Based on a novel by Dani Umpi
Directed by Martin Sastre
URUGUAYAN TALENT FOR THE WORLD
The story of how I met Dani Umpi, some 15 years ago is quite curious. I was crossing a desert, yeah, believe it, it is only a small desert by the Atlantic coast of Uruguay, but a desert none the less; I was heading back to the seaside town of Valizas with a couple of old friends. Along the way, we were singing the song of an old cartoon-soap of our childhood MARCO (big tearjerker about a kid who loses his mother and crosses the Atlantic to find her…). Now, the people of my, Dani´s and Martin Sastre´s generation were all hooked on MARCO during our childhood, and, since both artists have recurringly made reference to some of those 70´s and 80´s icons of our childhood, I believe the note about me singing the Marco song precisely at the moment when I would cross paths with Dani Umpi might put a smile on their faces.
As we walked back to the town, where we had rented a gorgeous beach house with some friends, we crossed paths with a woman from Tacuarembo, a place in Uruguay where supposedly “nothing ever happens.” At the time, I already had a dream of becoming a film director. I had probably already won an award for my first screenplay, and the woman´s son apparently had some artistic inclinations.
When I returned to the city of Montevideo, I got in touch with her son, who, in his turn, told me I might be more interested in meeting his friend Daniel Umpierrez, who was a photographer, and so I did.
Back then, Dani was a little guy, with this almost shy, unassuming look. I am not sure whether he already worked at a money exchange place on the main street of Montevideo at the time we first met; but if he didn´t, he had another glamour-less day job in those days, just as I did; dreaming of shooting films and working part-time at my family´s book-keeping firm.
The first thing I did with Dani was have him take photos of the people I had selected as the cast for that script I had written, which was called Newmoon (and, no, it had nothing to do with vampires…). The photos were black and white, and they must still be lying around somewhere in my mum´s back room.
I guess we just hit it off and we kept collaborating into the next millenium. Dani started showing that he was not only a photographer, but rather a multi-talented artist. I particularly remember an art show of his, where my beloved Nico Ibarburu (guitar player extraordinaire) was a guest performer. I don´t remember much else, but I do remember he had hung hundreds of teabags from the ceiling of the Cinematheque art gallery, and he had pasted little phrases from Corin Tellado novels onto them. Corin Tellado was once the queen of romantic pulp fiction in the Spanish-speaking world. I thought that was quite brilliant, and the phrases were so unbelievable, that it was really entertaining to go around reading them.
Some people would have called that pop art, others a celebration of kitsch, but, though I am cerebral by nature, I´d rather enjoy art than have it explained to me.
(Above photo by the movie´s gifted still photographer Gonzalo Viera Azpiroz)
In 2000, when I was managing bands, Dani took some photos for me. He was already doing lots of artistic stuff, but he was still struggling financially. This is around the time when Movimiento Sexy came to life, and when I met Martin Sastre, Paula Delgado, Julia Castagno, and Federico Aguerre.
(Music clip for Spanish cult star ALASKA by and starring Martin Sastre)
Dani took some amazing photographs inside a maximum security psychiatric ward for my documentary “EL SORDO CIELO”, and the poster of the film was so good that it was exhibited in Havana during the Film Festival that I attended there to accompany the film.
Movimiento Sexy was doing really good then, but they were seeking management, and they came to me one day. As I was trying to concentrate on my own career as an artist, I declined the offer, not without a bitter taste, because I BELIEVED in these guys so much, that I wished I could do everything for them.
Around this time, Dani came to my house with a printed manuscript of a novel called Miss Tacuarembo. As I was also a writer of poetry (to say poet would be presumptuous, at least when referring to those times), he had already showed me some of his poems. I had seen Dani performing, creating visual arts projects, taking photos; I was completely in awe of this little kid (he still looked like a kid then) and how he did EVERYTHING right, and he excelled at EVERYTHING he did. Now, with the poems, I had two rounds. Back in 1999 or 2000, I didn´t get them, I thought they were too explicit, sexually, and I guess I closed my mind to them. Years later, I gave them another chance, and I discovered a brilliant poet as well, one that required a maturity that I had to achieve before I could appreciate his art.
WIth MISS TACUAREMBO it was a wholly different matter, I was in AWE of Dani´s talent as a novelist, from the first couple of pages. It was an intoxicating read written in flawless prose, with a perfect narrative development, engaging characters and, last but not least, an incredibly accurate and totally endearing portrait of the years of our childhood. It was a novel that would resonate with anyone who was a child during the 80´s in Uruguay or Argentina. It was quite simply a PERFECT novel.
