The rugged majesty of the Colombian landscape forms a spectacular widescreen backdrop for a simple, bittersweet tale of regret and companionship in “The Wind Journeys.” Awash in scenic vistas and infused with a touch of the supernatural, this beautifully judged two-hander tells the story of an aging accordion player and the young wannabe musician he’s reluctantly allowed to accompany him on his long trek north. Fest travel will take writer-director Ciro Guerra’s second feature far and wide, particularly in Latin American territories, and smart, venturesome distribs should be able to capitalize on the film’s abundant visual and emotional rewards.
Ignacio Carrillo (Marciano Martinez) has spent most of his life as a juglar, or minstrel. Now in his twilight years and still mourning his wife’s recent death, Ignacio vows never to play the accordion again, and sets out on his donkey to return the instrument to his mentor in northern Colombia. Tagging along for the trip is rootless, restless teen Fermin Morales (Yull Nunez), who longs to apprentice himself to Ignacio and learn to play the accordion — and later, the drum, though he demonstrates little talent for either instrument.
Though he’s too taciturn and withdrawn to be openly hostile toward his fellow traveler, Ignacio makes it amply clear that Fermin’s presence is unwelcome. Guerra’s script has its share of familiar elements — Fermin, no surprise, is in need of a father figure — but its most remarkable quality may be its fundamental honesty. The scribe never tries to force a bond between the two characters; nor does he take the easy route of supplying Fermin with latent musical abilities.
Yet despite the absence of conventional payoffs, drama and suspense are hardly in short supply. A drawn-out sequence in which Ignacio decides to break his vow, as he’s lured into a battle of escalating one-upmanship with an arrogant accordionist, proves enormously satisfying, and the story takes a believably harrowing turn when Ignacio is robbed and it falls to Fermin to recover the stolen instrument. The tale is enriched by myriad references to sorcery and other mystical undercurrents, the most resonant being an alleged curse on Ignacio’s distinctively crafted accordion.
Given little dialogue beyond his singing performances, gifted non-pro Martinez strongly inhabits a figure as tough and unyielding as the landscape, though in the grip of an unarticulated sorrow; Nunez has piercing moments as a young man trying to make something of himself. Local side characters, speaking a wide range of dialects, are well inhabited but generally portrayed as antagonistic.
As helmed by Guerra (avoiding the sophomore slump after his prize-winning 2004 debut, “La sombra del caminante”), “The Wind Journeys” unfolds at a slow but steady pace commensurate with that of its two leads, offering gorgeous but never unnecessary stops and detours along the way. Whether framing a hut on a cloud-wrapped hilltop or the cracked, parched ground of a desert, Paulo Andres Perez’s widescreen compositions often dwarf the characters in their sheer scale and grandeur, offering up the region’s desolate beauty as an object worthy of endless contemplation.
Ivan “Tito” Ocampo’s score subtly supports the film’s musical performances.