Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brazilian Music: More Than Just Samba or Bossa Nova

Carmen Miranda, Brazilian singer (1909-1955)
If the phrase "Brazilian Music" makes you think of a woman wearing a fruit basket on her head, or bossa nova from the 1960's, think again.  There's a lot more to it than that.  I've only been exploring Brazilian music for a few months, but there's something for everyone, including traditional, rock, alternative, and more.

Here is how the term "Música Popular Brasileira" (MPB) is defined by Wikipedia: "It is not a distinct genre but rather a combination of original songwriting and updated versions of traditional Brazilian urban music styles like samba and samba-canção with contemporary influences, like folk, rock, pop and jazz." In other words, it does not all sound alike, and that's one of the things that makes it so interesting.  

I'll start with a singer whose music and voice I have found addictive: Marisa Monte. She has a rather large catalogue of CDs, also available as downloads from iTunes and Amazon.  Among my favorites are "Universo Ao Meu Redor," "Infinito Particular," and "O Que Você Quer Saber De Verdade," her most recent release.

Here are two songs from the last album: Depois and Hoje Eu Não Saio Não. I love the whole album, but I chose two that give a good idea of the range of styles she uses.  

You'd think that a band with the name Los Hermanos would be from a Spanish-speaking country, but they're Brazilian and they sing in Portuguese. Two of my favorite songs by them are: Ana Julia and Todo Carnaval Tem Seu Fim

The Titãs sing what we might call classic rock, but they also recorded a ballad called Epitáfio, which is the only song of theirs I'm really familiar with. I listen to it a lot.

Another band with a more modern rock sound is the Raimundos, whose song Mulher de Fases is the theme song of the HBO Brasil series of the same name.  

Elevador by André Abujamra is another ballad which has a haunting melody and lyrics that you can probably understand because he sings it slowly enough.

Aguas de Março is from a wonderful CD entitled "Elis and Tom" by Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The entire album is a classic that belongs in everyone's collection, even if they don't speak a word of Portuguese and don't think that they like Brazilian music. If you don't smile and start moving around at least a little bit when you hear this music, you'd better check your pulse.

Another classic from the 60's is Getz/Gilberto, which contains the famous Girl From Ipanema, but my favorite is Desafinado.  This is another album that belongs in everyone's collection.  

Returning to more recent recordings, Marcelo Jeneci has a sound that we might call alternative rock.  Two songs from his CD Feito Pra Acabar are Copa D'água and Jardim do Éden

Thiago Pethit has a style that's hard to pin down, but I guess it's fair to call him an independent singer/songwriter, as he has issued his latest album, "Berlim, Texas," independent of any recording company.  Mapa-Mundi and Não Se Va are both outstanding. 

I've also become a big fan of Tiê, whose latest album "A Coruja e o Coração" includes the following tracks:  Eu Só Sei Dançar Com Você and Pra Alegrar O Meu Dia. She's another singer/songwriter whose voice and music are both immediately accessible, but whose appeal grows the more you listen.

My last three selections are all singers whose genre is officially classified as "sertanejo universitario" and who have achieved huge popularity among a very young audience in Brazil.  

First, we have Michel Teló, whose YouTube video of "Ai Se Te Pego" has been viewed more than 370,000,000 times.  Yes, you read that right, that's over a third of a billion times. Love it or hate it, it's got a catchy tune, repetitive lyrics (you'll learn them just from hearing them over and over so much), and he puts on a good show.  

The same is true of Gusttavo Lima, whose "Balada Boa" has so many YouTube incarnations that it's difficult to know how many viewers have seen one of them, but it looks as if it's over 50,000,000.

Finally, there's Luan Santana, who has several albums out.  Here's one song:
Você Não Sabe O Que É Amor.

It's easy to dismiss these last three singers as teen-age idols, but their songs are catchy and the lyrics will help you build up your skills with informal Brazilian Portuguese!

I've tried to offer a good variety of Brazilian music here, but I'm still very new to this, and I know I have just scratched the surface.  I hope that you'll find something here that you enjoy, because I'm finding that listening to Brazilian music can be an effective and highly enjoyable way to get to know the sounds of the language.  