If I hadn´t been so intent on shooting my own scripts at the time ( a common mistake of youth), I would probably have said, “let´s turn it into a script.”
Martin Sastre, Paula Delgado, and Julia Castagno made similar impressions on me with every piece of art they created. Paula´s works would always take the symbols and assumptions of sexual roles to their limits, with her look that could have befitted a tragic romantic heroine out of a XIX century novel. I remember Julia once hang herself from a CHANEL sign (meant to represent a chromosome in a DNA sequence) up on a wall, demonstrating, at least on the superficial level, the slavery of fashion. With Julia I participated as an actor (better believe it) in this amazing video project of hers called the Chicken Party, which evoked the war in Irak, only one of the armies were, yeah, chickens. She managed to show the sheer stupidity of war and random brutality, including the idiot-tales of political leader speeches in times of conflict.
A couple of years later, Martin would win a scholarship and move to Madrid. He was probably already there when I saw his parody of an E True Hollywood story about his own life. It was completely hilarious and the best take on the show-biz gossip culture I had ever seen. It was probably 2004 when I saw Martin again in Madrid. We had lunch and he invited me to his house to watch some of his latest works, one of which involved pop-icon Lady Di, in Martin´s particular vision. While people in Uruguay may have idealized Martin´s present, as someone who had been singled out as special and was now living abroad in fame and luxury, I found that he was the same true artist he had always been, and he was living in a tiny apartment, allbeit at a great location in the Spanish capital.
When I heard Martin was going to direct a film based on Dani´s Miss Tacuarembo, a lot of time had elapsed. Martin had continued to grow as an international pop artist with fans from London to Buenos Aires and back, and Dani had become a singer, songwriter and a huge Latin American pop star. Yeah, he could ALSO sing!!!
I think many people may have had their doubts when they heard Martin was directing, since all he had done before had been short video-art clips, these kids, men now really, are that rare kind of artist, they can just NEVER go wrong.
MISS TACUAREMBO has been hailed as the BEST Uruguayan film ever, and, though I don´t believe in those kind of evaluations of artworks, I have to say that it is a PERFECT film. Martin took a huge risk in turning the story into a musical and he succeeded with the brightest colors. The script is simply a work of art. Though it moves back and forth between different periods of time in the protagonist´s life, it works like a charm. The editing is completely brilliant, the songs are perfect, the children actors kick butt, and the story is memorable. Though this is not exactly the same story as it was in the book, nobody else but Martin could have brought to life the TRUE spirit of the novel.
All I can say is that I am very fortunate to have met such wonderful and talented people, and that I believe my life is richer because I met them.
To finish off, I would like to share an unbelievable yet true story that involves all of the Movimiento Sexy artists mentioned before. One night, Dani and the lot asked me if I could take my camera and shoot a performance of theirs. This was gonna take place at a hip disco for teenagers in a fashionable neighborhood of Montevideo. The four of them would be dressed (and wig-d) as ABBA, and they would play some ABBA songs (lipsynching and playback included, of course). I shot them backstage getting ready and during the show. The teens were psyched! I remember Martin was pretending to play the keyboard with only one hand, as his other hand was up in the air, cheering the crowd. The stage was far and above, and the kids, who weren´t born when ABBA was big, during our childhood, seemed to believe that they were watching the real ABBA: Now, when the show was over, it was probably Martin´s idea to go out on the dancefloor and mingle with the kids. I also went down and they sort of thought I was their manager or something, so I would sort of act like that and talk on their behalf. The kids were coming up to them and saying “I LOVE YOU” “I AM A BIG FAN” all in English, while the “stars” were not talking, lest they might reveal their Spanish accent. I was talking in English for them, to keep the act realistic. Martin was dancing like crazy, the teen boys were all hyped up about Paula and Julia, and as I looked at them and Dani, I thought to myself, “if these guys can make hundreds of teenagers BELIEVE that they are ABBA, there is nothing impossible for them.”
Looking back, from my seat at the theater, as I watched the credits of Miss Tacuarembo roll by, I realized that this was only the beginning, and Martin, Dani, and the lot had many more wonderful things for us. They might end up going to the moon for all I know, since they have proved already that “limits” is not a word in their vocabulary.
BONUS TRACK: Rarities
This a music clip I directed 10 years ago (for band Jose Soba trio), Dani Umpi and Julia Castagno appear in the first part, Dani as an office-geek and Julia as a robotic examining doctor.