Three decades after staking his claim to a certain kind of performance film with his Flamenco Trilogy, Carlos Saura continues to find corners of Latin music/dance culture in need of documentation. Having already explored tango in a 1998 movie of that name, he here looks at Argentina’s less famous styles, zipping through around 20 stand-alone scenes unconnected by any narrative conceit. Though valuable for students of dance, the film offers the most pleasure when its musicians are spirited; its parts don’t add up as seductively as they sometimes have in the past. Still, Saura’s rep ensures some measure of attention in a limited art house run.
Folk arts with names like bailecito, copla, and zamba speak for themselves here. Not counting a brief text intro citing each style’s geographic origin, the film is not interested in teaching us anything about them that we cannot see via performance. As is his wont, Saura uses a vast soundstage and minimal set, cutting from one performance to another without identifying the players.
Diminishing returns aside, a worthwhile cultural time capsule.
Visually, standout sequences include a copla in which a man and woman sit facing each other in chairs, each singing while a close-up of the partner’s face is projected in the background. For a zamba performed by a quartet including a mournful bass clarinet, the backdrop is a simple spot suggesting the moon and some slow, abstract dancing.
More complicated scenes are less successful. A homage to Mercedes Sosa imagines a classroom full of white-clad schoolkids watching footage of the late singer; the kids don’t seem to know quite why they’re there, and their responses to the music feel false. Later, the feline makeup for women dancing a gato is gimmicky and distractingly cute.
Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here, from the solo chacarera on prepared piano to a malambo in which a drum troupe accompanies two men twirling boleadoras, balls attached to rope that graze the ground percussively as they whip around.
More a moving-picture checklist than an elemental display, Argentina is too eccentric to serve as an encyclopedic reference but not sufficiently inspired to burn itself into the viewer’s memory.
Production company: Barakacine Producciones
Distributor: First Run Features
Director-Screenwriter: Carlos Saura
Producers: Oscar marcos Azar, Mariana Erijimovich, Alejandro Israel, Marcelo Schapces
Executive producer: Antonio Saura
Director of photography: Felix Monti
Editors: Cesar Custodio, Lara Rodriguez Vilardebo