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Interview: Mika Kaurismaki - Moro No Brasil

Searching for the Roots of Samba


Moro No Brasil is the first of three movies that Finnish film director made about Brazilian music. Focusing on the roots of samba, Kaurismaki neglected choro, but filled in that gap with his second film Brasileirinho. I talked to him while he was in Helsinki, visiting family and friends.

How did you get interested in Brazilian music?

The beginning of the film tells the true story. I tried to go to Brazil in 1970 but a sailor’s strike destroyed my dream. The first time I went was 1988 when I went there to promote one of my movies. I went for a week, but I stayed and I’m still there.

How were you greeted by the people of Brazil?

Generally, we had a very good reaction. That’s probably why I like Brazil and live in Brazil, because the people are very nice and easy, very welcoming. Also I show things that weren’t obvious choices – I shot what I saw on the road and people were happy that some gringo paid attention. Brazil is a very easy place to be, it’s all mixed. Everybody’s mixed except the local native Indians.

Did you pick specific musicians, or just filmed what you saw on the road?

A lot of it was what I saw. I traveled 4000 kilometers. I knew some of the people. It is all my personal point of view; they were my choices. Like Seu Jorge. When I first met him, he was living on the road, homeless. Now he’s a very big star in the world.

Are you a musician yourself?

A wanna-be musician, mostly. I play drums and percussion. But, you know, that’s why I make films. I’m not good enough [as a musician], so I have to make films about music.

When you do play music, is it Brazilian music?

No, I started with rock and then I moved into jazz. I don’t play anymore; I just enjoy watching and listening. I live in Brazil nowadays, and everyone plays and they are good.

How much of the year do you live in Brazil?

That’s my main address. Now I only spend holidays in Finland, 3-4 weeks, the rest of the time I live in Brazil.

How does making a musical documentary differ from making some of your other films?

Well, a documentary is always different. I like making both fiction and documentaries. With documentaries, the method is different. I was driving with my camera, I had a vision, I knew what kind of film I wanted to do, but I ended up filming what happened. When you shoot a fiction film, you have a screenplay and actors and you just try to capture the screenplay on the screen. In a documentary, you are writing with the camera.

What about your crew? How many were there – were they Brazilian?

I had a small crew, maybe six or seven people, except for the bigger scenes like in my bar, where the crew was a little bit bigger. The crew was all Brazilian, I was the only gringo.

Did they call you a gringo?

No, they called me a German.

You opened a music club. What was it called? Why did you decide to open it?

The name was Mika’s Bar. I opened it – actually, I helped my friend open a restaurant and it didn’t work. He left, I was still there, so I started a music club. I really enjoyed it. I had a different show every night, like jazz, samba, choro, instrumental music – about 300 shows a year for 2+ years. I met many musicians during this time. It was my school of Brazilian music.

Why did you close it?

Because I had to decide if I wanted to make films or if I wanted to be a club owner. I opted for films. But it was great, the club was popular and I was traveling and making films and it was great to make both.

Do you make your films from Brazil now?

I made two music films in Brazil and also a film in Russia [Honey, Baby] which was fiction.

I guess it doesn’t really matter when you make film, you’re on the road anyway?

Yes, but I decided I won’t make anymore road movies – it’s too tough.

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