ARGENTINA, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, in Span­ish with English sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

As the mas­ter grows older, he sim­pli­fies. The ven­er­a­ble Span­ish direc­tor Car­los Saura (Tango, 1998) is now in his mid-eight­ies, and his re­cent movies fo­cus sim­ply on mu­sic, in dance and song, with­out nar­ra­tive, ex­pla­na­tion, or con­text. In Fla­menco, Fla­menco (2010) he gave us a se­ries of fla­menco vo­cals and dances, all per­formed on a sound stage in Seville’s Expo ’92 pav­il­ion. With Argentina he has moved his op­er­a­tion to that coun­try, but again the ac­tion is her­met­i­cally sealed within a large studio iden­ti­fied at the end as the Barn of La Boca, in Buenos Aires. It of­fers no city, no pam­pas, no moun­tains, no am­ber waves of grain. Through the open­ing cred­its the scene is set, the lights are hung, and then the mu­sic starts.

This is a mood piece, and it re­quires that its au­di­ence come in the proper mood. It’s a sur­vey of Ar­gen­tine folk-mu­sic tra­di­tions, but not a sur­vey course: There’s scarcely a word of ex­pla­na­tion be­yond the su­per­im­posed names of the forms at the start of each num­ber: vi­dala, zamba, chacarena

doble, and so on. The mu­sic be­gins with a pian­ist giv­ing us a piece iden­ti­fied as bailecito. The cam­era then pans to a back­lit screen the color of a tequila sun­rise, on which we see the sil­hou­et­ted forms of a num­ber of mu­si­cians who stroll out front and give us the most folkie of the num­bers, a baguala, which be­gins with an old man play­ing a mourn­ful note on a cat­tle horn. Drum­mers join in, then singers, old and young. And then, with­out tran­si­tion, we’re onto the next of­fer­ing, a zamba, a song of war sung by a man and a woman in front of a movie screen on which a bat­tle scene plays. The songs are all in Span­ish, but the film (un­like

Fla­menco, Fla­menco) of­fers English sub­ti­tles for the lyrics. There’s some va­ri­ety to Saura’s vi­su­als but plenty of rep­e­ti­tion as well; there’s a lot of rear pro­jec­tion, a lot of set­ups of peo­ple emerg­ing from sil­hou­ette be­hind a screen. None of that will mat­ter much. You’re ei­ther caught up in the per­for­mances or you’re not.

The movie pays homage to a cou­ple of le­gendary fig­ures. In the “Hom­e­naje a Mercedes Sosa” sec­tion, we see a class­room of white-coated school­child­ren watch­ing black-and-white footage of Sosa sing­ing on a trip­tych of screens. Some of the kids be­gin tap­ping their desks, clap­ping to the rhythm, even sing­ing along. It’s one of the film’s most en­gag­ing mo­ments. An­other is a stun­ning bit of light­ning-fast, rhyth­mic ropetwirling by two men in a malambo.

The only ex­pla­na­tion of the mu­sic and its ori­gins comes in an open­ing ti­tle card that de­scribes how the roots of th­ese Ar­gen­tine mu­si­cal forms were spread by the mule­teers who trav­eled the coun­try’s moun­tains and trails trans­port­ing goods. The beauty of Saura’s movie is in its preser­va­tion of th­ese tra­di­tional songs and dances of nos­tal­gia, long­ing, home­com­ing, brother­hood, love, and death. There’s even a lit­tle so­cial com­men­tary in a song that spec­u­lates that God may or may not hear our prayers, but He cer­tainly sits at the own­ers’ ta­ble. — Jonathan Richards

Mood mu­sic — and dance

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