With direction of Lirio Ferreira and Hilton Lacerda, production of Clelia Bessa, and having in the cast Nelson Sargento, Nelson Motta and Marcos Paulo Simão, the film presents the life of Cartola (Angenor de Oliveira) who was a singer, composer and poet (1909-1980) in chronological order, beginning with the earliest developments of the samba in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Cartola is a key figure in the growth of the samba – one of the famous developments of Afro-Brazilian music that developed from Portuguese influence in Brazil. The film traces Cartola’s flamboyant and difficult life from these first performances to the organization of the samba schools, his emergence as a recognized composer, and the dramatic ups and downs of his late career.
The first samba school was Deixa Falar (Let Them Speak) and was organized by Cartola. Financial insecurity was a constant for Cartola, even after he was recognized. At one point, after early success he left Rio and became a mechanic, raising a family. Later, past middle age, he worked as a servant, although a celebrity.
The film uses many clips of his performances and draws from interviews with him. Cartola was a fit, thin, man whose face showed the wear and tear of his life. The early musicians playing samba often led risky lives, drinking heavily, occasionally using drugs, and playing all night. Cartola’s nose is disfigured from having started and yet not finishing plastic surgery. It often appears black in the film. He has a constant physical presence and seems to look the same age for much of his life.
His singing, even when he is at an advanced age, is moving. And when he sings, one listens to the words that come from his heart. Lush scenes from carnival in Rio also are frequently used. These beautiful scenes enforce the music which is a constant. The close-ups of some of the women dancers are particularly effective. Since clips from many films of the era are used, the viewer gets arresting period images of Rio, of run down apartment buildings and modern high rises, of well kept roads and stunning bridges and of city wide views.
Cartola had his first samba “LP” called “Cartola” only in 1974 when he was sixty-five years old. He was an inspiration to many famous singers throughout his life. Interviews with a number of these, such as Sergio Porto and Ishmael Silva are peppered throughout. Perhaps in-depth interviews with some of these individuals would have been more effective than having so many included. Their number does, however, show the strong influence Cartola had.
The documentary presents a soulful and important portrait of this important Brazilian composer. Throughout it is thoughtful and indeed sometimes is almost academic. An immense amount of information about Cartola is given. Never the less, his portrait evolves, clearly and strong, and the voice of this remarkable man is preserved for all of us.
*The film, released in 2007 get into our list of great Brazilian movies and/or documentaries.