New Internationalist

Saudade do Futuro

May 2002

directed by Marie-Clemence and Cesar Paes

This film reveals the sprawling, commercial city of São Paulo through the lives of Nordestino Repentistas: street-poets originally from the rural northeast of Brazil who come to make their living in the ‘wonder south’. Documentary-style, it brings the street culture to screen with humour and humanity, allowing the repentistas to speak (sing) for themselves. Having no obvious narrative, it’s more a collection of first-person stories from all kinds of people about being Nordestino in exile in São Paulo. But the street-singers with their spontaneous, improvised performances are the undeniable highlight of the film. Sparring, rhyming couplets move swiftly from stories of poverty and discrimination to jokes about the crew behind the cameras.

The film manages to be political without being didactic. At one point a repentista asks his audience: ‘Do you want to hear about the difference between rich and poor, between those who are beautiful and ugly? Or do you want me to insult you?’ Of course the crowd opt for a series of searingly funny and extremely crude insults.

Saudade is a virtually untranslatable Portuguese word: it translates variously as ‘desire’, ‘regret’, ‘nostalgia’, ‘memory’. And a ‘memory of the future’ is obviously a contradiction in terms. But the tensions in these different meanings reflect the deeper ambivalence that the Nordestinos express about their new home and community in exile: ‘I’ve a place down in Moco/ no window, door or patio/ so I come sing in the square/ for a future we can share’, is how one puts it.

Sophie Unwin

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 345 This column was published in the May 2002 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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