This review was written for the festival screening of "Antonia." 

Coracao da Selva/02 Filmes/Globo Filmes

"Antonia" is as high-spirited and toe-tapping as it is dramatic in its examination of the lives of four young black women in the poor outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Unlike many such women, though, these four are loaded with musical talent, enough to form a rap group that is about to take off when it runs into the obstacles of jealousy, sexism and violence.

But these women are fighters, so an infectious, feisty mood overwhelms all circumstances that conspire against their collective dream. A vibrant festival film, "Antonia" could carve out a niche for itself in domestic specialty markets thanks to a great soundtrack.

Friends since childhood in their neighborhood of Brasilandia, the girls provide backup vocals for male rappers. When they prevail upon the guys to let them open a concert with one of their songs, the all-girl group wins over an unruly crowd with talent and beauty. Plus, a savvy musical manager (Thaide) catches the act and realizes their potential.

Difficulties hit immediately. Preta (Negra Li) sees Mayah (Quelynah) talking with her philandering boyfriend and kicks her out of the band. Lena (Cindy) gets pregnant and makes a deal with the reluctant father to give up singing in ex-change for his marrying her. Barbarah (Leilah Moreno), the one girl of mixed blood, seeks revenge for the savage beating of her gay brother and winds up in prison on a manslaughter charge. But Antonia, as the group calls itself, refuses to die.

The four leads come from the Sao Paulo musical scene, so the music is hot. Under the direction of Sao Paulo native Tata Amaral, the women prove remarkably resourceful actresses as well as terrific performers. In the third movie of her trilogy about female archetypes, Amaral views her female characters as warriors without sacrificing their femininity. The movie, ably written by Amaral and Roberto Moreira, very smoothly makes room for intense, emotional drama about friendships, loyalty and hardships while leaving plenty of time for stirring musical numbers.