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AFI EU Showcase: Variações
65%Overall Score

Starting today, BYT film critics will cover films that are part of the AFI EU Showcase, a Euro-centric festival happening at AFI Silver. We’re covering this on a rolling basis, so check back soon.

Despite only releasing two albums before his death at the age of thirty-nine, the music of António Ribiero – stage name António Variações – has made him one of the most important musicians in modern Portuguese music. Variações gave up the possibility of instant fame in order to find success his own way, with his own sound that connected with his audience. Yet for an American audience, the story of Variações likely won’t be as well-known as it is for Portuguese audiences, which makes Variações’ deviations from the usual musical biopic structure are both a gift and a curse when it comes to understanding his cultural importance.

Writer/director João Maia is far more interested in showing Variações pre-fame, presenting his artistic integrity and romances than the actual importance of the music. Even without the awareness of who Variações is, the performance by Sérgio Praia is electric, and makes Variações immediately a fascinating person to follow on his way to stardom. Maia often presents Variações singing without accompaniment, showcasing the vocal powerhouse that could sing punk rock just as easily as folk music.

While a standard biopic might take plenty of time to present the making of an artist’s most popular songs, Variações doesn’t do that, still leaving the uninitiated fairly unfamiliar with Variações’ most important works. Variações almost leaves the artist’s most successful days as an afterthought, which could potentially be a great opportunity for current fans to learn more about who António Ribiero was before taking on the Variações moniker. But once Ribiero’s career starts taking off, Variações’ dedication to making great music that fulfills his musical ambitions is exciting to watch. Seeing the hairdresser Ribiero become the eccentrically dressed, brilliant stage presence is a joy and through Maia’s direction, it’s easy to see why Variações became such an icon.

Personally, as someone completely unfamiliar with Variações, watching Variações was a fascinating experience, giving me a chance to learn an artist I’ve never heard of, then slowly growing to learn what makes him such a standout musician. Honestly, I might’ve appreciated a more conventional take on the rise and fall of Variações as someone going in completely uninitiated. But I can imagine Variações works for both, people like myself who are learning about Variações for the first time, but also great for current fans that want to dive into Variações before he was a legend.

Variações screens today at AFI Silver at 7pm.