JIMFF 2012 Review - TROPICALIA

Seen at the 8th Jecheon International Music & Film Festival (JIMFF).

Ah nostalgia, what a curious beast it is. This documentary whisked me back to my college days when I was an avid music collector with a rather eclectic set of tastes. One of my favorite discoveries was Brazilian music from the late 1960s and early 70s, particularly the genre known as Tropicalia. All my favorite artists of that period, including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes and Tom Ze, feature prominently in this new documentary, which explores their revolutionary music and the impact it had on contemporaneous Brazilian society.
 
Making a music documentary is no simple task. In one sense as a music documentarian you are very fortunate to have an array of stellar songs at your fingertips. However, the danger is that the strength of your soundtrack can overwhelm the film. Tropicalia features a stunning soundtrack and though knowledgeable of this music scene I discovered many new gems as I watched it, this was a plus. Director Marcelo Machado does two things with his approach to his documentary. He tries to create a modern, flowing historical document and also attempts to match the liveliness and passion of the Tropicalia scene through the pace of his feature and his panache in the editing suite. His bag of montage tricks seems bottomless.
 
As novel an approach as it is and as skillful as he demonstrates himself as an editor, this technique also becomes the film's undoing. It is tiring and though visually interesting it eventually rings hollow. Not nearly as much is explored as is hinted at in the beginning. Ostensibly a journey through Brazil's contemporaneous culture and social fatigue through the anti-establishmentarian music of these musicians, Tropicalia instead winds up as a paean to these gods of early Brazilian rock. It revels in their cool and while it sometimes affords us a glimpse behind the façade, in those instances it quickly retreats back to its blistering tempo and fancy montages of cool, bygone rock stars.
 
Ultimately, Tropicalia is a mixed bag. It's a great reminder of the extraordinary Brazilian music of that period and works just as well as an introduction into that scene for the uninitiated but as a document of the music and society that promulgated it, it is lacking. All the more so when it hints at a depth that it never truly explores.
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