“Saravah” by Pierre Barouh, a sublime document on Brazilian music

In the foreground, saxophonist Pixinguinha and guitarist Baden Powell, in the documentary “Saravah” by Pierre Barouh. ARIZONA DISTRIBUTION


There are films that do a world of good, like a photo resurfacing from the past that manages not to freeze anything, just returning a few flashes of a perfect moment. These magical moments, in the company of Brazilian musicians and singers, Pierre Barouh (1934-2016) captured them in sharavah (1969), his first feature film shot on location during the Rio carnival in the winter of 1969. For about fifty years, the film was shown “wildly” and was not released in theaters until it was restored very recently.

The title also refers to the music label of the same name that the singer and lyricist Barouh created in 1966, introducing Jacques Higelin, Brigitte Fontaine, etc. Let’s add that he is the author of the essential Chabad (to music by Francis Lai) which immortalized the film A man and a woman (1966), by Claude Lelouch, and The bicycle, performed in 1968 by Yves Montand.

The first shot of the film sets us ablaze, with images of samba dancers drunk with happiness, set to the ultra-melancholic song Samba Saravahwritten by the poet and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes, of which Pierre Barouh had made a French adaptation, with Baden Powell on guitar. A way of showing that the carnival acts as a safety valve for Brazilian society, then under the grip of the dictatorship since 1964. In voice-over, Pierre Barouh sings quietly and tells us a few words about the roots of the samba: “I was told that it came from Bahia/ that it owes its rhythm and poetry/ to centuries of dances and pain…”

Document brut

Without transition, in the film, we discover on a terrace Pierre Barouh, face of a young leading man, evoking with the guitarist Baden Powell (1937-2000) the African origins of Brazilian music. Like the bewitching Yemanja’s Songwhich the fabulous musician starts playing immediately. And the whole film is thus discovered, in improvisation, in the company of emerging legends (Maria Bethânia, Paulinho da Viola) and already mythical artists, such as the flautist and saxophonist Pixinguinha (1897-1973) and the singer and composer Joao da Baiana (1887-1974). You just have to let yourself be carried away, in this work which is more of a raw document than a documentary.

The camera slips between the instruments, picks up a few details, the elegance of Joao da Baiana, the immaculate linen pants, falling (in time) over the two-tone shoes, and his agility in scratching the rhythm on a plate with a knife… at the table! Here is Pierre Barouh, bare-chested, like the guitarist, composer and singer Paulinho da Viola: here is the Frenchman sitting in a restaurant overlooking a beach with all his friends. In front of him, the filmmaker has the most beautiful view, the singer Maria Bethânia, red strapless dress and shell bracelet. When she sings, her hands frame her face, like two small lights illuminating the eyes…

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