Advanced Beginners: The Next Steps

Advanced beginners... isn't that a contradiction in terms? Not really. Some learners may be new to a particular language, but may already have exposure to other languages that are related to the one they're learning.  For example, people who have some level of familiarity with Spanish might be considered advanced beginners when they start learning Portuguese, because the two languages have a large number of words that are either identical or are very similar (in appearance only, of course, as the two languages are pronounced very differently).  

The same thing holds true to a lesser degree with speakers of French or Italian, since all of the Romance languages are derived from Latin, which had a profound effect on their grammar and vocabulary.  

A beginner who has completed enough study of Portuguese to have some questions about finer points of grammar, pronunciation, usage, etc., might also be considered an advanced beginner.  

These learners require additional resources besides the ones that I listed in my post about recommendations for beginners.  

So, what are some resources to help the advanced beginner?  I'll start with the reference books that I use most often: 

John Whitlam's Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar: A Practical Guide is much more than a prescriptive grammar.  It is logically organized, has a very appealing layout, and it covers everything that I've needed to find so far.  The first part lays out the rules, and the second part includes practical examples of how to apply them. 

Larousse Concise Portuguese-English Dictionary is reasonably priced and quite complete for a "concise" dictionary.  In addition to definitions, it has a pronunciation guide that is actually quite helpful (it reflects the language as spoken in Rio de Janeiro).

Barron's 501 Portuguese Verbs:  As other reviewers have pointed out, the introductory section is very brief and is really a missed opportunity, especially when compared to the far superior introduction found in Barron's 501 Spanish verbs, for example.  However, the verb charts themselves are an excellent way to get the full conjugation quickly, and they include sample sentences for each verb that's included. There's also a listing of verbs that are not included in the 501 verbs, but which are conjugated the same as one of the included verbs.

The next section includes books that I use more for browsing, and not as much as reference works.  

DK Portuguese-English Visual Dictionary is a small book that is filled with excellent color photographs, organized by themes or subjects. Each photo is labeled, in detail, in both languages, and it's a fun way to learn new vocabulary.  

50 Ways to Improve Your Portuguese is another small book which contains explanations of various aspects of Portuguese that the authors have found to be troublesome for speakers of English.  I always seem to learn something new when I pick up this book and browse through it.  

Conversational Portuguese in 7 Days will not teach you conversational Portuguese in seven days, no matter what the title claims.  What you will get instead is a very good phrase book that goes beyond the usual tourist guide by including complete dialogues, some fairly detailed grammatical information, and even has some exercises, along with answers.  It's aimed at British tourists who are visiting Portugal, but since it doesn't include a pronunciation guide for each word or phrase, this isn't a real problem.  If you want a very inexpensive supplement to Pimsleur in order to get some practice with reading and writing, this is a good start. 

Finally, advanced beginners can get a lot out of the Level 2 Semantica Series videos.  They are a good way to gain exposure to the informal language, spoken at a fast rate.  You won't understand everything the first or even second time through, but they help to give you an idea of what Brazilian Portuguese sounds like when spoken by native speakers in everyday situations. Each video concludes with a re-cap of key points of the dialogue that you've just seen.

A Blog About Music Sung in Portuguese

I came across this blog and wanted to share it here. Caipirinha Lounge: Beautiful Music in Portuguese covers a wide variety of music sung in Portuguese and there is literally something for everyone.  It includes not just Brazilian music, but music from the entire Lusophone world.  The posts include MP3s of songs by the artists who are featured.  

Posts are written in Portuguese and English, so it's a great way to get some practice with your Portuguese reading skills, too.  

If you haven't seen this blog yet, head on over and have a listen.  

Recommendations for Beginners

Beginning learners want to know which program will work best for them.  I believe that the sooner a learner starts to think in the language he or she is learning, the deeper and more effective the learning will be.  This means that when you have a thought, you do not have to translate it word by word in your mind from English to Portuguese, but you are able to express what you are thinking in Portuguese without the intermediate step of translation.  This is essential to building fluency, but it is often overlooked or minimized in language instruction.  

If your memories of foreign language instruction include lots of drills with verb conjugations, the proper use of the subjunctive, lists of prepositions, and so on, you are probably not alone.  All of these are important elements in acquiring mastery of a language, but they are *not* going to get you thinking in that language. 

