Beyond Ipanema -- Film Review



AUSTIN -- The enduring cool of uncategorizable Brazilian music is deliciously, if incompletely, conveyed in "Beyond Ipanema," a doc with appeal for hipsters and nostalgists alike. Offering vintage concert footage, inspiring comeback stories and glimpses of tomorrow's stars, it should find an audience with the music lovers who have created a strong market for CD reissues by acts like Os Mutantes and Caetano Veloso.

Beginning with a brief but curiosity-stoking reconsideration of Carmen Miranda, filmmaker Guto Barra jumps quickly to the Tropicalia movement of the '60s, whose genre-hopping provocateurs inspired later musicians like Beck. This leap through time is the first instance of an odd structural tendency in the film, which follows neither chronology nor style as it introduces viewers to psychedelic rock bands, bossa nova swingers and sexy sambistas; Barra's motivation here may be unclear, but wherever he veers he finds interviewees who are both authoritative and enthusiastic.

Some viewers will wish for more technical information about the styles the film touches on -- the rhythms and origin of samba, the songwriters who created bossa nova, the way these genres were embraced on their home turf -- but Barra is much more thorough in recounting the way the music was embraced in the United States. Interviews with people like David Byrne (whose Luaka Bop compilations created a new audience for Brazilian artists in the '90s) and Arto Lindsay (who makes sense of connections between popular music and the avant-garde)chart the way a few crucial tastemakers revived the careers of artists who had in some cases completely given up on making a living playing music.

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Byrne and Lindsay are only some of the film's examples of Brazilian music's popularity in the artsier corners of Manhattan. While Barra offers ample interviews with originators like Veloso, Tom Ze and Gilberto Gil, it's clear that "Beyond Ipanema" for him means, almost exclusively, New York City -- from the East Village's Tropicalia in Furs record store to the gigs of Forro in the Dark and the teen samba ensemble that has sprouted in Harlem's Frederick Douglass Academy, it's almost tempting to wonder if Brazilian music has come to a standstill on its home turf and only flourishes in the Big Apple.

It would be tempting, that is, if Barra didn't cram the film's exciting final scenes with up-and-coming homegrown sounds like Rio de Janeiro's favela funk. By the time the credits roll, adventurous music lovers in the audience may have forgotten they had questions about the past and be itching to hunt down import CDs by bands they never knew existed.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival
Production company: Beyond Ipanema Films
Director: Guto Barra
Screenwriters: Guto Barra, Beco Dranoff
Producers: Beco Dranoff, Guto Barra
Director of photography: Artur Kummer
Music: Flavio Lemelle
Editors: Guto Barra, Lilka Hara
Sales agent: FiGa Films
No MPAA rating, 87 minutes