The Argentine documentary Pegar la vuelta (Turnaround), written and directed by Nacho Garassino, tells the story of Argentine blues singer María Luz Carballo, who as a teenager left Buenos Aires to pursue her dream of becoming a music star no less than in Chicago, the world’s capital of blues. She spoke no English at all and all she had was her one guitar and the phone number of an important musician whom she’d met in Argentina in a mythical bar in La Boca. He’d told her to look him up if she ever went to the US.
So she did, but the musician never returned her call. Stranded in a foreign country, with no money for a plane ticket return to Argentina, Carballo decided she’d make it anyway — one way or another. So she heads to New York, where she finds shelter in the homes of lower class Latin families while she scrapes a living playing the guitar on the streets. Yet time goes by and her dream is far from coming true, so fed up with such a discouraging scenario, she goes back to Chicago to give it another try.
Sooner rather than later, she manages to meet an assorted array of local characters ranging from the humblest blues musicians to already accomplishe artists with a strong following. As she gets to be known and her music is appreciated, her career starts to take shape, not without a great deal of effort. But, at least, her dream is on the way.
Pegar la vuelta is a documentary that has both some undisputable virtues and undeniable flaws. It has a great potential that’s never nearly fully developed, and yet it’s never treated in a shallow manner either. It’s honest, down-to-earth, unpretentious and, at times, even touching. But from a strictly narrative point of view, it’s sort of chaotic (and not in a good way), it lacks a true dramatic structure, and it’s not as gripping as it could’ve been. Not by a long shot.
Like so many conventional documentaries, it features some archive material of different types, snippets of interviews with those familiar with María Luz and her singing, but mostly it follows its subject around the streets of Chicago. Considering María Luz is so outspoken, witty in a streetwise manner, and very eloquent, then the film’s spirit is lively and, for some time, it’s also entertaining. Many of her interviews’ snippets are very, very enjoyable. But the almost nonexistent dramatic progression begins to take its toll way too early into the film. So not because of its content but of its form, Pegar la vuelta drags and becomes somewhat tedious too often.
And it shouldn’t. Think that Carballo was once the girlfriend of famed Argentine rock star Pappo — and they lived a passionate affair — she played with Argentine musicians such as Luis Salinas, Lito Epumer, and Botafogo (Epumer and Botafogo are featured in the documentary as well), and she played in the US alongside Billy Tranch, Big Ray, Rodney Brown, Chico Banks, and Malvin Taylor. But it’s not only her professional career what’s alluring, it’s also her persona that’s so attractive.
Bottom line: considering the great subject and the potential it held, Pegar la vuelta is rather half-baked and so it misses out on becoming something bigger. Unlike Carballo herself, who made the most starting with very little.
Pegar la vuelta (Argentina, 2015) Written and directed by Nacho Garassino. With Pablo "Sarcofago" Cano, Miguel Vilanova (Botafogo), Lito Epumer, Machi Rufino, Cristian Judurcha, Lindsay Alexander, Ronald Simmons, Nick Charles. Cinematography and editing: Santiago Podestá, Nacho Garassino. Music: María Luz Carballo. Sound: Paula Ramirez. Running time: 70 minutes.