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Steppin' Into The Screen | Miúcha - The Voice of Bossa Nova

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

This filmic pastiche of Miúcha’s life, a collage of letters and photos, playful watercolours and emotional artefacts provides the perfect documentary for the birth of Bossa Nova from the female perspective.

We'll be screening 'Miúcha - The Voice of Bossa Nova' on February 15th at Melkweg, Amsterdam. Tickets are for sale here.

Miúcha - The Voice of Bossa Nova poetically depicts the birth of the late 1950s samba sub-genre, steering away from the classic documentarian style and blowing a breath of Brazilian oceanic breeze my way as the viewer. Uncovering a treasure chest of artefacts such as letters, diary entries and flowing watercolour illustrations by Heloïsa Buarque de Hollanda, performance name Miúcha, director Daniel Zarvos bleeds subjectivity into this film rather than objectivity.

Like uncovering your grandmother’s dusty photo album or scrapbook, we begin with faded faces of joy, scrawling against the imagery giving us a time and a place, 1963 Paris, we later find out, a birthplace for Bossa Nova in the world of Miúcha. But the movement does not stop there, going from Brazil to London to New York. Miúcha’s wanderlust provides the perfect visual landscape with passport photos, travel forms and written letters dancing across your eyes.

A diary entry voiceover pours out about her parents disapproval for her passion and dreams to perform on stage, particularly her mother, who didn’t believe that performing was an art form at all “she used to say that ‘exposing yourself’ on stage was forbidden and ugly”. As a child she got polio, yet she became independent and unashamed. “I would go down the stairs with ease”, her parents were upset and considered it an embarrassment to the family “When guests arrived, I would be rushed to bed and covered up to my chin.” As Miúcha gained strength and fell further in love with singing, her parents continued to disparage this passion. So adamant on deterring her, one day her Mother took our heroine to see Edith Piaf when she visited Sao Paolo, “hoping that I’d give up my interest in singing”.

Her descriptions of being on stage for the first time with Vinicius (a family friend) are visceral “standing in the dark, bright lights on my face, with an incredible feeling of stepping into a different world. It was like a revelation, a miracle. At that moment, I felt irremediably like a singer”. This poetry is what makes this documentary stand out from so many others, the focus is teared away from fact checking and instead hones in on emotion and experience. Nevertheless I will provide some simple facts; Bossa Nova took over at the end of the 1950s and hip-swayed its way straight into the 1960. The film provides this cheesy yet delightful footage of women in bikinis singing like sirens across Copacabana beach, swooned by Brazilian crooners in sailors' turtlenecks. It sets the historical scene in all its camp-ness.

João Gilberto is famously known to be the man who originally adapted the Bossa Nova beat from classic samba, but what I enjoy so much about the film is the take on the underdog, the disregarded, essentially the feminist perspective in a 1960s reality. I decided to do a spot of “Bossa Nova” googling to see whether Miúcha would be mentioned at all, but alas nothing. In Paris, 1963, she met João Gilberto in a club; they fell giddily in love. He discovered her and immediately wanted to share her with the world, introducing her to influential friends like Violeta Parra, her diary entries reminisced about beautiful moments over fondue, taxi cab cuddles and their adventures together in the Parisian haze. As fast as their romantic relationship formulated, it broke down soon after as Miúcha became the problem solver for João, a particularly tiring role for her. He would find something wrong with performing constantly, we see a scene in rehearsal where he’s complaining about the sound, expecting Miúcha to fix it all “I feel as depressed and tired as if I were 200 years old.”

Her dreams of becoming a performer are overridden by João and his prima donna mentality “I put up with him torturing me, picturing myself as the martyr of Bossa Nova, believing that’s my contribution to the creation of this album”.

These diary entries and letters to home are crushing to hear, revealing the inner workings of a performer stuck in the role of a housewife “I think I’m going crazy from the inside, very slowly so as not to make any noise, while on the outside I smile and continue to comb my hair”.

In 1972 they moved to New York together and yet they began to separate as a couple. New York brought out the strength in Miúcha, an ability to believe in herself as a guitarist “I used to play quietly, so that nobody would notice my mistakes. Now I see how easy it is to learn some songs without any mistakes, to play louder, have fun with some crazy chords and with a voice, a real voice, playing in between them” João becomes a bully, taunting her skills, leaving her locked up in the house and patronising her with the name “maestro”.

I’m going to leave this harrowing tale here and leave you on tenterhooks - what happens to our beloved Bossa Nova Heroine? Will she perform once more? Will she leave João Gilberto? Will she be recognised as the voice of Bossa Nova? Call it a cliffhanger if you will. All these answers and more can be revealed at our Melkweg screening of Miúcha - The Voice of Bossa Nova on the 18th of January. I am rating this film as NM, Nearly Mint (check the Film Condition Board below) as it is visually and emotionally stunning. This filmic pastiche of Miúcha’s life, a collage of letters and photos, playful watercolours and emotional artifacts provides the perfect documentary for the birth of Bossa Nova from the female perspective.


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James Brown
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