Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 14, 2013 2:16 am 
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Arty visuals detract from the work of a superb Brazilian musician: good sound though

The celebrated singer-songwriter Jards Macalé is in the recording studio where director Eryk Rocha captures him in a wide variety of poses and states of creating, imaginatively varying style and shooting formats. Fashioning an intimately attuned portrait of an artist, Rocha uses his camera as an instrument to riff with Jards in a poetic exchange between images and music. The repetitive, time-stopping process of rehearsal and the flow of energy between the two art forms create an elegiac vision of the creativity of some of Brazil’s most beloved singers and musicians. The movie won the prize for best direction at the International Rio Festival in 2012.

Other than the above semi-promotional information, I have little to tell about Jards Jacaré. Even his Brazilian Wikipedia article is short on dates and details. What is clear is that he was recognized by and played with Gaetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, among other Brazilian musical greats early on, starting around 1970, when Jards (the nickname Jacaré given him early from a soccer team's worst player) also associated with writers and poets. An article calls him Brazil's musical "secret weapon," which may mean he's under-recognized even at home. It's also said that he has shied away from Brazilian musical "tropicalismo," feeling it had been too commercialized. If you like sophisticated Brazilian songs in the great modern tradition, with fine small musical accompaniment (including at times his own guitar or keyboard) and a soft, fuzzy jazzy vocal, this film will delight you. One only wishes there were more songs and that they'd begun sooner, rather than taking nearly fifteen minute of blurry image -- the camerawork is anything but high-tech -- of Jards walking on the street or on the beach, smoking cigarettes (to feed that pleasingly hoarse voice no doubt), and wandering into a recording studio. Several sessions with different musicians and a female vocalist are included, with no guidelines or information.

Jacques Brel's "Ne me quitte pas" is one song but mostly Jards seems to be singing his own material, the lyrics wonderfully offbeat sophisticated poetry, the sense that the musicians of various ages are all at the top of their game (and from different genres, but melded seamlessly), and at ease working together: in short, an ideal recording situation.

Evidently Eryk Rocha was responding to an invitation from Jards, and the occasion was the recording of a new album that took place in 2011. The camerawork mostly just seems clumsy and misguidedly "artistic." It's very heavy on the often out of focus extreme closeup. If you like doing a dental or throat exam of a singer while listening to his song, these visuals are for you. Occasionally some abstract images are handsome, but in context that seems almost accidental. The sound recording fortunately is excellent and Rocha made a wise decision in choosing to focus primarily on the music, avoiding interviews and keeping spoken words to a minimum. Maybe it's not a wholly bad idea to take the unusual step of not showing the musical instruments or hands and focusing only on faces, thus putting the music and the personalities first. One just wishes for better lenses and camerawork. Some are explained as being grainy Super8 negatives from Jards' own personal collection. Well.... With an artist of this caliber a straightforward approach would have been just fine. Let the man's work speak for itself, and let's have a more intimate view of how he works. What this does do is make one want to hear more of Jards Jacaré's recordings. If other ones have this kind of jazzy, smart vocal and lush instrumentation, with that unique Brazilian percussion (including cuica), time spent learning more about this singer-songwriter would be well spent.

Jards, 93 mins., debuted at the Rio de Janeiro Festival, as noted above. There is nothing about it on IMDb, though if one searches online and is patient in using Google Translate one can find reviews of the film, at least one of which, by Juliano Gomez in Cinética, would appear to support my own view that the arty visual approach was unnecessary, even detrimental in presenting the work of such a first-rate musician. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films, March 20-31, 2013.

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