Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Janeiro in New York: Wandering Heart

Arguably the greatest figure of the Tropic├ília musical revolution, many sides of Caetano Veloso have been presented on film. He appeared as the romantic balladeer performing in Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her. Often times, he is presented as an icon of artistic conscience or simply the spiritual godfather of Brazilian music in general, as in films like Carlos Saura’s Fados. However, director Fernando Grostein Andrade offers a different perspective on Veloso, capturing the musician-vocalist’s laidback sense of humor in Wandering Heart, which screens Wednesday as the first of three Brazilian music documentaries in Cinema Tropical’s Janeiro in New York film series at the 92 Y Tribeca.

Loosely structured, Heart essentially follows Veloso during the American media campaign for his first English language album, and his subsequent tour of Japan, where he seems to have remarkably photogenic fans. As a result, the audience gets to hear some of his renditions of American popular song (like the Berlin standard “Blue Skies”) in addition to his traditional favorites.

Veloso’s fans know him as a charismatic performer, but they might be surprised how funny he is in private. Sometimes he even cracks himself up, as when he tells a Lady Di anecdote that is incomprehensible due to his giggling. Still, the music heard throughout Heart is of the consistent high quality his listeners will expect.

While Andrade by-and-large paints a portrait of an artist living the good life, late in the film he includes Veloso’s oblique references to his personal tragedies, which add considerable context to the musician’s apparent happy-go-lucky attitude. Ultimately, Veloso emerges as a genuinely likable individual, joking with fans and laughing off criticism, secure in his estimable place in the Brazilian music scene.

Though Heart’s running time barely exceeds one hour, Andrade uses nearly every second. Viewers should be advised to stay through the entire final credits, because they are liberally interspersed with further candid footage and a brief but complete performance.

Heart is an entertaining profile of Veloso that should please longtime fans and intrigue new listeners. Refreshingly, he comes across like a person who would be fun to hang with—youthful in his sixty-six years, despite his arrest and period of exile during the years of the military regime. It should be a crowd pleaser this Wednesday (9/23), when it kicks-off Janeiro in New York.