South America hasn’t been too good to me at this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival: I left a Chilean film that might have been interesting but I suspect not, and a Venezuelan film that was just horrible. Colombia’s official Oscar submission Los viajes del viento (by Ciro Guerra) however, was a little bit better, even if it was a terribly unrewarding experience.

Strange flat landscapes fill the screen, two thirds earth to one third sky. A burial takes place. An old man sets off on a donkey, carrying an accordion with horns followed by a boy. The man is Ignacio Carillo, a famous juglar, (traveling musician) who refuses to play anymore, and is making a long journey to return the ‘devil’s accordion’ to his master.

The pair travels across fields, plains, deserts, mountains, and water. Igancio is, a man of few words who hides behind his bushy mustache and low-brimmed hat. Fermin, the boy, alternates between looks of blank imbecility (though he’s no idiot) and fierce animal determination. He wants to learn the accordion but it’s quickly apparent that he has no gift, but he can play a pretty mean conga. He even gets baptized with lizard’s blood in a sunlit forest clearing amidst the sweat-glistening torsos of a group of drum students. Fortunately, learning and growing are not over-emphasized.

Along the way Ignacio gets roped into a striking machete duel on a bridge, observed by a splendid array of impassive faces. He also wins a rather fun accordion duel, though the contest turns more on extemporizing confrontational verses than actually playing. Naturally, he and Firman argue and part; the boy shows his balls to retrieve the stolen accordion and restore Igancio’s will to live in a eerie sequence in a thatched mountain village.

The film is largely free of spirituality and mysticism, even when they reach their journey’s end. The pace here slows satisfyingly almost to a standstill and reveals the journey to have been just something that must be done. The film is less about what things mean, and more about how they must be. There’s lots of good music and the sound of the wind is so prevalent as to become almost subliminal. But for such a slight tale of such stark existentialism with deliberately sketchy characters, at just shy of two hours it falls awkwardly between being too long for a film of incident and not long enough for a film of hypnotic contemplation.

Rating: 6.87/10