Saturday, July 19, 2008

Premiere Brazil: Out of Tune

While the Bossa Nova rhythm swung gently and politely, there was a fair amount of turmoil in Brazil during its heyday. Over the same period, there is also a fair amount of personal drama for Os Desafinados, the fictional Bossa band portrayed in Walter Lima, Jr.’s film of the same name, translated in English as Out of Tune (trailer here), which recently opened MoMA’s annual Premiere Brazil series.

Told in Eddie and the Cruisers style flashbacks, the surviving members of Os Desafinados look back on their almost glory years as their old filmmaker friend shoots a tribute to Glória, the band’s sometime vocalist and flashpoint for jealous sexual tensions. In this case, Yoko Ono was the Girl from Ipanema.

As Tune opens, the band is determined to land a spot in the historic Carnegie Hall concert that featured Bossa Nova greats like Tom Jobim and Luiz Bonfá. Although they nail the audition, four guys without a female vocalist are not considered sexy enough for the show, but they do sell a tune to the American promoter. This is encouragement enough for them to fly off to New York on spec, where they do indeed find their vocalist, Glória, a Brazilian expat, who opens her apartment up to Fab Four and Dico the filmmaker.

Joaquim meet-cutes Glória in Central Park, joining in with her as she practices the sounds of home on her flute (cheesy, but there’s certainly been worse offenders). It’s the early 1960’s, so she takes the whole band into her home and Joachim into her bed. The only problem with their idyllic arrangement is Luiza, the loyal (and very pregnant) girlfriend waiting for Joachim back in Brazil.

Though unaccustomed to New York weather, the band hits the City hard, sitting in at the Village Vanguard. (It looks like they were able to film the Vanguard’s famous red door and awning, but not inside the famous club.) Throughout the film, Wagner Tiso’s soundtrack perfectly captures the spirit of the time. Given the band’s name one would expect to hear a good deal of Jobim, and indeed they play classics like “Meditação” and of course “Desafinado.”

However, when it comes to melodrama, Tune is generous to a fault. While the characters of Joachim and Glória have some fine musical moments, the charms of all three sides of the romantic triangle are frankly suspect, which is kind of a drawback to the film. Jair Oliveira as the bassist Geraldo probably comes across as the member of Os Desafinados who would be easiest to hang with. Conversely, Rodrigo Santoro’s petulant Joachim is real hard to invest in emotionally.

At least the production design of Tune is absolutely perfect, from the artfully produced musical scenes to the hopefully intentionally hilarious clips of the leftist protest film Dico smuggles out of Brazil to the Moscow Film Festival. Despite the melodrama of its annoying characters, Tune is a breezy, entertaining film confirmed Bossa fans should get a kick out of. It screens again at MoMA Sunday the 27th.