¿Dónde estás, Negro?

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

First-time filmmaker delves into Argentina’s top ventriloquist act to deliver fascinating glimpse

Points: 8

“Remember that you don’t get to call me ‘dummy,’ not even you believe that,” says Chirolita, the dummy, to Mr Chasman, the ventriloquist, at the beginning of ¿Dónde estás, Negro?, the amazingly rich debut feature by documentary filmmaker Alejandro Maly, previously screened at this year’s BAFICI. Chirolita claims he’s no longer a dummy because once Chasman bought him, he felt for the first time ever that he was starting to live. He says Mr Chasman — or plainly Chasman — filled him with feelings and gave him the soul he wanted.
And Chirolita should know. Together with Chasman (whose real name was Ricardo Gamero), they were the most important ventriloquist-dummy act in Argentina, and surely one of the best worldwide. Chasman’s sheer talent was simply uncanny: he would light up and smoke a cigarette while carrying the wittiest conversations with Chirolita — and that alone is unheard of. He’d say that what mattered in telling a joke was not really how funny the joke was, but how it was delivered. In his case, the jokes themselves were as good as they come, with the right punch line at the right time.
Narrated with admirable precision, with an agile tempo and an alluring sense of nostalgia, ¿Dónde estás, Negro? is conveniently split into three parts, the first one called “Chasman and Chirolita.” So for starters, you’ll get familiar with the duet’s career from their early shows in the 1960s at Parque Retiro — a bizarre place filled with magicians, flame throwers, fakirs, and freaks — to their debut at the Paladium, then from the peak of their success in the 70s, with his own TV show El mundo de Chirolita, to their appearances in many variety shows on Corrientes Avenue with famous comedians, entertainers, and divas — and much more. Finally, there came a long period of unemployment until they fell into oblivion in the late 80s.
Unlike the terrifying dummies often featured in horror films — think of Hugo, from Dead of Night (1945), or Fats, from Magic (1978) — Chirolita was charming and friendly, polite and impertinent at once. And also cute in his own peculiar way. As though they were identical twins, Chasman and Chirolita always dressed exactly alike, and Chasman talked and prayed to Chirolita before and after every show.
Among other things, Chasman was a well-learned, respected and respectful man who always led a very private, rather mysterious personal life. After a 46-year career, he passed away on May 20, 1999, in Buenos Aires. As for Chirolita, his true destiny is unknown: some say Chasman’s son keeps the dummy in a safety deposit box in a bank, whereas legendary TV host Silvio Soldán — who wrote the songs the duet recorded in two albums — dares to venture he may be buried alongside the ventriloquist.
So, in the first part, you have lots of relevant archive material — old photographs, TV clips of bygone times, magazines spreads, recordings) together with candid and smartly conducted interviews with those who knew Chasman up and close. Among them, his friend Marcelo Benetti, arguably the best ventriloquist of Latin America, with his black dummy Cirilo, or the F/X artist Natan Solans.
Then, the second part, entitled “Ventriloquists,” gathers a number of today’s most important figures, many of whom get together at the Circle of Argentine Ventriloquists (CIVEAR). And what a bunch of extraordinary people they are. There’s a succinct, yet useful portrayal of the late Emilio Dilmer, a highly celebrated pioneer, and his dummies Venancio and Gregorio. And there’s an incredibly touching scene featuring Dilmer’s grown up daughter in a long-awaited reunion that borders the surreal.
Among others, there’s renowned magician, ventriloquist, and CIVEAR president Miguel Ángel Lembo and his dummy Pascualito; Javier and the naughty Jaimito; Daniel Riera, author of the book Ventriloquists; Dani, an Orthodox Jewish ventriloquist, with Cebollita, a replica of Chirolita (but wearing a kippah); and Charlie, who’s actually truly in love with Rosita, his sensual female dummy and the woman of his dreams.
Though Charlie is the only one in love with his dummy, love is at the heart of the relationships the ventriloquists establish with their dummies. Otherwise, how could they care for them so much? Some of them even consider them part of their own families, literally speaking. So Alejandro Maly’s documentary offers not only a particular portrayal with very appealing information alongside exhaustive research that probes deep into the subject, but, more importantly, it also dwells on the more intimate, subjective connotations of the relationships between ventriloquists and dummies. Which in the end are the more revealing ones.
Limited release
San Martín Cultural Centre (Sarmiento 1551), on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, at 7.45pm.
production notes
¿Dónde estás, Negro? (Argentina, 2016) Written and directed by Alejandro Maly. Cinematography: Gabriel Villazon, Alejandro Maly, Ariel Sauret, Mariana Cencic. Editing: Alejandro Maly. Running time: 75 minutes.