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FILM: Uruguayan Wins First Oscar Ever Awarded to a Song in Spanish

Raúl Pierri

MONTEVIDEO, Feb 28 2005 (IPS) - The Spanish language scored a major surprise victory in Hollywood when Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler won the Oscar for best original song, which formed part of the soundtrack of the movie "Motorcycle Diaries".

Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was the first time, since that category was created in 1934, that a song written entirely in Spanish not only received an Oscar, but was performed in the ceremony itself.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited Spanish actor Antonio Banderas and Mexican guitarrist Carlos Santana to play Drexler’s song "Al otro lado del río" in Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre.

Their decision was based on the fact that Drexler is unknown in the United States, although he is becoming increasingly well-known in Latin America and Spain.

The 40-year-old Drexler, who spoke with IPS by phone from Los Angeles before the ceremony, had expressed his annoyance at the decision.

"The producers lacked even minimum good manners. They never asked me anything. They never even contacted me to inform me of their decision," said the singer, who added that the only thing he received was a DVD from the Academy asking the nominees to keep their victory speeches short.


But when he won the award, against all predictions, Drexler did not even give an acceptance speech, but merely sang part of the song and said thanks.

"I don’t derive pleasure from vengeance. I like to sing, and that’s why I sang on stage," he told the press later.

In protest against the Academy’s decision not to allow Drexler to perform his own song, Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, who starred in the "Motorcycle Diaries", boycotted Sunday’s ceremony, in which he was supposed to present Banderas and Santana.

Another Mexican, actress Salma Hayek, took his place. In a gesture of solidarity, she translated part of Drexler’s song, praised it several times, and stressed that it was the work of a Uruguayan musician, while the cameras focused on him.

His song beat out "Accidentally In Love" from "Shrek 2", "Believe" from "The Polar Express", "Look To Your Path" from the French film "The Chorus", and "Learn To Be Lonely" from "The Phantom of the Opera".

The decision was also publicly protested by the director of – Motorcycle Diaries", Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles, in a press release.

The award will, without a doubt, provide an enormous boost to Drexler in the United States, where his album "Eco", which includes the prize-winning song, was released.

"Motorcycle Diaries" tells the story of an eight-month journey across South America that legendary Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Ché" Guevara made in 1952, when he was 23, along with his friend Alberto Granado, a 29-year-old biochemist.

What most impacted Guevara, a medical student, on the trip was coming face to face with devastating poverty, which helped trigger his political awakening.

"It’s a metaphor for a personal journey in which someone is faced with different ethical options. It’s a trip that changes the traveller, and forces him to take risks," Drexler told IPS.

"What I most liked about the film is that it focuses on Guevara as a human being, rather than on political aspects – on the decisions that we have to make in our lives," he added.

Other Latin Americans who were nominated but did not take home a statuette were Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera, the author of the movie’s screenplay, and Colombian actress Catalina Sandina Moreno, who was nominated for best actress for "Maria Full of Grace" about a young woman who becomes a "drug mule" smuggling heroin into the United States.

Sunday’s big winner was Clint Eastwood, who took the Oscar for best director for "Million Dollar Baby", which also won the prize for best film, while its star, Hilary Swank, took the award for best actress.

Spanish once again became a protagonist in the ceremony when the film "The Sea Inside" by Chilean-Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar garnered the Oscar for best foreign film.

But "Motorcycle Diaries", an international – U.S, Argentine, Peruvian and Chilean – co-production, did not qualify for that category.

The film was produced by Hollywood actor and director Robert Redford, directed by Brazil’s Salles, perhaps best-known for "Central do Brasil" (Central Station – 1998), and edited by another Brazilian, Daniel Rezende, whose work shone in "Cidade de Deus" (City of God – 2002).

The original soundtrack was by Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who has won two Latin Grammies and produced the Bajo Fondo Tango Club, a fusion of electrotango, pop and rock.

The screenplay, which the Puerto Rican-born Rivera based on Guevara’s journals and a book by Granado, lost the competition for best adapted screenplay to "Sideways".

On Feb. 12, "Motorcycle Diaries" picked up two BAFTAs (British Academy Film Awards), for best film not in the English language and best soundtrack. It had been nominated in seven categories, including best film.

The film, which won praise in Cannes and received a standing ovation at the Sundance film festival, has become the top Spanish-language box-office hit in the United States, bringing in nearly 14 million dollars since its release in that country early this year.

 
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