“Argentina” – Better than the film [MOVIE REVIEW]


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Carlos Saura, the renowned Spanish filmmaker now in his mid 80s, has focused his lens on the folk dances of Argentina, much like he has done with the Flamenco, tango and fado music cultures. Enamored of the folk tradition of the Argentine countryside he has gathered together a group of popular folksingers, musicians and dancers to impart a flavor of these arts as practiced from the Pampas to Patagonia and beyond.

Filmed dramatically in high definition, with an emphasis of light against shadow and a saturated color palate, Argentinian Félix Monti shows himself to be a masterful cinematographer able to frame and capture dance as it should be and usually isn’t.

Though the dancers dance beautifully, the singers sing melodically and the musicians play soulfully, it is all without meaning, like one seamless but context-free concert on a bare stage. Songs are captioned on screen when, perhaps, it would have been better to have allowed the agony expressed in some of the songs to go without the literal translations that are truly wince-worthy and tone-deaf. Literal translation usually misses the beauty, favoring instead the words, and always misses the nuance. It might have been better to close one’s eyes and concentrate on the sound, but then the accompanying dance would have been missed.

Dance without context on an unadorned stage is a rehearsal without meaning. The dancers are quite good, the footwork, sometimes bearing a remarkable similarity to Irish clog dancing and flamenco and hinting at dance’s universality, is amazing but therein lies the rub. What makes it uniquely Argentinian? I can’t answer that question because nothing in this film conveys a true sense of soul and region. The chyrons used to identify dances or folkloric origin can only hint at what one will see but not how it began or where it is located.

Crediting himself as writer, Saura illustrates how little he understands the craft for if this documentary, or rather picture show, had a script, it completely passed me by. Further heightening his hubris and lack of understanding for the need for contextual clues, he filmed the whole thing on a bare stage in La Boca in Buenos Aires as though this were a major accomplishment.

The beauty of the camera work reminds one of Wim Wenders feature documentary of a few years back entitled “Pina.” Wenders had wanted to recreate some of Pina Bausch’s most famous choreography. Filmed digitally in HD, this beautiful representation of dance did impart some of the context and meaning of her choreography. My complaint at the time, and remains so, was that Wenders seemed more interested in the shot than the dance; literally more the forest than the pas de deux. In the case of “Argentina,” I’m not sure what Saura is interested in.

Opening Friday July 1 at the Laemmle Royal.


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