Is That Really the Devil’s Accordion?

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Los viajes del viento (The Wind Journeys) opens with the dramatic view of a Colombian village giving way to an open, rubble-stubbed desert. An old man on a donkey lopes out into the desert. There is an accordion hanging from a strap on his back. Two ram’s horns are fixed to the face of the accordion. A teenage boy runs up behind him.

The exchange that happens next sets the tone for the rest of the film—blunt, terse, and mysterious.

“Is that really the devil’s accordion?” the boy asks.

“Who are you?”

“Fermín. I want to come with you.”

“Come with me? What for?”

Los viajes del viento is the third Cine Las Americas film that I have seen so far, and is definitely the one I have enjoyed the most. It is the story of Ignacio Carrillo, an aging Colombian troubadour whose wife has just died. He has decided to give up music, and return his accordion to the man who taught him to play. According to legend, the accordion carries a curse placed on it by the devil, after Ignacio’s master beat the devil in a musical duel (a piqueria). Fermín, a local teenager who harbors dreams of becoming a traveling musician himself some day, follows Ignacio, hoping that he can persuade Ignacio to teach him to play.

The unlikely odyssey that they begin is punctuated by unexpected and unexplained outbursts of violence. In one town, after Ignacio defeats a local accordion player in a piqueria (the man was using sorcery, Ignacio explains), the man’s father attacks Ignacio and stabs his accordion through its bellows. In another town, a young man with a machete demands that Ignacio play while he fights a machete-armed rival on the center of a rickety wooden bridge. As Ignacio plays, one of the men falls, mortally wounded, into the water. The other collapses onto the wooden planks and expires.

There is a Waiting for Godot quality to the film’s bleak humor and its evocations of supernatural forces that never appear. This is reinforced by the film’s grotesque depictions of cruelty, violence and death. A constant backdrop, though, is the stunning diversity and natural beauty of the northern Colombian countryside—vast, broiling deserts, mist- and snow-covered mountains, limestone-banked rivers and pristine beaches.

As the plot meanders through these landscapes, the central mysteries of the film are never resolved. Instead, the absurdity of Ignacio and Fermín’s quest takes center stage. Eventually, Fermín cracks under Ignacio’s constant bullying and belittling.

”Why did you put me down?” he demands. “Why did you deny my talent?”

The two part ways, and Fermín wanders into a nearby woman’s house and begs her for food. She asks where he has come from.

“Why did you come this far?” she asks.

He looks at her blankly for a long time.

“I don’t know.”