American Cup #2 of 4 Initial Matches: ‘La balandra Isabel llegó esta tarde’ (1950) vs. ‘Pajarito Gómez’ (1965)

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‘La balandra Isabel llegó esta tarde’ (1950) The Yatch Isabel Arrived This Afternoon

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‘Pajarito Gómez’ (1965)

Welcome to another match! Today we have a confrontation between Venezuela and Argentina. Argentina has been the champion of this American Cup once already, so there’s a big chance for it to win it again, just because it’s among the strongest filmographies of the continent. On the other hand, I know very little about the cinema from Venezuela, and past Cups hasn’t helped in that regard, so it’s good to have another chance at exploring their cinema, and it’s good that today we’re taking a look back to the real past of these countries’s films. So, without much else to say, let’s go forward! Who will win?

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Carlos Hugo Christensen was somewhat of a gun-for-hire in the world of early Latin American cinema. He was born in Argentina, died in Brazil, and directed films all over the continent and beyond, from his birth country Argentina, to the neighboring Chile, to filming in Portuguese in Brazil, and to have his films repurposed for their USA release, moving from genre to genre, he was always on the verge of absolute fame and fortune, but he always maintained a low profile, conjuring steady work that managed to kick-start some country’s cinemas, alongside managing to create professional-looking work that didn’t look strange alongside the best of popular cinema that was flooding the screens at that time. He’s also the director of one of the first fiction films made in Venezuela, the co-production with Argentina ‘La balandra Isabel llegó esta tarde’ (1950), a film about Venezuelan sailors and their work between the many islands and ports around the country.

The protagonist is the Captain of a ship who constantly goes out, trading goods, shipping stuff, the usual stuff. He has a son and a wife, whom he sees now and then between his long sea trips, and he has promised that after his next trip, he’ll take his son with him so that he can start working, as it’s his destiny to eventually become the captain of his own ship. In many ways the film tries to capture the poverty that was inherent at that time in Venezuela, but it doesn’t want to move beyond that, as it doesn’t exactly criticize it, but understands that there’s nothing beyond this, and this kid won’t have any other kind of education. Well, one believes that the film will stay with the kid, as he tries to become better while waiting for his father to come back, but we’d be wrong, as we follow the Captain in his usual trip on his yacht-like ship, which he called Isabel, like his wife, as some kind of reminder to the loyalty that he supposedly has towards his family at port, but we’re quick to notice that it won’t happen.

In one of the islands in which he usually docks at he has a mistress. When he leaves, the woman is absolutely entranced with the Captain, so he does some witchery to try to lure him back, but this time it’s with his son in tow. The film is simple in its plot approach, but at the same time it becomes a tad bit over-dramatic, but the performances kinda work for the ambience that it’s doing and the time when it was made, particularly considering how this was mostly shot in Venezuela and the locale is the protagonist, and in that regard it works as a piece of naturalism that gets hijacked sometimes by the melodramatic performances, which kinda gives it somewhat of an edge in terms of technical proficiency, but in the end it gets kinda distracting when the plot seems to be hijacking the rest of the interesting elements that can be found here.

7/10

***

This is the second Rodolfo Kuhn film that I’ve seen for the Cup America, and this one is a bit more known than the other one, as ‘Pajarito Gómez’ (1965) has earned some recent fame in repertoire showings at various film festivals, both in Argentina and other countries. It’s a classic tale, something akin to what one could find in the classic (remade a bunch of times) ‘A Star is Born’, where a young (in this case, male) singer finds early fame and gets somewhat consumed by everything that surrounds it. The film luckily avoids some of the pitfalls that films like this have, like cruising high above any sort of origin story, working through an interview to make him speak about his childhood and how he found his singing abilities, all of this is done when the film cuts to the events themselves that are being narrated, to later cut back to them and show the real aftermath, like how when he was singing late at night with some friends, he is shushed by the landlord that is giving him a room to sleep in, calling him irresponsible. Of course, the interview doesn’t speak about that, but speaks about the magic of that special moment when Pajarito Gómez is starting to get into music.

The movie moves forward in a very modern manner, cutting away from anything that would be the obvious link between sequences, assuring the audience once and again that they know the classic beats of this kind of tale, so we’re just left with the inherent criticism that’s done to the industry that surrounds popular musical, in this case the ‘nueva ola’ sound that was taking Latin America by storm. There are comparisons to classic musicians that were big and famous in Argentina, like Gardel, but this is done to undermine the identity and the art of the popular music itself, as it constantly showcases the ridiculousness of the lyrics, the monotone way in which the music plays and how bored everyone seems to be around him, even if he is the hottest artist in Argentina. The songs work because they do sound like the kind of popular music that played in the 60s all around Latin America, a mixture of twist with rock and roll and some early synthesizer work.

What sets this film apart from others like it, except for the incredible editing, is how it lays bare every problem that’s surrounding the music industry. We see a dumb contest in which the prize is “a day with Pajarito Gómez”, and the “lucky” girl is extremely uncomfortable every step of the way as they are constantly followed by cameras, both filming and taking pictures, and everyone seems to speak with her, except for Pajarito. When they end up alone, the film makes an interesting turn towards drama, and that’s the moment in which everything changes, and one begins to see how sad the main character is behind all the fame, fake relations, dumb contests, contracts and singing that he has to do. The ending of the film is absolutely incredible, one of the most powerful things that could’ve been done at the time in Argentina. It’s only some of the usual beats what brings this movie down regarding what could’ve been a masterpiece if it dared even more than it did. Still, incredible.

8/10

***

So, Argentina advances to the Semi Finals. Enjoy the next match!

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