We can listen to a song and think we know the singer. And in the case of Violeta Parra (1917-1967) perhaps this is so.
She seems to spring fully formed at us, an autodidact revolutionary and creative to an impossible degree. She was the mother of the Nuevo Cancion movement, tirelessly researching the rich folkloric music of Chile, taking nourishment from it, and going on to create her own uncannily free, sophisticated yet utterly passionate songs. Her artworks were exhibited at the Louvre, and she single handedly legitimized her native culture in the eyes of the world. All this, in a country where women were first given the vote in 1952.
This is no news for Chileans. But perhaps it is news for you. Have I whetted your curiosity?
Violeta Went to Heaven, a film by Andres Wood, and starring Francisca Gavilán as Violeta Parra, will be opening at New York's Lincoln Center Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema March 29. It will go on to play at additional cities starting in April.
Wood has not attempted a documentary, nor for that matter, the kind of narrative style that might keep us in our comfort zone. He gives us Violeta's world, a world in which happiness is bliss and every sorrow is a mortal wound. It is a vivid cinematic improvisation, much as Violeta's life was an improvisation. Francisca Gavilán delivers a performance that is deep in its understanding of character, and faithful to Parra's soul and musicality. I must also commend the arrangement for "Arriba Quemando el Sol," which lifts the song out of its simpler (but powerful) harmonic folk base and onto another, higher plane that speaks to the kind of pivotal life change that the film's story requires of it.
Kino Lorber has kindly given me the music clips I requested which speak for themselves (be sure to watch them!) and I have interviewed the director. Here is my report:
If you love music, great acting and challenging cinematography, see this film.