I have studied several languages in high school and college, and I'm not being critical of my instructors, most of whom were excellent and enthusiastic, and many of whom were native speakers.  However, we spent most of our time learning grammar and vocabulary from the instructor, or with textbooks, reading aloud, reading to ourselves, or writing. We had lots of written homework and all of our tests were written, though we usually had dictation exercises where we wrote down what the instructor dictated (which at least gave us some practice with listening). I do not remember a single test that required me to *speak* the language out loud. 

While classes were often conducted in the language we were learning, the vocabulary we acquired from that was limited to classroom interactions ("open your book, get out your notebook, read this selection," etc.).  We had exposure to language labs and conversation groups, but this accounted for less than 10% of our time, and most of it was supposed to be done outside of class.  The result was that I learned how to read and write the languages that I studied with a good level of fluency, but my spoken language never reached anything even near that same level.  

Luckily, there are programs designed for self-learners that address this problem by actively involving the learner in speaking the language from the very beginning.  

I have been very happy with Pimsleur because of its use of spaced repetition.  Pimsleur teaches you a basic phrase or word, and then repeats it in a variety of sentences. It does this lesson after lesson, building on what you have already learned. So a word that you learn in lesson 1 will re-appear over and over again in subsequent lessons.  The program has you taking part in series of conversations and you have to talk out loud (though I also use the lessons as a listening resource).  You have to think in Portuguese in order to keep up with the program, because you do not have time to translate the sentence word by word from English to Portuguese, in your head. You are able to simply say the whole sentence because you have already repeated the words or phrases so many times that it becomes automatic.  

Pimsleur's Brazilian Portuguese program consists of three levels that include 30 lesson each, and each lesson is about 25 minutes long.  The lesson begins with a short dialogue, and then the instruction begins.  

Pimsleur's biggest downfall is that it teaches the formal language almost exclusively.  For instance, its uses "o senhor/a senhora" instead of "você" throughout the first lessons. Many of the lessons focus on business-type conversations. But in spite of this, the program worked for me, and I have used other resources to help acquire the informal language. 

Pimsleur is not cheap if you buy the CDs, but there are some ways to keep the costs down.  I was not able to find a complete set in my library, but you can buy the first 16 lessons on CD from Amazon for about $35.  

This gives a learner the chance to get a feel for the program without making a major financial commitment.

If the program appeals to you, you could then purchase the additional lessons from, which has the best prices I was able to find.  They sell them as digital downloads, and you can buy them by the lesson, in groups of lessons, or an entire level of 30 lessons. You can listen to them on your computer, or you can transfer them to you iPod, iPhone, or other MP3 player. The costs vary depending on how many lessons you buy.  Audible has good trial offers for new members and they often have promotions that give added discounts to a new member. 

So, Pimsleur does *not* teach the informal language, but what it does give you is an excellent basis upon which to build.  Once you can think in basic Portuguese, you will be able to start adding the informal vocabulary and usage to your spoken language.

The Semantica series, level 1, does teach the informal spoken language:

Right now (mid-June, 2012) they have a special sale that sells both Series 1 and 2 for about $80 as a digital download.  These are videos and they're quite good, but there's a big gap between Series 1, which is appropriate for beginners, and Series 2, which is aimed at high-intermediate level students.  

The weakness of Semantica is that it does not cover much grammar and it doesn't give you much exposure to the written language, aside from PDFs with the scripts and what you see on screen.  It has a rather limited vocabulary, too. However, the videos are fun and the story and characters are interesting enough to keep you motivated. is another program that does a good job with informal language, and depending on their current offers, is available for a reasonable price.  

They have a huge number of lessons at different levels, organized around dialogues, with social and cultural insights designed for learners who plan to travel to Brazil. The dialogues are really good, but they do not use spaced repetition, and they don't give you a lot of time to repeat what you've heard.  To me, this made the program useful primarily as a supplement to Pimsleur, and I don't think I would have made as much progress relying solely on PortuguesePod101 as I did with Pimsleur. 

