"It's time to dance," the dancer says in the Chacarera Doble, a duet and rural counterpart of the tango, in the documentary movie musical Argentina. Directed and choreographed by Academy Award® nominated Spanish filmmaker, Carlos Saura, Argentina captures an expression of love in an exploration of Argentine origins in music and dance. The passionate stream of lyrics, music, and dance, featuring dancers from Ballet Nuevo Arte Nativo de Koki & Pajarín Saavedra, fill a gorge for National Identity in Argentine Culture.
A barn in La Boca, Buenos Aires City is transformed into an enchanting tableau of rural-inspired lyrics, bombo drumming, accordions, and guitars digging deep into Argentine culture and nationalism. Saura's directing style reflects two realms of reality with minimalist set dressing using primary colors, yet many reflective layers in every scene bring Argentina's past to the present. We experience the backstage reality in the opening credits with lights, stage rigging, mirrors and the diegetic sounds of a tuning piano, are woven together by a thread of opening credits that mirror the communal efforts of any production. The piano fades as a crescendoed, digital camera buzzes, aware of itself panning right. As it catches itself in the vast row of mirrors, the personified camera reveals present-day technologies juxtaposing the rural folklore deeply rooted in Argentine history.
Argentina is most famous for the tango; however, the film's lower third titles display music and dance of the rural regions within the country. Saura strings together music and dance from the Andean region: zamba from Salta, vidala from the Flat Lands, chacarera from Santiago Del Estero, malambo of South Estero, and the chamamé of the Northeast. All forms originate from indigenous roots.
A solo pianist opens with a Yamaha grand piano during Bailecito. Dressed classically, the pianist's hands are reflected in the black shine of the piano and a mirror reflects down on him from an aerial view, exposing the inner workings of the piano as he plays.
Baguala begins on a tungsten-lit panel with performers walking to the stage in silhouette. Dressed in rancher garb, two older male performers sing and play their bombo drums, a bass drum made of cowhide. "I am free and my own master," one man sings. "Fifteen days to pull myself together," a woman sings out. The six solo vocalists are supported by a company including several generations of women seemingly of the same family or village.
Transition to a painted portrait of 19th-century military leader, Felipe Varela, alongside black and white war images, introduces the first Zamba. Four guitarists, one drummer, and two vocalists occupy the stage singing of the famous leader as an important part of Argentine history in defeating hegemony. The Zamba Alegre is performed by an older, happy man seated with his string instrument. His fingers appear to play the six beats like second nature as if he'd played for one hundred years. The dancers circle one another with blue handkerchiefs, pronating on the sides of their shoes. A silhouette of guitarist, Andean saxophone, bass player, and an older female singer appear for the next Zamba. A blue background and the moon appear while two male dancers with blue handkerchiefs move in a slow, two dimensional quality. Ritono de Zamba incorporates video effect as to mirror the female dancer in frame right, stage left. The male dancer joins her frame left, stage right. The formal use of light and mirror is perhaps a metaphor of the performers reflecting on their heritage.
Saura pays homage to the world-renowned folklore singer, Homenaje a Mercedes Sosa, as sixteen children dressed in white school uniforms seated at wooden desks watch black and white film projections of Sosa and eventually sing along, "Change, everything changes, but my love does not change." Ironically, Sosa was born on Argentina's Independence Day.
Scenes of variations of the Chacarera represent Argentine musical nationalism. A pianist, two guitarists, one bass player, and a drummer set a flare that seemed to riff off one another. A pianist is also a drummer in a bird's eye view capturing the musician using drumsticks and bells inside the piano. A female dancer uses the mirrors to adjust hair and makeup, getting ready for to perform the Chacarera Doble. The female vocalist regards the camera as the dancers regard each other. The female dancers throughout the film are generally barefoot while male dancers wear percussive black ballroom shoes. Snapping and clapping also accompany the drummer. Close up camera angles display the intricate footwork of the male dancer. The female dancer turns in place holding her flowing, peach skirt. The vocalist and two dancers hug at the end of their piece.
