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El Dia Que Me Quieras (1935) follows Julio Argüelles (Carlos Gardel), the son of a very rich Buenos Aires businessman, who defies his father by marrying an impoverished dancer and becoming a musician. Years pass, and Julio, unable to find a job, loses his wife to a lengthy illness and must care for their daughter alone. Later, Julio becomes successful in a large part of the world under the surname Quiroga. En route to Buenos Aires, he is confronted with people from his past and he must fight to change his now-grown daughter’s fate.
Much has been written about Hollywood’s inability to cast Latino actors in roles that are not of a maid or a drug dealer. So, it might come as a surprise that in the 1930s, part of many studios’ budgets went to reshooting English language films in Spanish or creating original Spanish language films. El Dia Que Me Quieras broke attendance records in Latin America and was one of many films that represented a short-lived but important era in US and Latin American filmmaking. It was at this time that Hollywood realized that the motion picture industry had the opportunity to capture the international market.
However, the quality of the original films and their copies differed substantially. For economic reasons, English films were shot during the day, while Spanish versions, mostly at night. The original version was produced in a matter of months, while new versions only in a period of several days. Another problem was the language barrier between the American directors and Hispanic stars. Many Spanish translators and writers were brought over to work precisely for this reason and the world of Hispanic Hollywood became complete with the work of Spanish and Latin American musicians and singers.
Although there were masses at the movies, the Hispanic audience was generally unsatisfied with the majority of the Hispanic Hollywood films. The main problem emerged from language itself; as the cast of these movies included not only Spanish, but also Mexican, Colombian, Argentinean, and many other actors coming from diverse Hispanic countries, the result was rather questionable. Moreover, the economic crisis reached the film industry as well, and studios were forced to reduce costs. Thus Hollywood invested more money into dubbing and subtitling instead of the production of expensive and less successful double versions. This partnership was over as quickly as it began. As a result, many of the Latin American actors, directors, and technicians who had worked in Hispanic films returned to their respective countries, where they began adapting the methods they had learned to local productions.
In this brief Hispanic takeover of Hollywood, Carlos Gardel represented the perfect star to create a pan-Hispanic and universally successful film. Gardel was one of the best-loved stars Latin America has ever produced. At the peak of his fame in the 1920s and early 1930s, he was famous far beyond the country of Argentina, where he spent most of his life, and he played an important role in popularizing the music of tango all over the world. Making his first recordings in 1917, Gardel popularized a new style that was brewing in the shady nightclubs of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The new music, forged by the working class of the River Plate, was tango. Its intense rhythms and elegant, erotic dance moves caught on and quickly became popular around the world.
Journalists in Latin America and Europe alike hailed the new star as a charismatic singer of the era. Gardel’s film and music career were unfortunately cut short by a tragic plane crash on June 24, 1935, but his legacy in Latin America remains extremely strong.
For the US’s pan-Hispanic unity philosophy, Gardel made for the perfect star, and his character, Julio, almost annoyingly represents every man. In the beginning, Gardel is the poor little rich boy who wants to follow a bohemian path, contrary to his cold father’s wishes. Later, he becomes the unemployed everyman affected by the Great Depression and willing to do anything just to provide for his family. He starts as a young idyllic man with hopes of falling in love and naive dreams of his future. In the end, he is a middle-aged father that thinks not of his own dreams but of his daughter’s. We see him struggle under anonymity, unable to find success for years, and we see his meteoric rise as a charismatic star. Rich, poor, young, old, failing, successful. The studios seemed like they were not just trying to give Latin America representation with Gardel but have him represent literally every one of them.
The soundtrack even reflects this. Though Gardel was famous for tango, he sings country and rumba as well in the film. This succeeds in making a movie that is culturally quite Argentine seem much less so. This was not just an Argentinian-style Tango film as it included musical stylings from across the continent. For those who don’t know, Gardel’s own nationality has been debated endlessly. Some say he was born in France, others say Argentina, and some say Uruguay. For a man who was very culturally Argentine, his nationality will always be unknown. It only makes sense that his movie with its mix of actors of different nationalities and diverse musical stylings would be a star vehicle for Gardel.
The narrative formula in the film, though, does not imitate Latin American styles. It is purely American. These formulas would be repeated for decades: the egotistical capitalists reformed by the generosity of workers, women as symbolic objects of exchange between men of different classes, and narrative outcomes that celebrate unity and reconciliation for the benefit of the common good. The premise of the film encourages class reconciliation. When Gardel’s daughter decides to marry the son of an associate of his father, initially, they bristle at the idea of a high society man marrying the daughter of a singer. Gardel simply explains everything to them and it’s all resolved. He ensures his daughter’s marriage without blood, rather underwhelmingly.
The film is rather unrevolutionary, but its greatest legacy and most meaningful contribution is what Gardel thought was the best music he had put together for any of the films he had starred in. I’m talking, in particular, about “Volver” and “El Dia Que Me Quieras”. The title song represents the best of the hopeful romanticism of tango. Gardel’s yearning creates a utopian view of love while still carrying that trademark melancholy. Meanwhile, “Volver” offers philosophical musings of the past that are made all the more haunting by Gardel’s sudden and impending death. This film may have failed to ignite a revolution of Pan-Hispanic films but it did provide a starting point for many of Latin America’s filmmakers, and a spotlight on one of the most celebrated singers of the continent.