The stories that can be gleaned from the rough and tumble streets of Brazil are seemingly endless -- but that's not a bad thing. It seems as though ever since Fernando Meirelles' masterful City of God hit the States, the appetite for tales of youth corrupted and overcoming tremendous obstacles has been near insatiable. (Incidentally, Meirelles is listed as a co-producer here.) Antonia, an inspirational film by director/co-writer/producer Tata Amaral focused on four young women from the outskirts of Sao Paulo, is the latest to blend gritty reality and time-tested Hollywood narrative to impressive effect.
A blurb on the DVD case pegs Antonia as a Brazilian riff on Dreamgirls, which is a bit reductive, since Dreamgirls traffics in a kind of by-the-numbers gloss that's wholly absent from Amaral's film (she co-wrote the screenplay with Roberto Moreira). Preta (Negra Li), Lena (Cindy Mendes), Barbarah (Leilah Moreno) and Mayah (Quelynah) are a quartet of talented vocalists who are growing restless simply providing back-up vocals for boastful rappers. Inspired to strike out on their own, the four women rehearse and take on an agent, but all too soon, violence and jealousy tear at the fabric of the foursome, threatening to destroy all that they've worked for. Much of this is standard melodramatic stuff, but spiced with a specific, cultural energy (owing to the Brazilian setting) and even allowed to expand slightly, in a TV series of the same name (according to IMDb, the series was in production -- with the exact same cast -- simultaneously with the film).
While Antonia hits a lot of the expected buttons, tracing an all-too-familiar path from inexperience to budding stardom, it doesn't overstay its welcome, or linger too long upon all of the myriad pitfalls along the way. It's largely because of the cast's charisma and Amaral's (mostly) light touch that Antonia feels as fresh and compelling as it is. Amaral's film -- and I'd be intrigued to see how this material was treated in its longer-form TV counterpart -- breaks little new ground, but there is a giddy energy pulsing beneath every frame. The DVD
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is rough -- but that's by design. The film's pungent mise-en-scene demands a ragged, casual style and that's precisely what cinematographer Jacob Sarmento Solitrenick delivers. There's lots of grain and softness, but the image is always vibrant and saturated, while the black levels are solid throughout. A passable transfer of doubtless problematic source material. The Audio:
Vivid and enveloping, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track thumps, throbs and brings the flavorful Brazilian music to life, lending a palpable sense of energy to an admittedly electric film. The dialogue sometimes collapses into so much sonic mush, but that's more by design than by any fault of the soundtrack. A Dolby 2.0 stereo track is on board, as are optional English subtitles. The Extras:
Definitely on the skimpy side -- the 27 minute, 24 second featurette "Making of 'Antonia'," details the production's genesis and execution, with a six minute, 17 second "Hyldon" music video and the film's theatrical trailer completing the disc. Final Thoughts:
A musical drama about four talented, young Brazilian vocalists, Antonia hits a lot of the expected buttons, tracing an all too familiar path from inexperience to budding stardom, with all of the myriad pitfalls along the way. It's because of the cast's charisma and director/co-writer/producer Tata Amaral's (mostly) light touch that Antonia feels as fresh and compelling as it is. Recommended.