Monday, August 2, 2010

MUNDO ALAS--performing arts & the handicapped--opens in hope of Oscar bid

Prepare to be greatly moved, probably in spite of your-self. Here's a documentary involving a large group of handicapped performing artists joining together to tour their country -- Argentina -- and perhaps open their countrymen's minds to... change, among other things.  MUNDO ALAS, which I believe translates Winged World, is the name of their tour -- and of the documentary about it and them.  Filmed over time by three directors, chief among them León Gieco (shown, center, below), Argentina's most important folk-rock singer/songwriter, whose idea the tour was, the movie was also directed by Fernando Molnar (below, left) and Sebastián Schindel (below, right), both of whom have more film-making experience than Gieco (though the latter, with his performing artists, provides the heart of the movie).

Distributed by the appropriately named Outsider Pictures, the film pulls us into the lives of these "others" by introducing them, their situation and their skills individually, before uniting them for their tour, via that big pink bus (shown on the poster, top), through the Argentine provinces. These are -- to use that Biblical phrase -- the blind, the halt, the withered and more: Alejandro, a young man with motor problems who plays the guitar, and Carina a blind young woman who sings. Another young man, Demián (below), wheel-
chair-bound, shows us how he negotiates stairs, drives his car, and finally partners a gorgeous ballet dancer while still in his chair.

A group of Down Syndrome men and women dance the tango, while Francisco, a paraplegic who is surely, in ways simply physical, the most needy of them all, plays his harmonica extraordinarily well.  "The only thing I need is for you not to treat me as a handicapped person but as a musician," comes the statement that hovers over the entire film. This will seems difficult initially but becomes easier as the documentary progresses.

The filmmakers give us first the idea of the film, allowing us to get used to it slowly via each individual that we meet. We see his or her home and/or workplace (yes, some of these people hold down good jobs), then we see a portion of their music or dance, and finally their tour begins -- during which we come to know them and their situations much better -- all in tiny slices offering up choice moments.  For instance? The joy of discovering their first hotel, having breakfast, planning and rehearsing, or Francisco -- as he seems to be trying to play soccer (yes: that's a jolting moment).

If you're anything like me, you'l find your eyes welling up often and at odd times.  Yet the filmmakers don't push anything and, god knows, these performers/subjects wouldn't be caught dead asking for your sympathy. Emotional overflow is inevitable, I suppose, when you watch fellow human beings -- up against lives that would send most of us into permanent, depressive tailspins -- struggling hard and using everything they possess. 

As the film movies along, doors seem to open in your mind: Demián will have you looking a wheelchairs rather differently, and Francisco's ode to Beto, his manager, is a love song, the likes of which you've never heard. Love comes up now and again, and one of the more interesting portions has Mr. Gieco explaining to Demián how that whole concept might work.

"Once the movie is released, we will get many job offers," suggests one of our performers, and sure enough, later on in the film, the group meets with management at EMI.  What transpires is fascinating but not unexpected. It's not so much that these people can sing or dance or play instruments (which they do, and well) but what this means to them.  And finally to us.  The film closes with a concert in Buenos Aires' enormous Luna Park, and, as the credits roll, we learn what some of the members of the group are currently doing. (One of them is involved in a wedding.)  

It's difficult to imagine that our Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences won't shortlist Mundo Alas, which opens in New York City on Friday, August 6, at AMC's Empire 25 and the following week, August 13, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Sunset 5.  

Important note: Co-director and musician León Gieco will perform songs from “Mundo Alas” in-person at NYC’s AMC Empire 42nd St Theater August 6, 7 & 8th.  His live concert begins at 7:45 PM, with the screening following at 8:15 PM. Advance tickets can be purchased at the theater.

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