One of the delights of this year´s Rio de Janeiro film festival was to my surprise not a film from Brazil but a movie about Brazilians made in London of all places called That Samba Thing written, directed and co-produced by American filmmaker Teddy Hayes.
Like most journalists I was sceptical. I was thinking "What does London know about Samba?... and how can someone have the nerve to bring a movie about samba to Rio of all places", but I am the first to say that not only was I pleasantly surprised, I was really astounded by both the artistic design as well as the world wide commercial potential of the movie.
The movie tells five different stories about Londoners and Brazilians living in London a few weeks leading up to London´s Notting Hill Carnival. The two most engaging stories are those of Antonio and Carlos and Emma and Paul. Antonio (Saul Reichlin) is a sick elderly Brazilian man who never realized his dream as a samba composer who decides to make amends by handing the torch to the adolescent Carlos (Andrew Miles) who has dreams of becoming a samba singer.
Catherine Dennard lights up the screen with her heart felt portrayal of Emma, a sensitive woman over burdened by the responsibilities of being a single mother to Carlos, managing a samba club, and struggling to deal with a hurtful and dead end relationship with her dead beat boyfriend Paul (Christophrous Panoutsous). Stepping in to add weight and soul to this story is veteran English actor Joseph Marcell (best known for his role as Geoffrey the butler on the American TV series Fresh Prince of Bel Air).
Other performances that shine through are those by John Elnaugh who only appears in a few scenes but brings a chilling realism to the screen as "Mike the Loan Shark" and Brazilian actors Laura Tavares and Claudia Balducci who poignantly play two illegal Brazilian immigrants being hounded by a crazed English immigration agent (Andrew Smith).
To bring musical authenticity to the movie, Brazilian samba legend Martinho da Vila was called in to lend a deft hand. Da Vila´s voice and music sparkles as his hit songs like "So Delicious" and "Segure Tudo" play behind scenes making the visuals shine with a resonating life. He then gives an onscreen club performance which takes the movie to another level.
Independently produced, skilfully written and sensitively directed That Samba Thing was a jewel in the crown of the 2007 Rio film festival.