Director: Andrés Wood | 110 minutes | biography, music | Actors: Francisca Gavilán, Thomas Durand, Christian Quevedo, Gabriela Aguilera, Roberto Farías, Marcial Tagle, Juan Quezada, Sergio Piña, Daniel Antivilo, Pedro Salinas, Ana Fuentes, Stephania Barbagelata, Patricio Ossa, Vanesa González, Luis Machín, Francisco Acuña, Eduardo Burlé, Pablo Costabal, Jaime McManus, Roxana Naranjo
“Gracias a la vida (que me ha dado tanto)”, thank you for the life (which gave me so much). Renowned Spanish and Latin American artists recorded that classic song, including Placido Domingo and Mercedes Sosa. Joan Baez’s 1974 version is also widely known in the US and Europe. The song was composed in 1966 by Violeta Parra, the Chilean folk artist and artist who is seen as the founder of the “Nueva Canción”, a music movement that linked traditional music and social engagement. The biographical film Violeta Went to Heaven (2011) by Chilean filmmaker Andrés Wood (known for 2004’s ‘Machuca’, an autobiographical drama set at the time of Pinochet’s coup in 1973) is about her intense but tragic life. . “Violeta Went to Heaven” won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Drama category at the Sundance Festival and was the Chilean entry to the Academy Awards. Remarkably, “Gracias a la vida” is missing from the film; however, we get about twenty other beautiful folk songs in return.
The story is based on the memoirs of Angél Parra, the son of Violeta (and many other family members) who became a musician just like his mother. Wood has not made a conventional biopic. Of course we see fragments of different phases in the life of Violeta Parra (Francesca Gavilán), but the director does not take the chronology too seriously. The leitmotif is an interview in 1962 – five years before her death – in which the tongue-tied rap Violeta is questioned by a conservative Argentine TV presenter (Luis Machin) about her life, career and passions. On the basis of this conversation, the viewer is taken into Violeta’s story: her grim childhood in the poor south of Chile, where she sees her father die of alcohol and her first steps on stage, when she and family members play a traveling musical theater. forms. Significant and impressive is the scene in which she for the first time claims the lead role for herself with a politically tinted battle song in which she accompanies herself with a drum: just like the audience on the spot, you as a viewer are also overwhelmed by her powerful and enchanting presence.
Violeta was not only politically engaged, but also a creative jack-of-all-trades. With her great love, the Swiss anthropologist and flutist Gilbert Favre (Thomas Durand), she travels to France, where she is the first Latin American artist to exhibit her works of art in the Louvre. By the way, she has already had to cope with the necessary tragedies: while she was in Europe to force a breakthrough, her youngest daughter dies of SIDS. Her other children, Carmen Luisa (Stéphania Barbagelata) and Angél (Patricio Ossa), are also regularly on the second plan. Only when she is on stage does Violeta feel familiar. Besides her self-centered and manic traits, her jealousy often kills her too; she chases Gilbert away with it. Her complex character thus heralds her tragic demise.
Violeta Parra was full of contradictions. On the one hand she knows exactly what she wants, on the other she is terribly insecure. She likes to be surrounded by people, but does not let anyone penetrate her soul. And she wants to be a good mother to her children, but prefers her own life and career over theirs. Actress Francesca Galiván knows how to bring all these complex qualities together into an intense, passionate woman whom we – even though we rarely understand her motives – hold to our hearts without any difficulty. The fact that Gavilán sings all the songs herself makes her performance all the more impressive. She carries the film with pride, passion and conviction. A small disadvantage of such an all-encompassing performance is that there is no room for other actors to distinguish themselves. Let’s take that for granted. What sets ‘Violeta Went to Heaven’ apart is the beautiful, extremely atmospheric cinematography, which makes the film very authentic. The dreamy camerawork perfectly matches the poetry and nostalgia of the lyrics of Violeta’s songs. Highlight is a heartbreaking version of “El gavilán” (the hawk), in which the singer (and also the actress, who may or may not coincidentally be called “hawk” in her last name) reveals her soul. Goosebumps! “Violeta Went to Heaven” is a wonderful, intense drama about the tragic life of a singer who is little known in the Netherlands (unjustified), but in Spanish-speaking countries has left its mark on folkloric music. The intensity of the songs and the haunting performance of Francesca Gavilán (remember that name) will haunt you for a long time. Penetrating and very beautiful!