Literature and film in Anna Karenina

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-What an extraordinary example of the possibilities of Cinema!- I think while watching 1967’s Russian Anna Karenina’s adaptation into film.

Leaving aside obvious questions such as ellipsis of secondary stories and deeply philosophical dialogues, this film proves that even only with images, the emotional effect in the watcher can be close to the one in the corresponding novel’s reader. There are three scenes when this is absolutely true: the first society dance, with Kitty feeling anguished and disoriented; the horse race, which almost makes Anna faint; and the final suicide’s setting, Anna throwing herself to railway (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s a well-known old classic). Constant and irregular camera movements, playing with the focus, shot changes, extreme close-ups, transposition of images, the same way Kenneth MacPherson started doing it in 1930 with Borderline.

In this personal movie by Aleksandr Zarji, Tolstoy’s novel’s words are successfully transferred into images and sounds in a harmonic illustration of intermediality.

Aruitemo, Aruitemo: Walking away from the past

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To keep on walking is a good technique to metaphorically put some distance with the past, especially when memories are hurtful, and director Koreeda, now in Madrid, seems to send this message in his 2008’s film 歩いても、歩いてもAruitemo Aruitemo (Still walking), a fresh up-to-date depiction of a traditional Japanese family in the XXI century, like an Ozu’s film from the 50’s, but 60 years later. The fragile balance of apparently harmonious relationships only needs a word or even a silence to create a disruptive atmosphere full of recriminations. Father and son are afraid of words because these would force both of them to express their respective frustrations and fears; in the end, they cannot but blame themselves for the past. It’s women the ones who, behind their burikko behavior (actress and comedian YOU formidable as usual, same as the other two female protagonists) and helped by ritual house chores, soften men’s incapability to relate to each other and communicate. And the act of walking together restores for a moment the dreamed harmony. No wonder some of the most beautiful scenes in Japanese literature and cinema, at least my favorite ones, are represented in strolls, like in 細雪 Sasameyuki (The Makioka sisters) or in Manji (Quicksand).

The invisible collection: from Saxony to Bahia

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In 1925, Austrian Stefan Zweig wrote a short story called “The invisible collection. An episode of the Inflation Period in Germany”. Many years later, escaping from Nazism and the War, he would travel to Brazil to write his famous Brazil, land of the future, and to eventually take his own life in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 1942, disenchanted with the human condition.

Initially in the same mood, 2012’s Brazilian film A coleção invisível’s main character, Beto, must deal with a traumatic event in his life and a sense of guilt and impotence. His search for old and valuable drawings in the countryside in Bahia parallels Zweig’s antique dealer narrating the story of a blind collector, the same one Beto struggles to meet. More developed as a character in the film than the short story, improvised art-dealer Beto fights against himself in a spiral of self-destruction; leaving Salvador for Itajuipe, a small village in the cacao lands, will show him things he had never seen before.

Colegas: dreams are well worth a try

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Aninha aims to get married to a singer, Márcio wants to fly and Stallone’s desire is to go to the sea. They are Colegas’ protagonists, three dreamers with Down syndrome who run away from their seclusion in a special education institution and drive along Brazilian Santa Catarina state in a stolen convertible to end up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An unpretentious comedy, Colegas is a fresh rehash of many films, movie directors and famous lines: Tarantino, Gone with the Wind, Psicosis, Thelma&Louise, The Matrix…with the esthetics of Delicatessen. In their adventure, they rob convenience stores and bars in fancy dresses with masks and a toy gun, being chased by a couple of pathetic and incompetent cops and considered dangerous criminals by the sensationalist media. The absurdity of the situation seems to deconstruct a society where the ones in charge are not qualified to take care of and rule the most vulnerable ones, who, at the same time, are able to manage quite well by themselves. A narrator’s voice in off helps the audience to appreciate the ironic dissonance between images and speech, provoking laughter and solidarity in a successful atmosphere of magical realism (or absurdism).

Luiz Gonzaga and son, the human side of a Brazilian legend

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Gonzaga: De Pai pra filho’s director Breno Silveira explains the process of the casting for the film: he publicized his search for actors in the Northeast and received 5.000 applicants. Narrowing down that figure to people with a physical resemblance to the real Gonzaga and son, who in addition were able to sing and perform, he still had over 50. After subsequent selections, a few of them spent 4 months with him to finally to make the final decision: two years just to find the main actors but which were well worth the wait, seeing the result. This is the story of a father and his son, the former being the greatest and probably the first Brazilian folk musician and performer, whose sertanejo music can still be heard and danced in Rio’s casas de forró, not to mention in the Northeast, where he was from. A movie with very well administered flashbacks of Gonzaga’s youth, alternating music and life events, the most emotive scenes are those confronting both characters, the son already as an adult, and exorcizing a difficult relationship, cooled down from the very beginning because of Gonzaga’s doubts about his paternity.

