December 21, 2014
There’s magic on screen in Ramón Ayala
For the Herald
Renowned photographer Marcos López presents doc about legendary musician
There’s a constant, enticing feeling of magic throughout Ramón Ayala, the documentary by renowned Argentine photographer Marcos López about the legendary musician from Misiones who created the gualamabao, “a rhythm that synthesizes the sound of the Guaraní jungle, its sound is green, red, like the soil of the province of Misiones,” as the photographer-turned-filmmaker likes to put it. But Ramón Ayala not only created gualamabao: he’s no less than the gifted man behind many, many other tunes that have rightfully become strong musical pillars of Argentine folklore, such as El mensú and Cosechero. His songs talk about yerba mate, jangaderos, and mensúes, all of them protagonists of the history of Misiones. To top it all, he’s also a very good painter.
So try to imagine a documentary on such an appealing subject shot by a most talented photographer who ventures into the realm of cinema for the first time. The result would probably be a stunningly looking film; and it is — but precisely because Marcos López knows exactly what not to do. That is to say he never allows himself to become a self-indulgent photographer who wants to show off his expertise and avant-garde aesthetics. Not once does he subordinate content to style. And there’s never a hint of the kind of omnipresent formalism that ends up asphyxiating what it aims at depicting.
On the contrary: López has found a near perfect way to join content and form in a seamless manner so that both Ramón Ayala himself, the land of Misiones and its popular culture, the real life story of a street vendor who makes his own music CDs, and the many interviews with local figures from the music arena are all part of one single, organic film that cannot be thought as a mere sum of its parts.
Instead of going for objectivity, you see it all through the eyes of López, so expect a dose of kitsch, perfectly composed shots — both in expressive and narrative terms — very personal close-ups that add intimacy, large shots that beautifully capture the alluring environment, shapes, tones and textures that make up a moving canvas, and, most importantly, an air of poetry that runs from the first frame to the last. A sense of enchantment, if you will.
And of course there’s the music. Very carefully selected snippets of different tunes give images the perfect counterpart to draw the portrait as a whole. How songs are played, where, when and with whom, is also most relevant for much of what goes on here has to with the bond musicians and people at large establish through music. Far from any kind of solemnity, Ramón Ayala, the film, is as playful as the artists involved in it are.
To make it even more rounded, the testimonies of key figures from the music arena such as Tata Cedrón, Liliana Herrero, Juan Falú and Carlos Torres add new layers to get in touch with the heart and soul of one of Argentina’s leading musicians as seen by one a superb photographer, now a more than promising filmmaker.
Limited release: Malba Museum – Friday at 8pm (May and June)
Ramón Ayala (Argentina, 2013). Directed by Marcos López. UIT: Ramón Ayala, Juan Falú, Tata Cedrón, Charo Bogarín, Liliana Herrero, Claudio Torres, Víctor Kesselman, Carla Aciar, Víctor Kesselman, María Teresa Cuenca, and Hugo Alcaraz.
Cinematography by Marcos López. Edited by Andrea Kleinman. Sound design by Lena Esquenazi. Art direction: Marcos López, Nadia Kossowski, Yanina Moroni. Produced by Lena Esquenazi. Running time: 66 minutes.