Like Frederick Wiseman, 1930s-born Brazilian docu filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho ("Twenty Years Later," "Master Building," "Playing") quietly keeps churning out one strong film after another.

With: Dea, Gilmar, Esmeralda, Jose Barbosa, Sonia, Nilton, Isabell, Zio, Jose, Lidia, Fatima, Ramon, Maria de Fatima, Maria Aparecida.

Like Frederick Wiseman, 1930s-born Brazilian docu filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho (“Twenty Years Later,” “Master Building,” “Playing”) quietly keeps churning out one strong film after another. His latest, “Songs,” is again a deceptively straightforward feature, and looks at such wide-ranging subjects as human nature, diversity and the power and importance of music and love by simply asking a group of Rio de Janeiro inhabitants to talk about their favorite Brazilian song. The result is, to put it simply, lyrical. After its Rio preem, the pic will launch internationally at IDFA, as part of a Coutinho mini-retrospective.

Though the 78-year-old Coutinho has also directed fiction films, co-written screenplays and occasionally worked as an actor (recently in “From Beginning to End”), since the late 1990s, the prolific director has mainly focused on documentaries. His apparently nonchalant style, with its roots in TV reporting, has now become so loose that Coutinho almost seems to stumble upon fabulous people and stories, though in reality they are the result of careful research and selection.

For “Songs,” an initial group of 237 potential interviewees, found by placing ads in newspapers and recruiting people in the streets, resulted in 42 filmed interviews, though only 18 finally appear onscreen. Each person has about five minutes to sing a bit of his or her favorite tune, a capella, and explain why that song is important to them.

The simplicity of the idea is echoed in the backdrop, which consists of a stage with a single chair and black curtains lit by a spotlight. During the interviews, people are framed in medium closeups, though a wider shot at the beginning or end of a scene might show off something of the subject’s personality, through body language, as he or she enters or leaves the stage.

The choices of songs, all Brazilian, might be unfamiliar for foreign viewers, but the stories behind them are universally recognizable. Widower Gilmar, an emotional man, performs a song his seamstress mother used to sing when he was a boy. Stalkerish Sonia still can’t get over her first love three decades later, while German Isabell, who came to Rio to marry a Brazilian who then left her, finds both revenge and peace in a (heavily accented) samba song. Lidia tried to shoot her lover, while Zio mourns the loss of his three “mothers”: his real mom, wife and mother-in-law, who all died in the same year.

Most of the interviewees — diverse in age and background, and only identified onscreen by their first names — choose songs they must have picked up on the radio, though Zio has written his own.

A special case is one of the film’s most unforgettable protags, the lively Dea, who’s convinced that the wrong date was put on her birth certificate because she doesn’t feel like someone who was born in 1928. She sings a tune from the king of Brazilian music, Roberto Carlos, which she once sang with him, adding mischievously: “He was married at the time.”

Popping up throughout are recurring themes of love, loss and desire, all complex emotions that are also the subjects of many tunes. The brilliance of Coutinho’s conceit is that he sets out to demonstrate that people often turn to song when words can’t express how they feel, but he shows this by letting people talk about the emotions that inspired their song of choice.

Tech package is modest but classy. Pic was produced by VideoFilmes, the company of helmer Fernando Meirelles.

Popular on Variety



Production: A VideoFilmes presentation and production. Produced by Joao Moreira Salles, Mauricio Andrade Ramos. Directed, written by Eduardo Coutinho.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Jacques Cheuiche; editor, Jordana Berg; sound, Valeria Ferro; assistant director, Ernesto Piccolo. Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (competing), Oct. 13, 2011. (In Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam -- competing.) Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Dea, Gilmar, Esmeralda, Jose Barbosa, Sonia, Nilton, Isabell, Zio, Jose, Lidia, Fatima, Ramon, Maria de Fatima, Maria Aparecida.

More Film

  • Joker Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: Villains Face Off Again as 'Joker' and 'Maleficent' Battle for First Place

    Despite three new nationwide releases, domestic box office charts look to be dominated by holdovers — Warner Bros.’ “Joker” and Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” — during the last weekend in October. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted last weekend with $36 million in North America, enough to dethrone “Joker” after the super-villain origin story’s back-to-back [...]

  • Yasushi Shiina

    Tokyo Market is Finding New Strengths, Says Yasushi Shiina

    Clouds on the global economic horizon and disruption to the scheduling of the event, have done little to dampen the interest of foreign visitors to TIFFCOM, Japan’s biggest film and TV market. Especially those from China, says market head, Yasushi Shiina. The market is again running at the Sunshine City shopping, entertainment and business complex [...]

  • "Weathering With You" directed by Makoto

    Toho Unveils Dual Media Romance 'Love Me, Love Me Not' at Tokyo Market

    Japan’s biggest film company, which produces, distributes and exhibits its own product in partnership with leading media companies, Toho has brought a line-up to TIFFCOM full of present and future hits. The biggest is “Weathering with You,” the love story animation by Makoto Shinkai that surpassed the $100 million mark only a month after its [...]

  • Hit Me Anyone One More Time

    TIFFCOM: Pony Canyon Saddles up FujiTV's Smash 'Hit Me Anyone'

    One of Japan’s five major broadcast networks, Fuji TV has also been a pioneer and leader among the networks in feature film production. This year at TIFFCOM long-time partner Pony Canyon is representing Fuji TV films that have recently hit number one at the Japanese box office. Among the hottest, with three straight weeks atop [...]

  • Martin Scorsese Avengers

    Are Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola Right About Marvel? (Column)

    If you want to shoot holes in the comments that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola made recently about Marvel movies (Scorsese: “That’s not cinema”; Coppola: “Martin was being kind when he said it wasn’t cinema. He didn’t say it was despicable, which is what I say”), then go right ahead, because they’ve practically handed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content