The lessons include PDFs that accompany the audio, so they give you some practice with the written language, and they cover basic grammar in a non-threatening way.  PortuguesePod101 also includes online quizzes and flash cards that are pretty good.  

Overall, each lesson contains enough material to keep you busy for 30-40 minutes.  You get to select which elements you cover in each lesson and are free to move through the lessons in whatever order you choose.

I didn't begin PP101 until after I'd had a good foundation with Pimsleur, and I stuck with Pimsleur because I could do it anywhere (car, home, gym, etc.).  You can download PP101 lessons as podcasts to use on your computer or iPod, but I found it was easier to do it online, because that's the only way to get all the features in each lesson.

Recommendations for a beginning learner:

1.  Start with some sample lessons of Pimsleur, either the first 16 lessons on CD from Amazon, or by purchasing lessons from Audible.  Try at least the first 5 lessons before you decide what you think. It won't prepare you to speak informally, but it *will* get you thinking in Portuguese, and to me, that is the ultimate goal. 

2.  Try the free trial at  Its biggest weakness is that it does not use spaced repetition, but it's a great supplement to Pimsleur and you *might* find that you don't need Pimsleur if you get PP101. (Do not pay the full subscription price for PP101, as they offer deeply discounted promotional rates after you sign up for the free trial. You should start getting emails which advertise these offers not long after you register for the free trial). 

3.  Download one of the basic level 1 Semantica lessons (you can buy them individually) or check out their free (very short) samples on YouTube to get an idea of what they're like. 

4.  Start reading Portuguese every day. I like "O Globo," "Folha," and "Estadão":

I've added them to my Facebook news feed, which works better for me than trying to remember to visit the websites every day.  

You can use Chrome's translation feature to translate articles for you.  The other way I practice with reading online is to read the Portuguese text out loud, without worrying about the translation.  This helps to build fluency and pronunciation skills.  

5.  Watch Brazilian movies on DVD and listen to Brazilian music. Don't worry if you don't understand much, but try to start getting a feel for the sounds and rhythms of the language. You will find certain very common expressions (most of them informal) cropping up over and over again.  

The Importance of Register in Brazilian Portuguese

The differences between what linguists call formal and informal registers is significant, and very important in Brazilian Portuguese.  (Disclaimer: I have never been to Brazil, so I'm basing my statement on what I have read in a variety of books about the language, as well as first-hand reports from people who have lived in the country).  

Unfortunately, very few learning resources devote enough time to the informal language, at least not for beginning learners.  This is probably because it's not always appropriate to use the informal register (for instance, during a job interview or formal business meeting), while it is acceptable to use the formal register, though it might come across as overly stuffy.

Another reason is that it can be more difficult to learn the informal language if you don't have a basic foundation with the formal language. In other words, it's sometimes easier to break or bend the rules of the language if you already know what the rules are.  

Here are a couple of examples in English, followed by a couple in Portuguese.  
In informal English, we often hear or see "gonna" for "going to," "wanna" for "want to," "kinda" for "kind of," and so on.  In each case, trying to reconstruct the original meaning from the informal usage is neither intuitive nor predictable.  In the first two cases, the final "a" replaces "to," while in the third one, it replaces "of."  I think that it would be harder to teach these informal usages to a non-native speaker than it would be to teach the original, formal versions.  Furthermore, in certain situations, the use of "gonna" or "wanna" or "kinda" would not be appropriate, so they have to learn the formal versions anyway.

In Portuguese, you may hear or see forms of the verb "estar" written without the "es-" at the beginning, so that "está" becomes "tá", "estou" becomes "tô", etc.  If you started out learning these forms first, and then encountered the full forms, it could be confusing.  It's easier to see that "tá" is just a short form of "está" than to try to figure out what the original form of "tá" was if you had never learned "está."  Another example is the use of "pra" instead of "para," which occurs both in the spoken and written language.  When I first encountered "pra," I thought it was a new preposition that I hadn't learned yet. 

