LARS MOVIN has seen the film and met the director.
In light of the many portrait films currently typifying the documentary genre, Argentine director Daniel Rosenfeld’s debut film on bandoneón player Dino Saluzzi is an inspiring experience. A documentary pearl, poetic and vibrant, as soaring and organic as one of the principal character’s compositions.
Since the death of Astor Piazzolla in 1992, Dino Saluzzi (b. 1935) has occupied the role of the tango’s greatest innovator. Yet the fact that Saluzzi’s genre-defying music goes way beyond tango is undeniably apparent in the film that follows the incessantly travelling musician on tour through Europe and back again to South America where he is reunited with his musical brothers in his hometown, Camposanto, in north-east Argentina.
Young Daniel Rosenfeld (b.1973) is a qualified director and film editor. He has worked as assistant director for Alejandro Agresti and has substantial experience in television production. In his film on Dino Saluzzi, Rosenfeld chooses to spotlight the creative process, well aware that he is entering a sphere that not even the artist can describe. Instead of the usual parade of talking heads, the director daringly chooses not to have any interviews with Saluzzi or others in the film at all. The music, situations and images are left to speak for themselves. Which is more than enough. Especially in a scene where Saluzzi, alone with his instrument directly facing the camera, “tells” the history of tango without words.
“Saluzzi is highly respected among Argentine musicians,” says Rosenfeld. “But he is not appreciated by large audiences. It’s like Astor Piazzolla. He was also relatively well-known, but people didn’t start loving him until after he died. Therefore, it was very important for me that I could make this film about Saluzzi while he is still alive.”
How did you get Dino Saluzzi interested in your project?
“I met him at a concert. While I was listening, I realized that through Saluzzi’s music I was actually feeling the story, that I had just read about in the program notes before the concert. It was a subjective experience of course, but I could feel his miserable childhood find stirring expression through the music. So after the concert, I went up to him and said that I wanted to make a film about him. I said I had no intention of making a biographical film about him or an educational film about the tango. I didn’t want to explain anything. He liked the idea, and two weeks later I was shooting the first scenes in Venice.”
How did you finance a film like that so quickly?
“Finding money was a big problem. Since the film’s theme is the creative process itself, it was very difficult to make a classic manuscript. And without any manuscript, no money. I knew what I didn’t want to do. But it was hard to articulate what I wanted to do. I had developed a basic concept before we started, but I didn’t work out the rest of the manuscript until we were filming in Europe. It was a stimulating way to work, because when you don’t have a manuscript, you have to be on your toes all the time. We were always there with the camera, and Saluzzi never knew when we were filming. We worked a lot on the sound, too. For every ten hours of filming, we have at least twenty-five hours of sound recording. Every evening the film crew gathered around the tape recorder to discuss the film’s structure.”
Rosenfeld’s film is shaped like a movement from Europe to Argentina. Along the way, Saluzzi works on a composition, and when he is reunited with his brothers in the northern province of Argentina in the last part of the film, they perform the finished piece of music together.
What do you want this structure to express about the relation between Europe and Argentina?
“Dino Saluzzi lives on the road. He travels through Europe, Japan and other places all year round. He misses his homeland. This absence may be a creative force for him, I don’t know. But it was interesting for me to divide the film into these two parts, the first in black and white, the second in colour. Although the camera may be closer to him in the first part, there’s still a distance because the communication happens through the music. In the second part, he fades slightly as a character, and the village and its inhabitants become a kind of main character instead. To me, the two halves illuminate each other.”
I thought the structure may have been a statement on the unique history of the tango as a musical form created by European immigrants in South America, then exported to Europe where it gets the seal of approval before finally returning to South America with renewed intensity?
