31 January 2009

SAUDADE DO FUTURO - film review

        "Saudade" is a Brazilian Portuguese word difficult to translate into English. It is a longing, missing or nostalgia, often bittersweet. "Saudade do Futuro" roughly means "Longing for the Future."

        This 2000 documentary film centers on the lives of nordestinos (people from the northeast of Brazil) who have migrated to São Paulo, a city of 16 million, looking for a better future. Most nordestinos are thought of as unwelcome hillbillies who ought to stay in the Northeast growing potatoes in the drought-prone sertão (hinterland). Some are successful in São Paulo, including Dona Erundina who became mayor (1989-1992) and Emanoel Araujo, an internationally-known sculptor who is a respected member of São Paulo's art scene. Many end up as street vendors, laborers, or the musicians who are the heart and soul of this film.

        Clearly related to rap, the musical style called "repente" that evolved from African rhythms, is featured in this film. 
        Repentistas tap out music on tambourines, guitars, flutes, or drums while improvising verses, often saudades for the simpler life in the Northeast, the hardships of the big city, or humorous (& often sexually suggestive) insults hurled at each other or audience members who gather to listen and donate money. One family group, Banda da Pifanos, started in 1924. The oldest members of the multigenerational ensemble recall being forced to play for Lampião, a notorious bandit who roamed the Northeast with 50 to 100 followers in the 1920’s and 30’s.
        Interspersed between the music are everyday nordestinos who work long hours at mundane jobs for little pay in São Paulo. Their lives are enriched by their social events, dancing, and the repente music which is both humorous and a celebration of their lives.

        I lived in the Northeast of Brazil in the late 60's. I saw, in the varied nordestinos of this film, the faces I had lived with every day during my time there. The faces are filled with the combination of despair, optimism, and humor that creates the wonderful improvised music that infests the film with rhythmic beats that are uniquely Brazilian. There is no narration. The characters tell their own stories through words or verses. The stunning photography of bustling São Paulo makes New York traffic look like a rural joy ride. The film may not be for everyone, but for those who would enjoy seeing a unique slice of Brazilian life, it is “maravilhoso!” 

Portuguese with English subtitles.

Sample verses:

          São Paulo may thrill you
          but its sadness can kill you
          some have a tear in their eyes
          others stifle their cries
          some live in fine villas
          other suffer in favelas

                         the mason from the Nordeste
                         slaves away with no rest
                         builds pools and mansions
                         embellished like gardens
                         but he and his own
                         have no roof to call home

                                        to this city we come
                                        and end up in a slum
                                        we build lovely villas
                                        with door and windows
                                        but once we've painted the place
                                        they slam the door in our face

Update 2/04/09: This post was chosen as the Featured Post of the Week at WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS. Thanks, Contest Chris. Click on the link to join his Worth a Thousand Words Contest.


  1. Ah saudade. Conheco esta palavra. Eu tenho grandes saudades de Lisboa!

  2. thanks for giving review about "Saudade".. it gave the feeling of being in the theater..

  3. Your BLOG is simply awesome.

    I just signed up to follow. Please follow mine as well and keep me posted for "New Posts". You are an extrememly interesting person. My husband's family is originally from Portugal. Now they are all over, London, Cyprus and Spain.

  4. That was a spectacular post! In fact, it is the Featured Post over at Worth a Thousand Words.