One-handed violinist, Angel Tavira who won Cannes Film Festival Award at 82, dies at 84
Extraordinary example of a man with a tenacious yet creative spirit that overcame all kinds of obstacles in his life.
Mexican musician-turned-actor Angel Tavira, who came out of nowhere in 2006 to win a best actor prize at the Festival de Cannes for his performance in "El Violin," died Monday of a urinary tract infection. He was 83.
Tavira died of kidney problems Monday in a Mexico City hospital, said Eugenia Montiel, a spokeswoman for Camara Carnal Films, the company that co-produced Tavira's 2005 film "The Violin."
Tavira was born on July 3, 1924, into a family of musicians in the southwestern town of Corralfalso, and started playing the violin at age 6. When he was 13, he lost his right hand while setting off fireworks at a fair. He pursued his music career nonetheless, playing the violin with the bow tied to his stump.
Tavira describes the frustrations of learning how to play with one arm, saying he often wanted to hurl his violin to the floor.
"Just seeing myself tied to the bow, I only wanted to cry," he said. "I started practicing again just like I was learning to play."
He was the only child of J. Isabel Maldonado Tavira and Anita Tavira López, and grandson of Juan Bartolo Tavira, a composer and performer of son, gustos, indias, malagueñas, rhymes and coplas, who inspired and taught him the love for local traditional music. Being born in a family traditionally related with music, he was successively encouraged by his uncles and cousins Félix, José Guadalupe Lupito, and Sósimo Tavira López in learning and playing music. When he was six years old, he began to play four instruments by ear training: saxophone, bass, guitar and violin, and later he went to take courses in classical, semi-classical and romantic music. Still being young he suffered an accident during the town's patron saint feast when a firework exploded in his right hand, which had to be amputated, discouraging Tavira from playing music. However, it was his uncle "Lupito" who encouraged him to continue performing. Later on, he went to take classes at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City.
He was considered a great composer of son calentano, traditional music genre of Tierra Caliente (a region within the state of Guerrero).When he was 60 years old he enrolled at the Music Conservatory of Morelia to study music notation with the purpose of recovering the traditional music of his region.Among other activities, Ángel Tavira was a farmer, a goldsmith and, as a teacher, he worked at the "Antonia Nava de Catalán" Kindergarten and at the "Jaime Torres Bodet" Secondary School No. 2, since 1972 until he retired, 32 years later.
In 1988, Tavira was introduced to politics when he was selected as Federal Substitute Deputy for the candidacy of Félix Salgado Macedonio. Ángel Tavira married Elpidia Diego Rosales, with whom he had four children: Yolanda, Margarita, Daniel and Luis, and integrated into his family both Ricardo and Leticia, the two children Elpidia already had.
With no studies or experience in acting he participated in 2005 in the movie El violín, directed by Francisco Vargas Quevedo, in the role of don Plutarco Hidalgo, a musician and farmer that participates in a guerrilla that plans to revolt against its own government, role for which he obtained the Best Actor Award in the Un Certain Regard section (Prix d'interprétation masculine - Un certain regard) at the 59th Cannes Film Festival, besides being awarded the Golden Kikito for best actor in a Latin Motion Picture category of the 34th Festival de Gramado, and a Special Jury Award at the 30th São Paulo International Film Festival.
Life-or-death matters are handled with compelling gravity in Francisco Vargas' "The Violin," one of the most powerful movies screened at last year's Seattle International Film Festival.
Back for a weeklong run at Northwest Film Forum, this Mexican drama takes the peasants' side in dramatizing a 1970s revolt. The script vividly explores the impact of government oppression on three generations of one rebellious family.
Plutarco, perfectly played by 81-year-old Don Ángel Tavira, is never the frail grandfather he appears to be. Managing to play the violin even though his right hand is a stump, he just gets by as a traveling musician, using his practiced performer's charm to smother guards' suspicions and get past checkpoints. (Tavira deservedly won an acting award at the 2006 Cannes festival for this performance.)
“Music and war are two elements constantly at play in the movie,” says Vargas Quevedo.
“Plutarco represents the dignity and free spirit of a community, and music conveys a tradition of wisdom. The army’s captain [played by Dagoberto Gama] has a mission to repress, but he fails.”
Vargas Quevedo first worked with Tavira, a violinist in real life, when he filmed the 2004 documentary about Guerrero’s musical heritage “Tierra Caliente ... Se Mueren los que la Mueven” (“Tierra Caliente ... The Best Ones Are Passing Away”).
Tavira, who’s 83, went on to win the Un Certain Regard award for best actor at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
“El Violín” has won more than 20 international awards, including the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Horizons Award.