Violeta Went To Heaven”, Chile’s official 2012 Oscar Entry, delves into the psychological process of the artist who rediscovered Chile’s folk arts. Based on a book by her son, Angel Parra, Wood’s atmospheric film is an intimate portrait of the Mother Of “Nueva Cancion Chilena”.
Ever since “La Fiebre del loco” (“Loco Fever”), Chilean director Andrés Wood has been delivering fascinating films about Chilean culture. Working with his frequent screenwriter Eliseo Altunaga (“Machuca”, “Post Mortem”) Woods creates a delicate portrait of the conflicted gifted artist.
Cinematographers Miguel Abal and Miguel Ioann Littin Menz’s moody cinematography verges in surrealism at moments. Black and White 16 mm footage of Violeta’s “home movies” are intercut with more narrative sequences. Interesting angles (a love scene shot through floorboards) and textured lighting add to the beauty of the film, and Andrea Chignoli’s intuitive edit guides us through Parra’s ups and downs.
TV actress Francisca Gavilán plays the idiosyncratic iconic artist. The earthy Gavilán captures the spirit of the willful loaner, hardened by life, who follows her artistic drive to suicide. It’s a passionate performance, never glossing over Parra’s darker sides.
Francisca Durán plays the young Violeta, running wild in the country. Guiselle Morales plays an older Violeta. Cristián Quevedo plays alcoholic father/mentor Nicanor, whose sudden death propels Violeta, her siblings and widowed mother’s endless tour of market, mud and tent shows to survive. Violeta’s renown grows the closer they get to Santiago.
A powerful sequence during a religious pageant captures Violeta’s connection with her growing audience. The Parra family and their audience are leaving the local hall when young Violeta breaks into an acapella labor song. Wood watches the peasant’s faces. Hearing their life mirrored back at them, their applause gives the singer a reason to start on her long, lonely journey, and captures for the audience, the impact of Parra on Chilean society.
Wood’s Parra embodies the hard life of the rural, indigenous Chilean. Insecure about her looks, aged before her time, young Violeta seems to be on a mission. Naturally dignified, she ignores a life-time of Chilean class slights, and woos her fans and collaborators. Even at the height of her fame, performing for a wealthy party, she’s served dinner in the kitchen.
Wood recreates an iconic 1962 television interview. Quotes trigger flashbacks to Parra’s remarkable life. through the piece, which, like Paul Leduc’s remarkable 1986 portrait of Freda Kahlo (“Frida Still Life”) is an impressionistic portrait of the artist’s life, rather than a portentous “Official” biography.
“I’m not a modern woman…I’m a primitive.” Parra explains to her right-wing interviewer (Argentine actor Luis Machín), who goads her for her Communist beliefs. Parra’s stubbornness and sly humor peak out, charming the unseen studio audience.
Down and Out in Paris, Parra visits the Louvre where her solo exhibition of paintings and tapestries, was the first ever accorded a Latin American artist. It’s representative of her precarious life style. Europe discovered and lauded her when Chile abandoned her.
While on tour in Poland, Parra lost infant daughter Rosita Clara to sudden infant death syndrome. Lauded in Poland’s “workers’ paradise”, she stayed on for another two years. her guilt tormented her for the rest of her life.
Thomas Durand plays Swiss Flautist Gilbert Favre,her accompanist and sometimes personal partner. 20 years her junior, Durand became Violeta’s greatest love.
Parra’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”, a series of flashbacks, punctuated by close-ups of Gavilán’s expressive face and eyes, is underscored with Parra’s beguiling melancholy songs, all performed by the actress. What a sound track
Willful and driven, Parra’s last act is an Andean tent city folklore University. Without funds or business sense, the project languishes. With the narcissistic drive of many artists, Parra uses and abuses the people closest to her, including her daughter and Favre. She charms the mayor (Marcial Tagle), who helps her acquire the land, but turns on him as well.
Backstory: Violeta and her siblings Nicanor, Hilda (who toured with Violeta as “Las Hermanas Parra”), * Roberto, Lautaro, Eduardo “Lalo” Parra, and clown Jeremy were the first generation of an important artistic dynasty. Most were musicians and folklorists. The following three generations (children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of Violeta and Luis Cereceda’s union) have continued to make important contributions to the national culture.
Born In San Carlos, Nuble, grew up in the countryside. She began playing and composing at nine years old. When her father died in 1929, 12-yaer old Violeta and her siblings worked to support the large family. She married train-driver Luis Cereceda and had two children, Isabell and Angel.
At 35 she began touring the company collecting traditional music and folk plays. She wrote, taught folklore performed throughout Chile and at international festivals. She founded the the Museo Nacional de Arte Folklorico Chileno. Bed-ridden in her 40’s she began painting and creating tapestry art. which was shown internationally.
Championing indigenous art, in tribute to her Indigenous father, Parra threatened the Chilean “Light-skinned” bourgeoisie.
“Nueva Cancion Chilena”, represented by Parra and Victor Jara, among others, inspired Cuba’s Nueva Trova and spurred similar movements through out the Spanish speaking countries. Jara was considered such a threat that he was tortured and killed in the Chile Stadium, during the first days of the 1973 Pinochet coup. Nueva canción played a powerful role in the social upheavals in Portugal, Spain and Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. Musicians faced censorship, exile, torture and disappearances under right-wing military dictatorships in Chile, Francoist Spain and Videla and Galtieri’s Argentina.