Outside of Brazil where he is a myth, Cazuza may not be remembered by many. But the legendary singer was one of the great rock poets of the ’80s, and his meteoric rise to stardom and tragic death from AIDS are traced with passion and compassion in “Cazuza — Time Doesn’t Stop.” Story’s familiar ring, which recalls figures like Freddie Mercury, but unfamiliar protag may dampen enthusiasm offshore. Still, a sizzling perf from newcomer Daniel de Oliveira makes this an engrossing watch, and the songs become more involving as the film goes on. Not surprisingly, pic has topped Brazilian charts.
Pic marks the second directing stint of Brazilian cinematographer Walter Carvalho (teamed here with co-director Sandra Werneck) after his wrenching documentary on blindness, “Windows on the Soul.” The film is based on a memoir by the star’s mother, which goes a long way in explaining her large, though certainly not always flattering, role in the story
Agenor Miranda de Araujo Neto, known as Cazuza, is a handsome, curly-haired, poetry-writing rebel born into a middle-class family. His father Joao (Reginaldo Faria), the head of a recording studio, is skeptical of his talent, while his over-protective mother Lucinha (Marietta Severo) is snoopy and invasive.
The moment Cazuza appears onstage in a clown costume to sing a ditty, his extraordinary magnetism rivets auds. A circus acrobat and show-off, he sings “without modesty and without sin, to seduce the world.”
Portraying Cazuza is a tall order but de Oliveira is up to it, depicting the future star as reckless, carefree and consumed with a burning hunger for life; a bisexual swinger. Meanwhile, his mother cruises the streets of Rio at night to get him out of scrapes caused by pot, booze and dangerous driving.
Evolving an irreverent garage sound, Cazuza explodes on the rock scene in 1981 after joining forces with Roberto Frejat, De, Mauricio Barros e Gutti Goffi, as a vocalist for their band Barao Vermelho. Spurred by eccentric producer Ezequiel Dias (Emilio de Mello), Cazuza leads them to a series of gold records and then, at the height of their popularity, quits the group to go solo.
Film is well advanced when Cazuza discovers he’s HIV positive in a chilling scene of desperation on a Rio beach. Carvalho’s lensing changes register with traveling close shots and dark shadows as Cazuza sobers into forced maturity. Despite AZT treatment in Boston with his parents by his side, his health deteriorates rapidly. He sings about the illness in his last albums (including the smash hit “Cazuza Is Alive–Time Doesn’t Stop”) and continues to appear onstage, using a respirator, up until his death in 1990 at age 32.
De Oliveira is said to have a strong physical resemblance to Cazuza, though many viewers will visualize a young Antonio Banderas. De Mello contributes a thoroughly engaging turn as his strung-out producer, making Severo and Faria’s straight but loving parents seem dull in comparison.
Incidental music was composed by Guto Graca Mello, who gave Cazuza a leg up in the early days of his career. Cazuza’s own music is generously heard, but in spite of well-done subtitles, one has to take the filmmaker’s word that he was “the greatest poet of his generation,” much appreciated by lyricists like Caetano Veloso and firmly opposed to setting up divisions between rock and samba. Film ends on the notes of the soft samba, “Mio amor.”