“In the early twentieth century, the tango was banned in Argentina. It was music that emerged from the cabarets and brothels; men often danced with men because women were not allowed in the bars, and the texts were both pungent and beautiful. In the forties, the tango made a comeback and became enormously popular. Big tango orchestras were playing in all the nightclubs, and different forms of the music developed. These structures eventually became so rigid that it was difficult to renew the music, because many refused to accept any deviation from the norm. That was why Astor Piazzolla had so many problems to start with. People kept saying he was not playing the tango. And Saluzzi has actually been trying to depart from this phenomenon where people will only listen to music if they can classify it.”
“People from Europe and North America seem to expect something exotic in every cultural form coming out of South America, Africa and other places. This can be difficult for filmmakers, because it’s easier if you live up to a few well-defined expectations. I have felt that too. Audiences prefer something like Buena Vista Social Club in which a European director takes an exotic look at a milieu. I was very aware of this during the process.”
You mentioned earlier that the first part of the film is in black and white, while the second part is in colour. For what other reasons did you make this aesthetic choice?
“At the Berlin Film Festival, someone told me that the black and white pictures say that Dino Saluzzi is sad when he is away from home while the colour sequences show that he is happy in Latin America. That’s not quite the way I pictured it, however. In the first part, I am probably closer to his inner world. Maybe. And to me, the colours in the second part have something to do with the landscape becoming the main character, whereas Saluzzi fades into the background a little.”
“The film was shot on Super 16, and to me it was important that it should be film. Today, shooting documentaries on film is rather unusual, because these DV camcorders are everywhere and because of Lars von Trier, Dogme and that whole scene. But it was important for me that I could use the pictures to describe this person and his music.”
What is the general situation for documentaries in Argentina?
“In my opinion, Argentina is probably the most difficult place in the world to make documentaries. But I have travelled a lot the past year, and I have also discovered that all directors are saying the same thing: ‘My country is the most difficult place in the world to make documentaries’! So all I hope is that it will be easier for me, now that I have made this film. Someone in San Sebastian told me that there is a film wave in Argentina. There isn’t any wave – we’re just a few directors who want to make films, that’s all.”
How do filmmakers get funding for Argentine documentaries?
“Twice a year, the Film Institute of Argentina awards three grants of 300,000 dollars each to documentary films. That is a lot of money, so I hope to be one of the recipients next time around. Then there’s the possibility of having the films shown on television, but documentaries have difficulty getting a foothold on Argentine television. We have the same problem you do – American films are constantly hanging over our heads like a giant rock. You can’t do anything about it, so we are constantly forced to find alternative opportunities.”
What about the cinemas?
“This autumn my films will be shown in three cinemas, which I am very happy about. When you make a film without subsidy from the film institute, and it is picked up for cinema distribution, you get more than half of the budget just for showing it. It’s a wonderful system. We have a good cinema law in our country, because funds are channelled from television to independent films.”
Dino Saluzzi started his career as a professional musician at the age of fourteen and since then has played with just about everyone from Gato Barbieri and Hermeto Pascoal to Gil Evans, Miles Davis and the Kronos Quartet. He has also written music for several films, one of which was Jean-Luc Godard’s Nouvelle Vague and another Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother. Saluzzi’s music draws on a wide range of sources, from the folk music traditions of his childhood in Camposanto over the wide-ranging tango traditions to jazz and modern composition music. As the film proceeds, the viewer is drawn into an inspiring universe ruled by utter candour and responsiveness.
“I’m not afraid of anything I create,” Saluzzi once said to Down Beat magazine, “because I know it will be a reflection of myself and my culture. If I play jazz, I play jazz. It’s just a different way of expressing my feelings.” At the same time, he admits that the further out you go, the lonelier it gets. The more extreme you are in your art, the fewer there are to communicate with. “Dino Saluzzi needs to have contact with his roots to make music,” explains Rosenfeld. “And vice versa. The music is a way of getting in touch with his roots.” Has the film also been a way for the director to find his own roots? A study of Argentina’s cultural identity? “Perhaps,” Rosenfeld hesitantly replies,” but I haven’t given it much thought. This is my first film remember. Ask me again in a few years, and then maybe I’ll be better at telling you what my films are essentially all about.”