An affectionate if pokey tribute-cum-love letter to the sublime musical art of bossa nova, vet helmer Walter Lima Jr.’s “Out of Tune” dramatizes the rocky course of Os Desafinados, a combo that hits its’60s stride, only to run afoul of Brazil’s political fortunes. Pic exercises a strong grasp of musicians’ aspirations and social realities, though the script’s over-elaborate flashback structure and melodramatic tendencies hold it back. Local May release will be boosted by star Rodrigo Santoro’s name, with some European club dates — more in fests than commercial theaters — to follow.
Lima, a still-active voice from the original Cinema Novo days of the ’60s, casts an eye back to the golden past from the sadder and wiser present. With co-writers Suzana Macedo and Elena Soarez, he crafts a pop-music biography superior to the recent “The Samba Poet” (profiling the prolific Noel Rosa), with dramatic stakes rising in the latter sections after a flat, lengthy intro and midsection.
Storytelling framework is a contempo TV look back at Os Desafinados, with help from filmmaker Dico (Selton Mello, from “Drained”), who once filmed and recorded the band’s every move. Lima uses Dico’s “film” to explore a period when Rio was just about to be discovered as a hotbed for a cool new jazz form — the first of its kind developed outside the U.S.
Unit consists of leader Joaquim (Santoro), co-leader Davi (Angelo Paes Leme), drummer Paolo Cesar (Andre Moraes) and bassist Geraldo (Jair de Oliveira), who impress Yank producer Leon (David Herman) with their lyrical approach. Leon uses the band for his own ends, but that doesn’t stop Os Desafinados from venturing to Gotham to make it big.
Pic has a curious inability to recapture the rich Rio vibe of the time — its best use of the town is as a backdrop for some interludes between Joaquim and wife Luiza (Alessandra Negrini, in a lovely, warm performance). It’s even more counter-intuitive that Lima manages to nail the New York jazz scene, via a solid sequence in the legendary Village Vanguard. Lenser Pedro Farkas brilliantly matches plentiful stock footage, so the blend of fiction and doc images is ideal.
Emotional tipping point is the guys’ discovery in Central Park of Brazilian exile singer Gloria (Claudia Abreu), who proves a powerful muse for the band and a love interest who drives a wedge between Joaquim and Davi. Some success is tasted, but, once back home, emotions curdle just as political events swerve violently during the brutal military coup. Drama reaches a powerful climax during a tribute concert that triggers Gloria’s creative breakdown.Sprawling sequences tend to go on a few beats too long, as if the film couldn’t resist stuffing in a few more details. Result, clocking in at nearly two hours and 20 minutes, including a rather predictable coda involving Joaquim’s now-adult son (also played by Santoro), saps pic of its dramatic potential.
Lima’s ensemble fits the material like a glove, with a striking Abreu and the always charismatic Santoro ensuring a solid center. Pic looks and sounds like a nicely made memory piece, with design and visual elements carefully chosen to match period requirements. Wagner Tiso’s new music is no match for the soundtrack’s bossa nova classics, some sung by the helmer’s talented daughter, Branca Lima.