Youth is a condition that gets better with time, but in the meanwhile…

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I finally watched Somos tão jovens, a fictional recreation –as if all recreations were not somehow fictional- of Brazilian rock band from the 80s Legião Urbana. The same way we now experience art in a fragmented way because time is now full of distractions and social commitments, as the new technologies never fail to remind us attacking weak and inconstant minds like mine, I started the movie at Guarulhos airport a few months ago. The music that made pular a whole generation and still remains in the imaginary of a youth eager for a Brazilian movida, kept me occupied in the tedious hours of a flight connection. Sometimes we prefer not to go back to those half-seen films until much later when we find ourselves in a better mood to immerse into them, or we keep on seeing pieces, sequences that stay for a while in our change-addicted brains until we decide to check emails, facebook accounts, different hypertexts…, or until the final call for your flight home makes it through your ears.

Young Renato Russo, the real theme of the story, is depicted here as he probably was, a tormented soul living in a conservative society in search of a new crisis that helped him learn who he was and who he wanted to become; it’s like a Lou Reed’s clone –the physical similarities are obvious- without the life and experiences of the New Yorker but with as much genius –by Brazilian standards- as his. The film is not a hagiography of a dead myth; on the contrary, it focuses on the contradictions of an egocentric personality whose not completely self-assumed homosexuality initially causes him great psychological distress. The fiction tries to referentially explain the well-known lyrics with events from his life. As 21st century individuals, we cannot but see the rebellious evolution of that upper-middle Brazilian youth as a pose generating fashion victims, as a more mature and not-punk-any-more Renato throws to his audience when he calls them spoiled brats. It’s the final years of the dictatorship, but their claim for democracy is not a real one, only the imitation of an Anglo-Saxon music style and a naïve rebelliousness; exactly the opposite of the present complains by young lower and “middle” classes than can be seen on the streets in the main Brazilian cities during the World Cup demanding better living conditions and decent public services in the most racially “harmonious” country in the world, as a friend of mine wrongly told me recently.

Poetic debris in a Brazilian junk room

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“When I go to the city, I feel like in a luxury living room. Back in the favela, I am just abandoned furniture in a junk room”: Carolina María de Jesús’ diaries starting in 1955 became a media and literary success when journalist Audálio Dantas “discovered” her in the favela and had her writings published as Quarto de despejo (Junk room) in 1960. For the first time in Brazil, a black favelada was able to produce and sell a poetic text about her daily routines and her dreams. Her diaries and poems with literary intentions and reflections about life and society focused on her endurance to get food for her children and the social relations in the favela.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, a German documentary from 1971 about her life was shown at Instituto Moreira Salles in Gávea, Rio, followed by a conversation between the above Audálio and professor Marisa Lajolo. Were Carolina Maria’s diaries real literature if such concept exist anymore? What was the suspicious reception by the elitist literary society of the time of an outsider’s success if not a reflection of the impermeable Brazilian society condemning class and race to an illiterate junk room? Things have changed in the last 50 years and now the Academia maintains a broader and more including idea of art, but society keeps on seeing moradores de favela as disrupting elements in a personal and desired imaginary of a middle and upper class white Brazil.

What a strange sensation is to attend an 18-minute documentary in German with Portuguese subtitles and real but older and already successful Carolina Maria de Jesús playing the role of herself when picking paper 15 years before from trash cans on the streets of São Paulo. A voice in off reads her diaries; and images of the favela and their dwellers alternate with the late poet’s comments about the changes in her life after the publishing of her books.

Here, some extracts of her writings and an audio:

31 de maio Sábado – O dia que quase fico louca porque preciso arranjar o que comer para sábado e domingo […] Fiz o café, e os pães que eu ganhei também. Puis feijão no fogo. Quando eu lavava o feijão pensava: eu hoje estou parecendo gente bem – vou cozinhar feijão. Parece até um sonho! … Ganhei bananas e mandioca na quitanda da rua Guaporé. Quando eu voltava para a favela, na avenida Cruzeiro do Sul 728 uma senhora pediu-me para eu ir jogar um cachorro morto dentro do Tietê que ela dava-me 5 cruzeiros.

Sex, Québécois truths and Brazilian love comedies

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From misogynistic sex to a politically-correct idea of love in the context of family: Three male friends from Rio de Janeiro in their mid-thirties get together every night in a bar to drink beer and talk about sex, women and their frustrated relationships with them. That’s why the most usual sentence among them is E ai…Comeu? (So…did you get laid?). Fernando’s girlfriend just abandoned him leaving behind only 31 pairs of shoes, and he starts feeling tempted by his attractive neighbor, a 17-year-old college student. Honorio has a routine family life with three children and feels distanced from his wife but he becomes obsessed with the idea that she is being unfaithful to him. Fonsinho is a failed writer and a rich daddy’s son whose relationships with women are always monetary. A comedy with no pretensions that has been adapted from the theater.

Much deeper and more interesting is this 1986’s Québécois movie showed the other day in La 2 Spanish TV about a group of intellectuals and the conversations concerning their sexual life:  Le déclin de l’empire américain, by Denys Arcand. A group of middle-age men and women recall in a festive atmosphere and with an attitude of revival their opinions and frustrations related to love and sex, showing alternatively emotional helplessness and the joy of life.

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.   

Race, stage and video tapes in Brazilian ‘Miss Julie’

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As in a mirror house and playing with the audience’s senses, Brazilian theater company Vértice de Teatro mixes video and stage, characters and actors. Two sliding screens and a hand video camera depicts and interfere with the story jumping from one diegetic level to another, from video to performance, from Strindberg’s story rewritten for nowadays’ Brazil to the refusal of actors to keep on playing repulsive but cathartic roles for themselves. There are constant interferences of the camera on the stage, and actors saying – [Cut!] or addressing the audience in Spanish and making fun of themselves or crying. And behind all the technical apparatus and the dilemma of which of the video scenes were recorded and which ones were live, we find the racial issue, the story of the white rich girl infatuated with a black servant and perpetuating centuries of bondage, a connection à la brésilienne with the original story by the Swedish playwright, but with an improvised ending.

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