'. But it fits in well use of landscape, pastoral widescreen compositions and controlled pacing of a Carlos Reygadas film (Silent Light or Japon) of even the revered existential films of Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry).
The treasure of this film though is Paulo Andrés Pérez’s stunning cinematography, one of the best looking films in international cinema I’ve seen in a while - rich colours pop out of the dense and textured frames. Fluid camera moves enhance the elegance and beauty of the Colombian landscape. Along the way, Guerra placing his characters atop mountains peaks, frames against stupendous godlike cloudscape and sharp cliffs which remind us of the ethereal Herzog classic Aguirre The Wrath of God.
Director Ciro Guerra, only 28 when he made this film, shows remarkable maturity and restraint, in addition to some solid chops of cinematic grandeur. Guerra is a major international talent waiting to break out. The Wind Journeys never quite broke out, but with his next film he’s poised for Palme D’Or deification.
The Wind Journeys, a 2009 Cannes and TIFF selection, is now available in Canada on DVD from Film Movement Canada.