In a time when Argentine cinema succeeds overseas, when directors choose to work abroad, it is worth remembering a versatile artist who came from Shanghai to make it in Buenos Aires.
Born in 1914, Ralph Pappier began his career as set designer for the companies Pampa, San Miguel and Artistas Argentinos Asociados. His architectonic instincts helped him get involved in different roles, until he became one of the most influential set designers in national cinema.
He took his first steps next to filmmakers such as Enrique de Rosas -Y lo sueños pasan- and Mario Soffici -Prisioneros de la tierra-, but the meticulous reconstruction of the period in La guerra gaucha made him one of the industry’s most popular set designers.
In 1942 he won his first Cóndor award for En el viejo Buenos Aires and, two years later, he received the award again for the immortal work about the life of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Su mejor alumno, directed by Lucas Demare and starring Enrique Muiño.
By the late 1940s, having done over 30 works as set designer, he ventured to take his first steps as filmmaker, next to great tango composer, screenwriter and politician, Homero Manzi. Together, they co-directed two films: Pobre, mi madre querida -1948- and El último payador -1950-, with a celebrity in common: José Bettinotti, who wrote the song that became the title of the duo’s first film and was the protagonist of the second. As usual, both films were starred by renowned musician Hugo del Carril.
That same year, Pappier temporarily abandoned tango and the origins of the "canción porteña” (song similar to tango, from Buenos Aires) in order to dive into the history of Argentine football in Escuela de campeones, where he illustrated the initial stages of the creation of the Argentine Football Association through the figure of its first president, Alejandro Watson Hutton -Jorge Rigaud- and focusing on Alumni Club, one of the first clubs founded in the annals of football by the students of the Buenos Aires English High School. For this work, he received the Silver Condor for Best Film in 1951.
Pappier then made seven other films, including collaborations with Enrique Muiño -Caballito criollo-, Tita Merello -La morocha-, in emblematic performances, film noirs such as El festín de Satanás and Delito, and then two historical dramatic films: the first one, Allá donde el viento brama-1963- starring Fanny Navarro, about women who arrived in Patagonia to entertain explorers; and Esquiú, una luz en el sendero-1965-, about the life and work of Fray Mamerto from Ascensión Esquiú, a bishop with an active political life who defended the National Constitution, played by Hugo Mujica.
Ralph Pappier died in 1998 in Buenos Aires, leaving a prominent artistic legacy and a number of films that are worth revisiting.