A companion piece to Finnish helmer Mika Kaurismaki’s 2002 “The Sound of Brazil,” which explored music’s centrality in helmer’s adoptive country, his latest docu “Brasileirinho,” offers a more focused but less complex tribute to “choro,” an older style of playing that forms the foundation of all Brazilian composition, including samba and bossa nova. Featuring copious footage of top-level artists performing with bravura intensity, interspersed with sketchy history lessons and interviews, “Brasileirinho” reps toe-tapping, hip-swaying stuff for world-music fans. However, lack of narrative drive or standout characters will prevent pic from finding theatrical gigs like other recent music docus.
Set mostly in and around Rio de Janeiro where choro was born (whereas “Sound” went all over the map), “Brasileirinho” simply introduces major choro players on the scene in their natural environment, some of their students at a “choro school,” and watches them get on with it. Footage of a formal concert in Niteroi shot with several digital cameras is intercut into the more conventionally docu-style main body of the movie.
Occasionally, pic takes a break for voiceover explanations of choro’s origins against rostrum shots of old photos, explaining how it was forged in the 19th century from a collision between European waltzes and polkas, African rhythms, and the “melancholy” sound of indigenous South American tribes. Nearest equivalent in North American terms would be ragtime or the blues. Choro fell out of fashion in the 70s and 80s, only to experience a recent revival at hands of star players who grooved to its unique interplay of rigid structure and improvisation, and the ease with which it lends itself to spontaneous jam sessions.
Keeping himself off camera this time after appearing as guide and narrator in “The Sound of Brazil,” Kaurismaki directs here with self-effacing simplicity. But as the subjects here hardly speak of their own lives and tend to talk in impersonal generalizations, pic will have minimal appeal to auds only vaguely interested in Brazilian music.
Digital lensing by Jacques Cheuiche, Kaurismaki’s lenser for nearly all his Brazilian projects, is exquisitely sharp and richly colored. Use of a crane during some of the perfs allows the camera to swoop in time to the music, at one point moving in one shot from a street scene outside a window up to the roof of club. Sound by Uwe Dresch, recorded on 24-track rigs, is as crisp as melba toast.