Variações: Guardian Angel ***
Starring: Sérgio Praia, Filipe Duarte, Victoria Guerta, Augusto Madeira.
Director: Jaõa Maia
In 2007 I went to watch La Vie En Rose not knowing who Edith Piaf was. (I was 22. I didn’t know who anyone was back then.) Blown away by this powerful biopic, it inspired me to go away, do my research and discover what it was about her that made her so amazing. And, to this day, I adore her music. Nowadays, when I watch a foreign-language biopic about a star I’ve not heard of, I look at it in the same way, hoping to be shown who they were and why they are so significant in their home countries. In this biopic about Portuguese pop icon António Variações, unfortunately the same cannot be said.
The highest grossing film of 2019 the Portuguese box office, international audiences now get to watch the story of his short-lived fame before his untimely death from AIDS in 1984. Famed for combining traditional Portuguese music with contemporary styles, he shot to fame in 1982 and experienced major success with two albums before he died. A colourful character, Variações (Praia) was an extravagant and flamboyant misfit from childhood and despite being discovered by a musical agent (Madeira), it took many years for the record label to understand what to do with him. And these years of slow burning frustration are charted throughout the film, along with his intense friendship with best friend Fernando Ataíde (Duarte) and his very understanding wife (Guerta).
As biopics go, this is fairly paint-by-numbers, following chronologically and focusing on Variações’ musical process. However, what it seriously fails to do is encapsulate exactly why he was so popular. One of Bohemian Rhapsody’s biggest successes – regardless as to your opinions on its accuracy – was that it managed to portray perfectly to a younger generation just why Freddie Mercury was such a big deal. But Guardian Angel, unfortunately, fails. It’s actually a little perplexing to see a host of characters fawning over him about a performance that was tuneless and his subsequent diva behaviour. It’s probably culturally untransferable, but as a result, we’re left watching a biopic of someone unknown in the UK and we come out the other side very little the wiser. It’s a Portuguese film made for a Portuguese audience, which is great for them, but less so for us. It’s definitely no La Vie En Rose.