A close up shot of the acoustic guitar opens for Copla. A black and white live feed of the two performers projects behind the performers providing a backdrop. The singer/guitarists face one another on stools powerfully professing the song to one another, as if for the first time. "Every wind brings a voice," they sing, drawing on the significance of nature in Argentina.
Chamamé opens on a company of dancers warming up their muscles. The dance director calls out to the lead female dancer and tells her to "work with her facial expressions." As the dancers begin, the video projection acts as ephemeral paint splattering on a digital film backdrop, with yellow lit panels to stage right and left. The opening duet is sensual between a male and female dancer with spiraling hand placement and deep lunges. More female dancers enter the stage with their male partners, foreheads touching in the forever connecting and spiraling choreography.
Vidala, a folk song, opens on a wide shot of a man with a sunrise lighting effect behind him, singing a capella, "Sometimes I follow my shadow." A younger male dancer joins him after the first verse of the song as mirrors reflect his body creating the illusion of many dancers. Dancing on a low level, barefoot and bare-chested, his adagio movements accompany the vocalist. The vocalist is projected on the screen behind the dancer as both performers end looking down to the left matching the "shadow" of one another.
Gato, or Cat, girls begin applying cat makeup and hissing at one another. The six female dancers take the stage in black unitards and battle as cats finishing their dance with a laugh.
In Peña Cuyana, a black and white collaged room is occupied by performers in a wide establishing shot of tables and chairs as if in a cafe. Musicians and vocalists are seated for the Zamba, while they all rise and dance for a more social dance style during the Cueca.
Oh, and the Malambo, is a sight and sound worth witnessing. Ten drummers and nine dancers walk to form the oval on the stage floor. Two female dancers enter the circle smiling at one another as the camera tilts down. This style was much like the recognizable Raindance showcasing intricate and percussive footwork. Next, two male dancers enter the circle using a baton of sorts that would hit the floor to add another percussive layer.
Although very little dialogue is used in this film, the use of sound layers are fascinating. Amazing syncopations between the sound of the drums, batons, and dancers footwork, the film editor was a second choreographer adding a true connectivity between film and dance. The film holds several tableaux or scenes and the transitions never fade to black creating a seamless experience and emergence in this culture.
Homenaje a Atahualpa Yupanqui is captured in a long shot zooming out acting as a nice break after the quick cuts prior during the Malambo scene.
Carnavalito revealed silhouettes against a yellow lit screen that reveal both realities: one, that of the performers and two, the audience. Some performers wore stilts while all performers are dressed in elaborate costuming, masks, and headpieces.
The final Chacarera Doble shows a sunrise lighting effect, a full band of musicians, and two older men dance and dance company in modern day street clothes. A slow pan reveals the stage and rigging and the ceiling of the barn in Buenos Aires City as the film fades to black.
Saura's choreographic duty involves both archaeology and geology, digging up native music and dance forms, understanding their richness, and dishing them out for the world to see. He uncovers their poetic passion by dusting off and polishing these forms from the Andean Mountains, reintroducing them as the heart of Argentina in a fast paced, tech-obsessed world.
This film is a bold journey uncovering the essence of Argentine culture and life values through music and dance. Rather than a drive through dialogue, Saura understands experience in filmmaking. The beautiful marriage between film and dance is both. Moving images are for the eyes, creating a deep sensation of human empathy across cultures and the boundaries of life experience. While the physical Argentina was never shown in the film, perhaps tourism will increase in Argentina after the release of this film.
First Run Features announces the US theatrical premieres of the documentary film ARGENTINA at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema on June 17, 2016 in New York City and the Laemmle Royal on July 1, 2016 in Los Angeles. Featured folk singers include: El Chaqueño Palavecino, Soledad Pastorutti ("La Sole"), Liliana Herrero, Luis Salinas, Jaime Torres, Jairo, and the folk group Metabombo.