Have accordion, will travel
The Wind Journeys; ethno-musical travelogue; not rated; in Spanish, Palenquero, Ikun, and Wayuunaiki with subtitles; CCA Cinematheque, 2.5 chiles There’s no mistaking Ignacio Carrillo’s accordion. With jet-black skin and white keys, the squeezebox is flanked by two large horns screwed in to the left-and right-hand manuals. It might as well come with a skull and crossbones or a West Coast Choppers iron cross. It is said to be haunted. One star-struck kid in the musician’s small northern Colombia town asks Ignacio, “Is that the devil’s accordion?”
“No!” blurts Ignacio, but the grief the instrument has caused him seems hellish in its own way. With his wife recently buried, he has vowed never to play the accordion again, and he sets off on his donkey for the remote town of Taroa, in the La Guajira desert, to return the accordion to its maker and rightful owner. So begins The Wind Journeys, a new film by 29-yearold Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra. Shot in more than 80 locations in Colombia, the film serves as a surreal National Geographic-style
guide to the country, set to a blistering soundtrack of Caribbean vallenato and cumbia. The film’s dialogue is in Spanish along with Palenquero, Ikun, and Wayuunaiki, the languages spoken in Colombia’s indigenous communities.
Ignacio (Marciano Martínez) is joined in his journey across Colombia’s bewildering array of landscapes by teenager Fermin Morales (Yull Núñez). Fermin claims to be the orphaned son of a traveling juglar, or accordion minstrel. As a director, Guerra wisely avoids a saccharine plot by revealing Fermin to be mostly devoid of musical talent. Instead, Fermin plays the role of a naive, wide-eyed Sancho Panza on Ignacio’s quixotic quest to travel across a country to return a cursed accordion.
The first adventure this duo stumbles upon is a piqueria, a sort of rap-battle arena for accordionists who trot out raunchy, boasting lyrics to taunt other juglars. This battle of the accordion players is one of the highlights of the movie. The accordion duel involves accusations of sorcery and a ridiculous amount of male braggadocio set to the burning rhythms of vallenato folk music. Unfortunately, it ends with Ignacio being stabbed by a jealous old man, his machete cleaving the bellows of Ignacio’s accordion.
From there, Ignacio and Fermin head to the top of a mountain to meet Ignacio’s brother, who miraculously repairs the accordion. Despite their spectacular surroundings, the men have little joy in their hearts. Fermin desperately wants Ignacio to be a father figure and accordion teacher, and yet neither role interests the older man in the slightest.
When they come down off the mountain with the newly restored accordion, their luck changes very little. Ignacio ends up having to play vallenato music at a party for a boy he fathered and left behind during his reckless days as a traveling minstrel. In another town, Ignacio is once again forced to play his accordion, this time by a gang of thugs who want a vallenato soundtrack for a gruesome, bloody machete fight. Ignacio keeps playing even after the vanquished man is dead, and the vallenato serves as a funeral song. Both scenes serve as useful correctives for anyone who thinks that vallenato is purely party music. Guerra includes these scenes to show how the accordion songs are interwoven with every stage of life (and death) in rural Colombia.
Near the film’s end, Fermin seems to find the recognition he’s been looking for when he becomes a drummer in a syncretic religious ceremony. After a long solo on drums, he has his head marked with the blood of a lizard. However, the ceremony does little to endear him to Ignacio, who continues to ignore the boy. The recognition he seeks only comes after he rescues Ignacio’s stolen accordion.
What stays with you about this film are the underappreciated landscapes of rural Colombia and its hothouse vallenato music. Director Guerra revels in these scenes and sounds, perhaps overcompensating for the short and clipped speech of his characters. It is a road movie to be sure, but it is set to the pace of a donkey traveling on dirt roads. While the plot tends to peter out at different points, what emerges from
The Wind Journeys is a vivid portrait of Colombia’s interior, its rural people, and above all, an accordion music that seems as much a way of life as it is a collection of songs. ◀
Donkey Otee: Marciano Martínez