You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Violeta Went to Heaven

The intense, remarkable life of the Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra is explored with sensitivity and exquisite lightness of touch in Andres Wood's "Violeta Went to Heaven."

With: Francisca Gavilan, Thomas Durand, Christian Quevedo, Patricio Ossa, Luis Machin, Stephania Barbagelata, Roberto Farías, Gabriela Aguilera. (Spanish, French dialogue)

The intense, remarkable life of the Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra is explored with sensitivity and exquisite lightness of touch in Andres Wood’s “Violeta Went to Heaven.” Featuring a searching central perf from Francisca Gavilan, this beautifully lensed portrait moves elegantly back and forth in time to limn the life of a woman who perpetually struggled to find her place. Chile’s Oscar submission reps a formidable addition to Wood’s already solid oeuvre, and even its specifically Chilean subject is unlikely to prevent it from following Wood’s “Machuca” into offshore arthouses.

Although some poetic license is inevitably taken, the pic is closely based on the events of Parra’s own life, structured around a TV interview the singer gave in 1962.

Raised in poverty in southern Chile as the daughter of an alcoholic schoolteacher named Nicanor (Christian Quevedo), Parra was a spirited child right from the start. As an adult, she was deeply romantic and deeply political, writing songs that could be achingly lyrical or stridently defend the oppressed. Key events shown include Parra’s travels through the Andes mountains giving shows as a duet with her sister Hilda; her visit to an old man in the countryside from whom she wants to learn songs, but who refuses to sing following the death of his grandchild; her trip to the Intl. Youth Festival in Poland, from which she returns to find her year-old daughter has died of pneumonia; her time in Paris, where she exhibits her work at the Louvre; her tempestuous, on-off relationship with anthropologist Gilbert Favre (Thomas Durand); and her installment of an arts center in a remote tent back in the Andes.

These events are shown radically out of sequence, though Andrea Chignoli’s precision editing ensures that scenes set years apart are rendered illuminating rather than confusing by their juxtaposition. Some welcome comic relief comes during the 1962 interview, in which Parra deals patiently with the snide questions of a right-wing Argentinean interviewer (Luis Machin).

Gavilan delivers a profoundly committed, rangy perf that manages to be intense, gutsy and nuanced all at once, and bespeaks an awareness of the importance of getting Parra right for the sake of Chilean auds. The script allows for a warts-and-all portrait that’s far from simple hagiography. Parra’s multiple contradictions are all there: She’s headstrong but insecure, sociable but lonely, adventurous but home-loving, and crucially, never quite able to be a good mother to her children. (Pic is based on the memoirs of one of them, Angel.)

Typically of Wood’s films, production values are topnotch. The use of locations is especially strong, and lenser Miguel Joan Littin, Wood’s longtime collaborator, renders the peculiar light and textures of an Andean mountain village as capably as he does those of the banks of the Seine by night. Visually, the pic is never dull and at times demonstrates a daring sense of framing, as with a lovemaking scene shot through the gaps between floorboards.

Pic features about 20 mostly guitar-based songs that rep a good selection of Parra’s work, although her most popular tune, “Gracias a la vida,” is missing. The highlight is a searing, soul-baring performance of “El gavilan” (The Sparrowhawk), which features the line on which the pic might have been built: “I have nowhere to be.”

Violeta Went to Heaven


Production: A BF release (in Chile) of a Minera Escondida presentation of a Wood Producciones, Maiz Producciones, Bossa Nova Films production in association with BG TV. (International sales: Wood Producciones, Santiago.) Executive producers, Patricio Pereira , Pablo Rovito, Fernando Sokolowicz, Denise Gomes, Paula Cosenza, Billy Garlick. Directed by Andres Wood. Screenplay, Eliseo Altunaga, Rodrigo Bazaes, Guillermo Calderon, Wood, based on the book by Angel Parra.

Crew: Camera (color/ B&W), Miguel Joan Littin; editor, Andrea Chignoli; music, Violeta Parra; art director, Rodrigo Bazaes; sound (Dolby Digital SR), Miguel Hormazabal. Reviewed on DVD, Madrid, Oct. 29, 2011. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Francisca Gavilan, Thomas Durand, Christian Quevedo, Patricio Ossa, Luis Machin, Stephania Barbagelata, Roberto Farías, Gabriela Aguilera. (Spanish, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Us Scriptwriter and Film-maker Larry Cohen

    Larry Cohen, Cult Horror Writer-Director of 'It's Alive,' Dies at 77

    Larry Cohen, best known for his work as a B-movie producer and director in the ’70s and his later work in screenwriting, has died. He was 77. Cohen’s friend, actor and publicist Shade Rupe, confirmed the news, which was announced in a post to Cohen’s official Facebook page. Rupe said Cohen died in Los Angeles [...]

  • Captain Marvel

    Box Office: 'Captain Marvel' Shatters $900 Million Milestone

    Brie Larson’s “Captain Marvel” continues to do heroic business. In its latest box office milestone, the female-fronted superhero tentpole zoomed past $900 million in ticket sales worldwide. “Captain Marvel” brought in a mighty $87 million globally this weekend, including $52 million from international territories. It has now generated $589 million overseas for a global haul [...]

  • Us - Lupita Nyong’o - cr:

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Stuns With $70 Million Opening Weekend

    Talk about scary good. Universal’s “Us,” the second directorial effort from Jordan Peele, pulled off a stunning debut, generating $70 million from 3,741 North American locations. That haul is enough to land it the second-best opening weekend of the year behind Disney’s “Captain Marvel” ($153 million). The psychological thriller about a family confronted by a [...]


    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content