So while a beginner should be exposed to the informal language as soon as possible, I can understand why most programs stick with the formal language for the basis of their instruction.  I believe that it is relatively easy to supplement one's knowledge of the formal language with exposure to materials that address the informal language, and learners should understand from the beginning that they are learning one form of the language, which might not match what they can expect to hear spoken on an everyday basis. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Some Common Irregular Verbs

I've included the entire conjugation for the present, preterite, and imperfect indicative, but "tu" and "vós" are shaded gray to help focus on the ones that are essential for Brazilian Portuguese.  Seeing the full conjugation can sometimes help to see the patterns more clearly.

I'm including "ser" because its preterite is identical to "ir," and it also shares some similarities with "ir" in the present.  

"Ter" and "vir" look almost the same in the present, with the exception of "nós" and "vós." They are identical in the imperfect, except for the initial consonant.  

"Ver" and "vir" are easily confused in the predicate.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tá Falado: A Valuable Free Resource

I found out about Tá Falado from Hacking Portuguese, a website I've mentioned in other posts.  I started with Tá Falado's pronunciation practice not long after I began Pimsleur Level 1, because I was having trouble with some basic pronunciations that I just couldn't seem to get right, no matter how much I practiced. 

Tá Falado is a series of podcasts which are presented by a team consisting of a native speaker of North American English who moderates the program; two native Brazilians, a male and female, one from São Paolo state, one from Bahia; and a Spanish speaking native from Venezuela.  The dialogue is first read at full speed by the Brazilians, then it's repeated more slowly, with the moderator providing an English translation, then it's read again, fairly slowly, with the Spanish speaker repeating each line in Spanish after the Brazilians speak. The Portuguese/Spanish rendition is repeated twice.  Finally, the group discusses the sounds and the cultural content of the dialogue, and then it's repeated one more time in Portuguese.  By the end of the podcast, you will have heard the same dialogue quite a few times, and the sounds will start to become more familiar.  

Unlike Pimsleur, this program is *not* designed for the learner to repeat the dialogue, as there are no breaks in between for you to do that.  Instead, it's all about hearing the language spoken properly and training your ears.   

Tá Falado has helped me a lot with my proncunciation (and so has Lauren from Hacking Portuguese, who took the time to answer my questions about particular problems I was having).  Be warned that Tá Falado can be a bit daunting at first.  You will hear native Brazilians speaking at a normal pace and it's going to sound very fast, with the words all seeming to run together.  There will be vocabulary that you don't know, colloquial expressions that don't seem to make much sense, and grammar structures that you do not encounter in basic, elementary Portuguese lessons.  

But don't let any of that scare you off, because the lessons are not aimed at building your ability to converse fluently at native speed with a full vocabulary.  Remember: the goal is to help you get a grip on specific aspects of pronouncing the sounds of Portuguese.  The lessons are organized in a logical way, starting with some of the most common (and easily mispronounced) sounds.  For example, the first lesson deals with the sound /i/ as represented by the letters "e" and "i."  If you're a Spanish speaker, it takes some adjustment hearing the sound /i/ when you are looking at the letter "e".  In fact, a native speaker of English must work hard not to make the sound /i/ when pronouncing the Spanish letter "e," which only complicates matters.  

Each lesson includes a podcast and a PDF with a script and explanatory notes, and I recommend that you download the PDF before you listen to the lesson.  I read it over first, and I've found that helps me to get more out of the podcast.  I also keep it in front of me as I listen.  

You can work at the computer, but I prefer to download the MP3 file to iTunes, and then sync it to my iPod, iPhone, or iPad.  That way, I can listen to it wherever I want. You can add the PDF to your iTunes library, which allows you to synch it to iBooks on your iOS device.  That way, you can listen and read at the same time without having to be at the computer.  

You can also copy and paste the dialogue from the PDF into the "lyrics" pane in iTunes.  Then you can see the dialogue while you listen on your iPhone or iPod.  Unfortunately, the iPad does not currently support lyrics, which makes no sense to me at all, but that's another story.  

You do not have to progress through the lessons in order, though that was the way that I chose to do it, since each new lesson does assume that you have some level of familiarity with material that has been covered previously. 

For me, the key to getting the most out of Tá Falado has been to revisit the podcasts more than one time.  In other words, I apply the spiral approach.  The first time, I read the PDF, listen to the podcast with the PDF in front of me, then try to read the dialogue on my own (but a lot slower than the native speakers, focusing on the correct sounds instead of speed).  

