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.



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

  • Nina Wu Midi Z Un Certain

    Midi Z on Cannes Title 'Nina Wu': 'I’m Aiming for a New Cinematic Language'

    Taiwan-based director Midi Z has become a star of the art-house scene in Asia. The appearance of his film “Nina Wu” in Un Certain Regard in Cannes – already getting strong buzz ahead of its screening Tuesday – is the highest-profile festival berth for the helmer and for lead actress Wu Ke-xi, who recently signed [...]

  • Detective Pikachu Tops Overseas Box Office,

    'Detective Pikachu' Repeats No. 1 at International Box Office

    Warner Bros. and Legendary’s “Detective Pikachu” remained the top film at the international box office for the second weekend in a row, amassing $53.8 million from 72 foreign markets. The Pokemon adaptation, featuring the voice of Ryan Reynolds, is nearing the $200 million mark overseas. It has currently earned $193.4 million abroad, taking its worldwide [...]

  • Medienboard Fetes Its Five Films in

    Medienboard Fetes Its Five Films in Cannes Film Festival

    Pictured: “Little Joe” director Jessica Hausner, Martin Gschlacht, one of the film’s producers, Kirsten Niehuus, with director-producer Cordula Kablitz-Post. Berlin funding agency Medienboard’s managing director Kirsten Niehuus hosted a cocktail reception on Saturday at Grand Hotel in Cannes to celebrate the five films it funded that feature in the festival program. The five films are [...]

  • Radegund

    Cannes Film Review: 'A Hidden Life'

    There are no battlefields in Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” — only those of wheat — no concentration-camp horrors, no dramatic midnight raids. But make no mistake: This is a war movie; it’s just that the fight shown raging here is an internal one, between a Christian and his conscience. A refulgent return to form [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    Box Office: 'John Wick 3' Knocks Down 'Avengers: Endgame' With $57 Million Debut

    Earth’s Mightiest Heroes put up a good fight, but John Wick put at end to the three-week box office reign of “Avengers: Endgame.” Propelled by positive reviews, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” beat expectations with a debut of $57 million from 3,850 North American locations. That was enough to nab the box office crown [...]

  • Game of Thrones Cast

    What's Next for 'Game of Thrones'' Cast Members

    Eight years and eight seasons later, the “Game of Thrones” cast finally has some downtime to relax or move onto other projects. Some stars, like Kit Harington, who told Variety that he doesn’t plan on taking another role as physically demanding as Jon Snow, certainly deserve a break, but others have wasted no time getting back on [...]

  • MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r)

    Submissions Now Welcome for Third 'Meet the Press' Film Festival

    Chuck Todd’s quest to bring “Meet the Press” to the movies continues. The third annual Meet the Press Film Festival, held in collaboration with the American Film Institute, will take place on October 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., and remains a haven for issue-focused documentary shorts. Todd believes the event serves a critical mission: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content