Mercedes Sosa: The Voice Of Latin America

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Mercedes Sosa: The Voice Of Latin America
"But if a certain sentimentality means that there is a little too much included, the film also benefits from the obvious emotion that the contributors all pour into it."

Mercedes Sosa's name may not be very familiar to British audiences, but the Argentine singer, who died in 2009, was a phenomena both in her homeland and across Latin America, and is likened through the course of this documentary of her life to everyone from Mick Jagger and Ella Fitzgerald to Joan Baez and Paul McCartney.

Director Rodrigo H Vila - who previously worked with the singer on backstage documentary Mercedes Sosa: Cantora, an Intimate Journey - returns to her life from a personal perspective in this traditionally realised but well-polished film, which opened Iberodocs 2015 and which features the sort of talking heads and archive mix you would expect. Like What Happened Miss Simone? earlier this year, the film's key triumph is in the celebration of its subject's voice.

Vila has a lot of ground to cover, from Sosa's early life and success through to her involvement with the nueva canción socio-political folk movement to being exiled from Argentina and her return to a heroine's welcome. So, we learn about the way she was influenced by Chilean star Violeta Parra (those keen to know more about her, may wish to seek out Violeta Went to Heaven), but it's more interesting to consider the ways in which she both influenced others and embraced new musical forms, so that there is even a recording of a rap collaboration, which will prove unexpected to those unfamiliar with her work.

Inevitably, the broad sweep means that there are moments when you wish Vila would linger more, for example, to consider her opinions of Isabel Perón - touched on here but not in enough detail to fully explain it to non-Argentine audiences. Taking a 'completist' approach to her life also means that some of the material, in particular a segment about her mum at the end of the film, feels rather tacked on, as though it didn't quite fit anywhere else. Presumably Vila and her son Fabian Matus - who had the idea for the film in the first place - couldn't bare to leave it out for sentimental reasons.

But if a certain sentimentality means that there is a little too much included and that the digging into Sosa's darker side isn't always quite as deep as it might be, the film also benefits from the obvious emotion that the contributors all pour into it. Just as Sosa's mellow voice seems effortlessly full of yearning or hope, so the talking heads included here (including Talking Head David Byrne), all have a clear affection for her and a desire to convey what made her special. Good use of family photographs and well chosen snippets of interview, also give Sosa a strong voice in the film, which makes her opinions feel 'alive' in a way that others recalling her would not. Vila also strikes a good balance between outlining her politics and offering more personal insights, such as the way that she changed her singing style to open her eyes and look at her audience after she was exiled in a bid to better connect with those from different cultures in Germany and France.

The end result is likely to provide an enjoyable celebration for her fans, while winning over numerous new ones previously unaware of her music.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2015
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Story of the Argentine folk singer.

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