I then move on to the next lesson, normally only doing a couple a day, and taking time off in between.  After a couple of weeks, I'll go back to review the lesson.  I have found that what was difficult the first time through is not so hard the second time through, and it makes a lot more sense.  Not only that, but the vocabulary and grammar don't look so scary.

The second time through, I don't need the entire PDF, just the dialogue, and sometimes I try to listen without referring to the printed script at all.  The goal this time is to perfect the pronunciation so that it feels natural.

Then I move on to the next podcast and review it the same way.

But wait, we're not done yet!  Once I finished about half of Pimsleur Level 3, I went back to Tá Falado for a third time.  This time, I listened to it without any script at all, just listened to the dialogues while I was working out at the gym.  By this time, I had enough practice with Pimsleur and other language learning resources (including books, listening to Brazilian music, and watching Brazilian films) that the entire dialogue made more sense. It didn't sound as rushed together, because I was more accustomed to hearing vowels seeming to disappear between words.  I understood the grammar better, and the colloquialisms were more familiar (movies are great for that).  My goal the third time through was to listen, comprehend, and refine my pronunciation, with particular attention to the *reasons* for the sounds (unstressed versus stressed syllables, etc.).  The tips and hints during the follow-up discussions also make a lot more sense after you've had additional exposure to the language.  

So, is three times enough for "Tá Falado"? I'm not sure yet. I am thinking that I may edit the MP3 so that I cut out everything but the Portuguese dialogue at full speed, since I don't really think I want to listen to the entire podcast a fourth time.  Tá Falado also includes a set of grammar podcasts, which are quite good, but not as essential as the pronunciation podcasts.  

Meanwhile, there are some other great free resources and projects at Brazilpod that I've been playing around with.  Be sure to stop by there and take a look!

Film Review: "The Year My Parents Went On Vacation" ("O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias")

This film appeared in 2006 and was nominated and won several awards, most of them in Latin America.  It received positive reviews and the plot line sounded interesting.  The film has a lot going for it:  overall, the cast is strong, the premise is intriguing, and the filmmaker did a good job recreating the look of 1970, which is when the story takes place.

However, there are several problems which keep the film from being a great one, and instead relegate it to the status of being somewhere between good and very good.  

It's probably unfair to compare this film to "Central Station," but it's almost impossible not to, because both stories involve young boys who are suddenly separated from their parents and who  find themselves in the company of eccentric and unpredictable adults.  I tried hard not to judge the film for not being "Central Station," but I will make some references to "Central Station" in my review.

The first problem I had with this film came at the very beginning when Mauro (played by Michel Joelsas), the boy from whose perspective the story is told, is dropped off by his parents (Daniel and Bia) in front of his paternal grandfather's apartment building.  And when I say dropped off, that's exactly what happens.  The background: Mauro's father must leave his home in Belo Horizonte because he has come under the suspicion of the military dictatorship.  We are never told the specifics, nor does the family act as if there is great urgency in their flight.  They tell Mauro that they are simply going away on vacation, and instruct him to repeat that if anybody asks where they are.  

They drive from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo and spend the night in a motel along the way.  As they near São Paulo, Mauro's father, calls his father, Mótel, from a pay phone to inform him that they are almost there.  The father seems to protest (we can only hear Daniel's side of the conversation), but Daniel assures him that they have to drop Mauro off today, it cannot wait.  

OK, that struck me as strange to begin with.  Are we to believe that the parents would not have made more specific arrangements for the care of their child prior to embarking on the journey from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo?  What if Mótel had not answered the phone?  What if he had absolutely refused to take the child?  It did not make sense, especially since both parents were treating Mauro with great affection and tenderness.

Still, I was willing to give the director my suspension of disbelief long enough to see what happened next.  That's when the director lost my willing suspension of disbelief.  The parents drove up to the apartment building, got Mauro and his suitcase out of the car, said a very hasty good-bye (probably faster than most Brazilian parents would have said to a child going away to spend a weekend with a friend), and drove off.  They made no attempt to walk with the child into the apartment building, let alone see if the grandfather was home.  They literally left him standing on the street.  Now, I guess we were supposed to believe that they were under such pressure to escape government scrutiny that they had no time to walk the child in to meet his grandfather, but if that were the case, surely they would have driven straight through and not wasted a night sleeping in a motel.  

