Steppin' Into The Screen | Cesária Évora
Updated: May 18
The documentary entitled Cesária Évora, needs no other name to explain the importance of this woman. A name that put cape verde on the map, and a women who was heralded as the ‘closest thing we have to god’ by one of her admirers. This is a tale of a woman who was completely oblivious to her own excellence.
Presented by Steppin' Into Tomorrow & Africadelic at Melkweg Amsterdam on May 17th, with a live musical introduction by Lena Évora and Toy Vieira - get your tickets here!
In one of the opening sections of the documentary she states that she ‘became convinced that (she) was a real singer’. A ridiculous claim when you hear the celestial voice of one of the greatest artists of her generation. The inability for her to recognise her own talent is something we see in the documentary as sad but also in ways comforting, as from the beginning to the end of her life she stays truly authentic to herself.
Lisbon based director, producer and journalist Ana Sofia Fonseca biography puts a strong emphasis on the ability of her stories to make audiences reflect on their own role in the world. Having only directed one other documentary, you might wonder how a documentary that tells Cesária's personal story is able to make such a connection with an audience. Well, what we see in her story is an incredibly unique approach to life, which could be a fable in itself.
The documentary starts with Cesária joking about the worth of her feet. A part of her body that she was known for, her first album was even titled ‘la diva aux pieds nus’ (the barefoot diva) which in my eyes is only half true. Almost always on stage barefoot because of warts on her feet, the raw connection of her feet to the floor is an image that characterises her entirely. From being incredibly grounded and down to earth, to never being able to escape her situation of internal poverty, it is constantly repeated in the film that 'in her mind she remained poor'.
The documentary is incredibly heartwarming in the way it tells the story of Cesária's rise to fame, and relationship with her celebrity status. Anecdotes of her giving away money to cafes in Cape Verde, buying out butchers stock and telling them to go home early. A moment in the documentary which really shows her uncomplicated outlook on the world is when she is being interviewed and is asked about what she expects from life she replies; ‘health, a house to live in, a car, and some money to live on’.
Fonseca's documentary, shows Cesária in many different lights, from a distressed person who locked herself in a house for 11 years, fierce independent woman who was the head of her family, and a star who uses alcohol to persuade her of her own brilliance. The documentary is made using mainly archival footage, and edited together in away where you as a spectator even forget her grandeur. She has a nonchalant way of carrying herself around cities that marvel her as one of the greatest talents of the century, and it's hard to tell sometimes whether she is dancing, or uncomfortably walking because of the problems she has with her feet. Scenes of shopping at second hand markets, mixed with Bonnie Raitt hallowing in her presence, the depiction of her fame and fortune is puzzling.
The documentary not only depicts Cesária's relationship with fame, but also the importance of the music she makes. The song Sodade is about Cape Verdians who were contracted to go to Sao Tome and got the whole world singing about one of the worst moments in Cape Verdean history. Something that had never been done before.
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