Sunday, August 12, 2012

MIFF: Violeta Went to Heaven

Dir. Andrés Wood

My experience of seeing Violeta Went to Heaven was an interesting one. Being a biopic of Chilean national hero and folksinger Violeta Parra, the film is one entirely spoken in Spanish. However, Saturday's screening managed to be devoid of subtitles. Due to the mix-up, understandably about half of the audience had to depart after half an hour of failed attempts to couple the digital print with some English words. Lucky enough to have two Chilean parents, I was able to watch Violeta unimpeded by the lack of subtitulos. I was pretty chuffed with myself about that, I have to admit. That being said though, I found myself fumbling along at some points, namely the points in which characters spoke with lightning-quick urgency.

Perhaps it was the fact that at certain points I was unable to quite catch exactly what was being said, or perhaps it was Andrés Wood's choice to distractingly interweave moments of magic realism into the story, but I didn't find Violeta Se Fue a los Cielos resonating with me like I'd hoped it would.

Violeta Parra was born in 1917, growing up in rural Chile with her siblings and her widowed schoolteacher/musician/alcoholic father. In adulthood she traveled around Chile collecting folk songs before moving to Europe with her much younger lover, Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre. Before committing suicide in 1967, Parra had time to be a poet, singer and artist (she had her work exhibited at the Louvre) as well as a member of the Chilean communist party. I knew next to nothing about Parra's life before watching Andrés Wood's biopic of the singer's tragic story, which is at times irritating in its chronological choices. As a result, I had trouble piecing together the sequence of onscreen events, as well as being clear on what was actually happening and what was a more fantastical scene. Held together by an television interview from the mid-1960s, Violeta Went to Heaven jumps around various points in Parra's life, as well as instances of characters thought dead gazing directly down the barrel of the camera and of Parra striding through a misty wood.

Even if the film's structure and more over the top poetic choices were at times frustrating, the music that would inevitably fill a movie about a Chilean singer is astoundingly beautiful. Indeed, I found myself being moved to the point of teary-eyed sniffling at more than one point. While that probably says more about me than anything else, there's no denying that the music within Violeta is consistently gorgeous and buoys the film a great deal. As far as I'm concerned, I find that I'm very often moved to tears by South American folk music so there was never any doubt that I was going to find some sort of emotional connection to the onscreen proceedings.

Fransisca Gavilán's depiction of Parra is an emotional, passionate one. It's also a tiring one, wanting in nuance. She carries the film though, and is dynamic enough to portray someone whose life was so tumultuous and full of tragedy and hardship. Thomas Durand too, is solid as the Swiss flautist that Parra falls in love with. However, not many of the other characters that inhabit Parra's life are given enough screen time to make a lasting impression.

Violeta Went to Heaven is a solid biopic of a fascinating character within Chilean history. While at times moving, it is also uneven and lacks the emotional weight that it could have had. This is in part because of unnecessary expressionistic sequences. The music that propels the film though, is crazy-good, and Violeta is greatly improved for its inclusion.

2.5/5 (an extra .5 given because I loved the music so goddamn much)

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