Mauro gamely enters the grim apartment building, and referring to a slip of paper that his mother must have put in his pocket, finds his grandfather's apartment.  He knocks, rings the bell, but nobody answers.  This is because, as we're shown through a series of flashbacks, Mauro's grandfather has suffered a heart attack and died.  Since Mauro being on his own is the central theme of the whole film, the script should have established the circumstances which brought this about in a much more credible way.  

By the end of the day, Mauro has met the rather cranky Shlomo, the next-door neighbor, one of many people he will meet during the time that his parents are away.  Luckily, the cast included several engaging and talented actors, among them Daniela Piepszyk (who also appeared in the HBO series "Alice," where she played an appealingly strong-willed child).  Ms. Piepszyk played Hanna, a neighbor who is about Mauro's age and who is able to coax him out of his grandfather's apartment, where he has holed up in order to avoid living with Shlomo.  The idea that an entire apartment building of otherwise caring people would just assume it was acceptable for a young child to live on his own also was a stretch.  Furthermore, the fact that he was living alone in the apartment of his dead grandfather, the father of someone who had apparently escaped the repressive dictatorship, was implausible.  Surely if the government had been trying to track down Daniel, they would have showed up at his father's apartment asking questions.  

The second problem I had with the film was that it tried to do too much at once.  The director wanted to deal with the military dictatorship and the way it influenced the lives of everyday Brazilians, he wanted to cover the 1970 World Cup which Brazil went on to win, he wanted to deal with the Jewish community in São Paulo, and he wanted to view all of this through the eyes of a young boy.  Unfortunately, it felt as if he bit off more than he could chew, and the film started to struggle under the weight of so many story elements.  The most convincing of these elements was the focus on soccer and Mauro's obsession with Brazil's national sport, which rang true and offered some of his best scenes in the film.  I particularly liked the fast cuts showing different groups watching the same soccer match on TV:  first we'd see a group of elderly Jewish spectators watching in their apartment, then it would cut to a neighborhood diner with a rowdy group of young people, then to a man holding a portable radio to his ear.  There was a spontaneity about these scenes that helped the film to come alive.

The repression of the dictatorship was mostly hinted at until one scene near the end, where students are beaten up and arrested by horse-mounted police.  This scene was also effective, as it evoked memories of the Cossacks invading Jewish villages on horseback, but it also felt as if it came out of nowhere.  I realize that the director wanted the film to be shown from the standpoint of a politically naive child, but if you're going to make political oppression a central theme in a film, it needs to be developed more than it was.  

Compared to "Central Station," I found the cinematography merely adequate.  There were some scenes that were visually appealing, but there were many missed opportunities, too.  The film focused more on dialogue and action to move things along, and at times, both of these dragged it down more than they helped.  I guess my biggest problem with the film, besides the highly implausible chain of events that led to Mauro being on his own in a strange place, was the lack of a tighter story line.  Things just rambled about too much, at least for the first half of the movie.  I did feel that it got stronger as it went along, almost in spite of itself, and most of that was due to some really good acting by some very good actors, but even the actors at times seemed to be acting as individuals, not as a part of a group.  Compared to "Central Station," where total strangers built relationships in a matter of minutes (and did so in a credible way), these people seemed more isolated, and in some cases more connected to Mauro than friends and neighbors they had known for much longer.  

But the main appeal of the film is the outstanding job that Michel Joelsas does as Mauro.  In spite of the implausibility of the premise of the story, he makes us believe that it *could* have happened.  He adapts and adjusts and stands up for himself, even to the point where we almost believe, "Well, OK, this kid cannot stand Shlomo, so he moves into his grandfather's apartment……it could happen".  

The transfer to DVD is excellent, both in terms of picture and audio quality.  There are English and Spanish subtitles, a "making of" featurette that is quite good, interviews with cast members (parts of which are repeated in the "making of" feature), and extended scenes and outtakes.  

I do not want to leave the impression that I disliked the film, because I didn't, but I was disappointed that with so much going for it, it wasn't a lot better than it was.