Photo courtesy of VIFF
Violeta Went to Heaven>
DIR: Andrés Wood | Chile, Argentina, Brazil | 2011 | 110 mins | Spanish
Sat, Oct 6th 12:00pm | Empire Granville 1
"Violeta Parra was Chilean."
Mercedes Sosa, known as the Voice of Latin America, didn't need to say anything else to introduce the songwriter at one of her most famous concerts; Violeta Parra has always reflected the essence of Chile.
Parra was a singer, songwriter, poet, visual artist and ethnomusicologist who dedicated her life to register, show and create Chilean's folk art. She travelled all around her country gathering more than 3,000 traditional countryside Chilean songs. By starting a movement that was called Nueva Canción Chilena (Chilean's New Song), she reinvented Chilean folk music. She also had her visual art showed in the Louvre Museum and her songs heard all around Europe during her tours in that continent.
Andrés Wood (Machuca, Football Stories) explores the life of the Chilean legend in Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize's winner, Violeta Went to Heaven. From her troubled childhood in Chile's countryside to her suicide when she was 49 years old, the movie shows the hopes and dreams of the singer and also tries to explain the struggles that led to her deciding to take her own life.
Wood chooses to tell Parra's story mostly in a dramatic mood, but he uses funny anecdotes — like Violeta's smart-talking technique to avoid admitting her age in an interview — to balance the tone of the movie. These anecdotes allow the director celebrate the artist life while still mourning for her death.
It's impossible not to notice Francisca Gavilán's powerful performance as Violeta Parra and, after watching the movie, there's no doubt she deserved the awards she received in film festivals in Chile, Peru, Mexico and Spain. Supporting cast members fail to register, though, because of how the movie is heavily centered in Parra. Not even Thomas Durand, who plays Violeta's love interest, makes a significant impact.
Even though it doesn't ruin the experience of watching the movie, the non-linear narrative of the movie can disorient viewers, especially those unfamiliar with Parra's life. Another setback of the film is that it fails to explain the huge importance of the artist for Chileans and what she represents to all Latin Americans.
Violeta Went to Heaven is a must see not only for everyone interested in Latin America and its culture, but for everyone who enjoys stories about extraordinary and courageous people who dedicated their lives to make their dreams come true.
Carlos Tello is a journalism student at UBC. You can find him on Twitter @segundoviaje.