Great American Songbook’s closest rival for addressing love and longing in
rhymed couplets must be Brazilian popular song.
You do not have to understand Portuguese to get the message. Brazilian documentarian Eduardo Coutinho
explores how popular and personal songs shaped the memories of everyday people
in the straightforwardly titled Songs (trailer here), which screens as
part of the 2012 Premiere Brazil! continuing at MoMA.
format could not be simpler. Coutinho
interviewed forty-two Brazilians, mostly from what could be called a working class
background, about the role songs played in their lives. Probably only two of the eighteen who made
the final cut had any sort of prior professional performance experience. After answering a series of questions, each
will sing a song rife with meaning to them, completely a cappella.
is no question Déa Franco is a polished performer and a still vibrant screen
presence. A veteran of Ary Barroso’s talent
shows, her showstopper ought to her a Buena
Vista Social Club-esque late career re/birth. Barosso, perhaps best known for the
song-suite “Watercolor of Brazil” featured in Disney’s Saludos Amigos, is one of a handful of musical legends who figure
prominently in the memories of Songs’ subjects,
along with Roberto Carlos and Jorge Ben.
Coutinho’s coaxing, several “Miss Otis” moments are recalled the film. When German expat Isabell Erdmann, the film’s
other clear professional or semi-pro, tells of how she and another German
friend were abruptly dumped by their Brazilian husband and lover respectively,
Coutinho knowingly comments just how “Brazilian” that is. Oddly though, the film’s emotional peak comes
somewhat early when “Gilmar” shocks himself, tearing up at the memory of his
seamstress mother singing “Esmeralda” as she worked. It rather perfectly illustrates Coutinho’s
There is an unusual elegance to Coutinho’s Spartan
approach, but the lack of accompaniment could prove limiting to the film’s
appeal. It is hard to see it taking off
like the Buena Vista doc, even though it speaks directly to more universal experiences. It also lacks the star power of established name
on-camera participants to attract fests and distributors, so those interested
had best see it when it screens during Premiere Brazil! Recommended for fans of Brazilian music and
unabashed sentimentalists, Songs screens
this coming Wednesday (7/18) and next Sunday (7/22) at MoMA.
Labels: Brazilian Cinema, Documentary, Eduardo Coutinho, Premiere Brazil '12