Judge William Lee used to do some scratching until his doctor said it would make the infection worse. Best to leave the rapping to the professionals and enjoy the sweet sounds of Antonia.
Oh, Antonia shines / Everyone can be Antonia / She is me / She is you
Antonia tells the story of four Brazilian women pursuing their dream of success on the hip hop and rap stage. Their devotion to their music and each other is tested by personal challenges and tragedy. If they can stay together, they'll stay true to their dream.
Facts of the Case
Four women living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil dream of escaping their poverty-stricken lives by making it as an all-female rap group. They call themselves Antonia because each of them had a grandfather named Antonio. Preta (Brazilian rap star Negra Li) leads the pack. Barbarah (R&B singer Leilah Morena) is the assertive girl who practices martial arts. And Lena and Mayah (played by Brazilian rappers Cindy and Quelynah, respectively) round out the foursome.
Their big break comes when they get a chance to be the opening act for a male rap group. Soon, they have a manager and gigs lined up. It seems like their dream in coming true, but life has a way of throwing a wrench in the works. Jealousy, violence and family pressures test each of the girls' loyalty to the group, threatening their friendship and dreams. If Antonia is to survive, the girls will have to find the strength to overcome these hurdles and decide what is important to them.
Our first glimpse of the members of Antonia is the foursome walking side-by-side up a steep hill from their poor neighborhood. This image of four young black women moving up in the world together is a beautiful visual reference for the theme of Antonia. Indeed, the movie is full of interesting visuals and pleasing sounds, but the storytelling doesn't quite measure up to its intentions.
The girls of Antonia have been biding their time as backup singers for a male rap group called Power. The boys recognize the girls' talent and let them open for Power at a concert. Their rap lyrics tell us they're strong women who can't be ignored. The successful performance attracts the attention of Marcelo Diamante (Thaide), an ever-smiling charismatic figure who wants to be their manager. But trouble appears just as soon as success when Preta suspects Mayah of making moves on her boyfriend. By the time they're ready to sign with Diamante, Antonia is a trio. Another crisis occurs when Lena finds out she is pregnant and decides to quit the group in order to keep the peace with her boyfriend. The four rapper-turned-actors each have a natural and confident presence on screen, but their characters' reactions to individual dilemmas undermine their credibility as strong-willed women. It's a man's world and these women aren't immune from seeking their approval: they need the help of the guys of Power to get their first break; when it seems like the dream is dead, Diamante provides them with inspiration. Where the girls do take charge, it's over emasculated men. Preta's father is a retired musician who never quite found success; Barbarah looks after her gay brother. Antonia is meant to be an inspiring tale of girls realizing their dream and an authentic look at the South American rap scene from a female perspective. While the details may be accurate, the drama suffers by moving through predictable rhythms.
If the girl-power rap of Antonia's first performance is a bit too earnest, viewers are still treated to some pleasant hip hop tunes over the course of the movie. Even when the girls cover the pop ballad "Killing Me Softly with His Song" at an engagement party, they deliver a controlled and soothing rendition. Each singer has a slightly different vocal range and they sound best when complementing each other. That is why it feels a little contrived when Diamante has no trouble finding more bookings for them even when members have dropped out. The movie sounds great in its 5.1 channel surround mix. The musical performances are nicely featured in a strong mix that preserves the acoustic space of the nightclubs and restaurants where the girls perform. Amid the crowded concrete buildings, the soundscape is filled with nice environmental sound effects that give life to the girls' Sao Paolo neighborhood beyond the frame of the camera.
Making use of real locations and lit in a very naturalistic style the camera feels right at home following the characters through the maze of concrete apartments with their steep staircases. The nighttime photography also maintains a natural feel with a good balance between dark shadows and street lighting. This is an intimate and authentic street-level perspective of the action. If the background palette is mostly grey, the bold primary colors of the characters' costumes remind us of their fiery personalities that refuse to stay subdued.
The 27-minute "Making of Antonia" featurette follows the course of the movie from rehearsal to premiere. Director Tata Amaral (Um Céu de Estrelas) talks about the evolution of the movie and her research into the lives of female rap artists. The cast is shown in workshop sessions developing their characters to suit their personalities—each actor names her own character. Interspersed with footage of the crew at work, there are interviews with members from all departments. From the technical crew to the art director and costumer, each talks about specific challenges they encountered. It's a good documentary that reveals a lot of detail to Amaral's seemingly freestyle manner of filmmaking.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movie comes up short on character development. When Mayah is dropped from the group, it is supposed to be the first major disruption to their close relationship. But the moment feels more like a minor development because the viewer hasn't learned much about Mayah before she disappears. After Lena leaves, the lack of further contact with the remaining girls contradicts the strong bond between them that was established in the beginning. We also barely get to know the supporting characters. Barbarah's brother is quickly written out of the picture just when his situation should have a bigger impact on their lives. And it is vague whether Diamante is supposed to be perceived as an opportunist or angel.
The making-of featurette is informative on the shooting of the movie, though a little too much time is spent hearing the actors tell us about their characters. Perhaps it is beyond the scope of this disc, but I found it interesting that the movie inspired a television series. However, there is no mention of it here, so viewers will have to do their own research if they're interested in the expanded story of Antonia.
In the words of Antonia, "A dream is freedom / Friendship, respect and love." The movie would have been improved if we could have seen more sides to the characters, but the underlying message that strong-willed women know how to survive still comes through. While the story is a bit slim, the movie is rich in visual texture and sounds very good.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
• Making of Antonia
Review content copyright © 2008 William Lee; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.