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Rio, Zona Norte 1957

Setting up the gracefully jarring dichotomies that disrupt dos Santos’ otherwise “traditional” film, the opening credit montage features the discovery of a body on the train tracks while a cookie-cutter Hollywood soundtrack idly plays. The injured man is Espírito da Luz Cardoso (literally “Spirit of the Light”), a struggling composer whose sambas unite and uplift the marginalized Brazilian people in his midst. Based on the life of composer Zé Keti – who actually appears in the film as the popular singer Alaor – Espírito’s story unfolds through flashbacks which overflow luxuriously with song, yet also expose the manifold divisions within Rio’s social strata. A victim of exploitive businessmen who suck the life out of his music, Espírito witnesses each of his dreams dashed one at a time by unrelenting tragedy. - Harvard Film Archive

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