A Ravaging Wind: A Film About the Wind That Brings Freedom

in 44th International Festival of the New Latinoamerican Cinema, Havana, Cuba

by Rafael Grillo Hernández


By Rafael Grillo

Realized as a religious parable, A Ravaging Wind (El viento que arrasa) is a duel between Heaven and Earth to gain custody of some youthful souls. But in this film, these polar forces do not symbolize defined notions of Good and Evil, nor are the adolescents at stake creatures devoid of agency, or unable to resist the the authority figures with a claim on their respective futures.

Reverend Pearson, played by the Chilean Alfredo Castro, drags his daughter and assistant Leni (Almudena González) from town to town, preaching the Word of the Lord. The Spanish actor Sergi López plays El Gringo, an auto mechanic residing in the middle of the Pampas. He, too, has a teenage child who serves as his assistant: Tapioca, with his minor facial deformation, is controlled by his father’s combination of physical strength and sullen character. Maternal figures are only alluded to, having disappeared sometime in the past, leaving their offspring behind in their respective authoritarian prisons.

Worlds collide when the Reverend’s car breaks down in a remote area and Pearson’s only recourse is to surrender to the skills of El Gringo and his rickety workshop. While he waits, Pearson seeks to fulfill his exalted mission by snatching Tapioca from his father’s grips and converting the boy to his faith. Despite his poor upbringing, El Gringo perceives the Reverend’s gambit and resists. Meanwhile, for the two young people, this battle of wills possesses different meanings. The Reverend’s resolve reinforces Leni’s loss of confidence and desire to break away. For Tapioca, the Reverend’s sermons provide a sense of comfort otherwise absent from his life, as well as a route to liberation.

This Argentine-Uruguayan co-production, based on a novel by the renowned writer Selva Almada, begins as a road movie before becoming a claustrophobic drama. The passions of its four characters explode within the walls of El Gringo’s house-workshop and contrast the vastness of its surroundings. The wind and rain that rage outside prolong Leni and the Reverend’s confinement and amplify tensions, underlined by Luciano Supervielle‘s effective musical score.

With A Ravaging Wind, Argentine director Paula Hernández discards the distancing, oblique gaze of her previous films, such as the multi-award-winning The Sleepwalkers (Los Sonámbulos, 2019), to concentrate the cinematography (undertaken by Iván Gierainchuk) on frontal frames, which focus squarely on faces and reveal contradictions in the inner worlds of the protagonists.

Leni’s duality of love and hate towards Pearson emerges in her rebellion and her desire to feel emotions no longer available to her in religious songs but, rather, in rock music. Tapioca’s rage, contained in front of El Gringo and unbridled only in his absence, is now coupled with his confusion at the new perspective on life that the Reverend offers. The skillfully outlined, subtle script, along with Castro’s masterful performance, extract the essence of Pearson, who is not a simple charlatan or fraud profiting at the expense of others’ religious longing; rather, this Reverend is a genuinely convinced fanatic.

As a “small” film, which withholds any ambition for a great cinematographic spectacle or experimental displays, which focuses instead on human circumstances and underlines its message using a classical cinematic grammar, A Ravaging Wind is a true role model. During its screening at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana this December, it attracted applause from critics and public alike.

The film made its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was the Opening Night film in the Horizontes Latinos competition at the San Sebastián Festival (SSIFF). A Ravaging Wind is very suitable for the world we live in today, due to its intelligent manner of challenging familial and social determinism and denouncing the populist, grandiose doctrines that suffocate freedom under a simulated discourse of integration and harmony.

Rafael Grillo
Edited by José Teodoro