The Wind Journeys

by Ciro Guerra

A Head Turning Experience

It was 2010, I was still young at age, but I remember that I liked sitting in the living room after school and watching whatever they would screen on the TV.
Mostly, there would be a typical action movie, the classical Bruce Willis or Jean-Claude flick but sometimes you would come across a South American movie. My family worked for Film and TV so I always wanted to learn more about what they would do for 3 or 4 months away from home.

‘Rosario Tijeras’, ‘Paraiso Travel’, ‘Maria Full of Grace’, ‘The Rose Seller’ were all I knew about the Colombian cinema and all of them were great movies but that night, I was about to have a unique experience. I heard about it at school. Apparently, it had won some international awards and when I saw the trailer, it didn’t look like anything I’d seen before.

It felt like a story Miguel de Cervantes would have written. I watched it thoroughly. I made me gasp and laugh and shocked me with every scene. By the time the movie ended I was at awe, it felt like I had just seen ‘The Lord of the Rings’ but the epic mountains of Isengard were a few miles away.

I couldn't quite grasp it yet, but the experience changed the way I would look at films and South America as a whole forever.

'The Wind Journeys' is the second feature film by proved and tested writer-director Ciro Guerra, whose artistic vision and direction keep the film's pace tight and engaging as we accompany our protagonist through one last journey across the land to return a devilish instrument to his master. Shot in S35 widescreen color across more than 80 different locations and only using natural light for the daylight scenes (and just a couple of Fresnel and practical lights for the night scenes), the film it’s a real treat of astonishing panoramas that accompany the epic feel of the story. So, if a rural saga of mythical musicians set in the beautiful and enigmatic parades of northern Colombia sounds like something you could enjoy, or if it's something new to taste your senses, I highly recommend it!

Ignacio Carrillo (played by non-pro actor Marciano Martinez), a rugged and lonesome “juglar” in his elderly years sets to travel north, after the mysterious death of his wife, in order to return a peculiar accordion to its owner, "El Maestro Guerra". On his way, he stumbles upon young spirited Fermin (interpreted by young Yull Núñez), a stubborn teenager who insist to learn to play the accordion and become a juglar like him, following his steps as they march a land filled with witching tales and mysterious people.

Accompany me? And what for?

The film pays homage to the classic hero's journey: our protagonist departs from his home on an adventure, with the company of his magic instrument and his tag-along companion. He must meet the challenges ahead. The hero falls fault to the darkness on his past and is "reborn" to atone and return. However here, the hero doesn’t return, he stays and it's Fermín who returns home to tell the tale.

What the film lacks in narrative points and character development it gives twice in shivering, memorable moments and grasping imagery that keep you hooked until the end. The magic of this film lies in the creative shots, the seamless compositions, the grand environments, and the masterful sequencing. The slow and steady dollies and pans that build up the tension of their surroundings, selling us how truly helpless they feel, evoking that classical thrill of the unknown.

Only the accordion can play its music alone... and so we are the ones who play it

The opening scene is exemplary in visual storytelling which highlights the fact that dialogue isn’t needed:

It opens with a shot of the ground; we see a group of shades marching while carrying something across the frame while we hear a ritualistic chanting. Following we see a wide shot of two men in white shirts digging a hole in a large desert at dawn. There’s a small cut and we see the marching group clearer; they also wear white and black attires and we see they carry a coffin, which tells us It’s a funeral. The marching group enters through the left and meets the working men, we see them bury the coffin and lastly, they stand and stare at the grave until a couple starts to leave. It’s now morning. The chants have stopped, and we see the last ones leave until only one of them remains, wind blowing magnifying his silence. The shot is long, it highlights he’s lost someone close to him, and his life will never be the same. All of this occurs while seamlessly presenting the opening credits to “breath” every cut in dramatic tension.

The movie then starts witch a cut to a perspective shot of a man entering a beautiful house. The camera catches our attention with an intriguing item, a horned black accordion hanging from the wall. The solitary man moves ahead of us and takes it with determination. The next perspective shot is of a priest marking the foreheads of people with a cross of ashes (a costume of Catholicism during Lent) This gives us a setting of time. With the cross on his forehead and accordion in hand, our character unties his mule outside, which we see with a long shot of the town church while people stare silently at him. He is going on a journey. People watch as he leaves, kids yelling his name, asking him where he is going to play. He doesn’t answer and gets out of the town. Why he is leaving is unclear.

Are you the one who came to deliver the accordion?

There’s a lot to appreciate on how the film doesn’t let a frame go to waste; every decision is made consciously, not limiting itself for the audience convenience but challenging to look further. This is what allows the filmmaker to pack so much in every scene, making the world in his stories come alive. The Wind Journeys is a story about Ignacio’s and Fermin’s journey, but it’s also about the passing of an era, the journey of a culture. It’s the end of the mythical juglar (a tradition that ended the very same year the movie is set at), and the traditions and costumes the inhabitants of this beautiful land. It’s a remarkable exposition of the virtues of South American cinema, making great use of creativity and resourcefulness to create that unique look and style (the hard shadows, the hand-held shots, the rustic environments). A movie about the Colombian folklore and the traditional ways of life, a bold choice in an era when cartels and drug trafficking seemed to be the only thing catching the eye of the public. All these elements make of this film an amazing banquet of new visual, auditory and narrative elements. It’s a joy to watch.

Please, don’t take my word for it, see it for yourselves and let me know what you think about this Colombian classic.

He won’t die. But he doesn’t have the will to live... He wishes to die

Written by Juan Pablo Ortiz from logueinn