A busca: a failed Brazilian road movie

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Wagner Moura is a young Brazilian actor, internationally famous for his role as captain-colonel Nascimento in Tropa de Elite I and II. Now almost omnipresent in commercial productions in Brazil, in A busca he outdoes himself in his histrionic and egocentric interpretation of Theo, an obsessive father in search of his escaped teenage son, who unbelievably travels across two states riding a horse. The “road movie” shows a picturesque Brazilian countryside in contrast with the cosmopolitan Alfa-type male doctor. He walks favelas, crosses rivers, fights farmers, steals cell-phones from old men suffering from a cardiac condition, joins an open-air alternative music festival, helps a woman have a baby, romance a lolita, is hit by a car and exchanges his rolex for an old motorcycle…to end up finding the kid –the most expressionless young actor I’ve ever seen- and, as expected, making peace with his own father, whom he hadn’t talked to for many years; everything artificially melodramatic and with a disappointing happy ending for all audiences. I was wondering if the movie’s director and scriptwriter, Luciano Moura, was related to the actor somehow –that would have explained many things-, but that’s not the case: director of publicity and awarded 20 years ago for his short-film Os moradores da rua Humboldt, this one is his first long film, a failed one and which -citing an article I randomly found on the Internet- is not worth seeing, not even for Wagner Moura. Director Moura masters the cinematographic techniques but he doesn’t know how to tell a good story, above all because this is not one.

Map of the sounds of Boa Viagem

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Noise is the guiding thread in the multitude of stories that O som ao redor uses to depict an upper-middle neighborhood in Recife, Northeastern Brazil. A neighbor’s barking dog drives crazy a sleepless housewife, who figures out how to recover silence: she feeds the animal with a steak filled of sleeping pills, uses a high-frequency sound whistle and even firecrackers. There are also the confusing sounds of voices, cars and electrical appliances added to claustrophobic images of security bars in doors and narrow corridors inside tower buildings. The robbery of car radios on the streets and the fear of the other will cause the opportunistic arrival of security guards, who will secure the streets day and night with blackjacks and walkie-talkies but who will also be the community secrets’ guardians. In this Brazilian movie chosen for competition to the Oscars 2014, we have a pessimistic view of a Brazil far from the touristic postal of social harmony and paradisiacal beaches, more in line with Luiz Ruffato’s’ recent speech at Frankfurt’s Books Fair. Here, neighbors and even family fight each other, beaches are infested with sharks, and racial and social tensions are constantly present. However, not everything is dark in this ensemble movie: the positive contrast is given in the form of a love story, of a young rich man caring for the underdogs, of the former housewife’s creative and comical ways of pleasing herself and of a Brazilian laidback comradeship.

Xingu, three brothers trapped in a life adventure

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Back in 2001, I met in Santarém, a small town on the bank of the Amazon river, a young lawyer from São Paulo who had quit his job in the Brazilian megalopolis to settle in the rain-forest. He was divorced and had a son, who spent with him his school vacations. Every week, he went by boat to the indigenous villages in the swampy area to buy and exchange goods with them, so that he could sell them to tourists in the small shop he had set up in town. Seeing last night’s Novocine’s inauguration movie, Xingu, I couldn’t but recall the story of this Paulista lawyer who would become my friend for a few days in a remote spot of the Brazilian North.

In 1943, in the middle of Getúlio Varga’s Estado Novo of maximum intervention of the State in the economy and the exacerbation of nationalism, it was decided to open new lands to the West to develop economically and industrially the country. Rain forests in the Amazonia and especially in the Matto Grosso were the objective. Three educated brothers, the Villas-Bôas (Cláudio, Orlando and Bernardo), joined the expedition as laborers, to end up establishing contact with the Xingu river’s indios. The film is based on real and historical facts, and shows their efforts to protect indios from the “national progress” culminating with the creation of the Indigenous national park in 1961. More interested in the big picture as a hagiography of the protagonists’ epic story, the film doesn’t dig deep enough in the emotional and sexual relationships established by the brothers and the Indians, although it suggests some of the gray areas of the brothers’ Mission.   

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