O Samba, documentary (2014)

by | Jul 8, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

O Samba, documentary (2014)

Cast: Martinho De Vila, The Vila Isabel Samba School, Mart’nalia, Moyses Marques, Nana Mouskouri
Director: Georges Cachot
Studio: Swiss Radio & TV 2059878 [Distr. by Naxos] (6/24/14)
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color – no region code
Audio: Portuguese PCM stereo, DTS 5.1, DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Length: 82 minutes
Rating: *****

This is a fine and very educational documentary by filmmaker Gochot, who has done several past powerful music films, including one on Martha Argerich – Evening Talks. The music is not really the focus here; it is the whole national pride in Brazil around samba and how it has become the most exciting thing in the world for the poor black population with African roots, as well as for many other parts of Brazilian society.

The film flows thru smoothly, but there are actually 11 sections dealing with such topics are the African roots, the community, the history of Carnival, the social aspects of samba, slavery and racism, samba’s effects on the public and on Brazilian identity in general. The final eight-minute section shows the highly anticipatory mood of the crowd lined up for the parade as well as those in it, and some of the actual parade.

The whole film is built around composer-singer and samba leader Martinho De Vila, who actually changed his name to fit the Rio suburb where he leads one of the dozen samba schools—which has regularly won the competition among them each year for the top performing group at Carnival time. Martinho makes an excellent talking head for much of the film, just as Jodorowsky did in the documentary on his film. Martinho speaks entirely in Portuguese but jovially explains for us elements of the music, dance, culture and history of his country. Samba is a way of life for these people. His leadership of Vila Isabel first got them a win in the Rio Carnival samba competition in 1988—exactly 100 years after the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Although he is shown singing one of his quiet ballads which gets audiences to tear up, most of the music is based on the percussive sounds of the batteria, and is quite different from the cleaned-up, sophisticated jazz bossa nova we may be familiar with.

The dancing is infectious—these folks just can’t stop dancing. There is one closing shot after the parade is over of a woman just dancing all by herself in the wake of the crowds and celebration, which says it all. If you’re only looking for sexy costumes you’ll be disappointed.

—John Sunier

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