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BOLA DE NIEVE

In José Sánchez-Montesís documentary, the Cambridge Latino Film Festival picked a rich topic for its opening entry. Born Ignacio Villa in Guanabacoa, Cuba, in 1911 and nicknamed (according to his own recounting in an old interview thatís included) "Bola de Nieve" ("Snowball") by schoolmates after a female silent-film character, he developed an individual vocal and piano style ó combining jazz, blues, and local folk traditions with a classical-music background and his own puckish innovations ó that earned him legendary status in his homeland and throughout Latin America before his death in 1971. Sánchez-Montes intercuts interviews with friends, relatives, colleagues, and experts with archival footage of Bolaís performances. More of the latter would be welcome: he comes off as a combination of Louis Armstrong and Harry Belafonte, with an indefinable "affectation," as one commentator puts it. That affectation might be the grief and flamboyance of his repressed homosexuality, which, along with his politics and his involvement in the occult religion of santería, Sánchez-Montes barely touches on. Nonetheless, the filmís sketchiness and suggestiveness are evocative and mysterious, imitating, perhaps, Bolaís own style, which is described by one expert as "the relationship between notes and silence." In Spanish with English subtitles.


Issue Date: October 24 - 30, 2003
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