Saturday, May 05, 2007

Brazilian Cinema

Spotlight on Brazilian Cinema, part two

Lower City (2005, Director Sérgio Machado, co-writer Karim Ainouz): Rating 7.5/10

I am fast becoming a fan of Karim Ainouz's writing style. Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures was my favourite film of 2005 and even though Behind the Sun(2001) was flawed, it had moments of rich emotion. The trailers for Lower City seemed to make clear what the film was about -- two friends are shown to fall for the same woman, plenty of raw sex and some scenes of robbery and physical violence. And true to the trailers, the film is exactly what it appears. The first sex scene arrives at the 3 minute mark of the film. At the start of the film, we see Karinna (Alice Braga) dressing up and heading downstairs to a local shop. There she asks the shop-keeper if she knows anyone who can give her a ride out of town. Two young men (Deco played by Lázaro Ramos and Naldinho played by Wagner Moura) standing in the corner tell her that they can give her a lift on their boat. While negotiating the price with her, they eye her up and down and say that she can pay the rest by you know what. She understands and a minute or so later, Naldinho is having his way with her on the boat. And right after him, Deco steps up to score. Right from the outset, Karinna is smart enough to understand that she will come in between these childhood friends and that the two will eventually kill each other over her. To her credit, she tries to get away but is always drawn towards them. Very little words are spoken in this duration and none need to be -- the pictures tell it all.

Pixote (1981, Director Hector Babenco): Rating 9/10

Half-way through watching this film, I felt it reminded me of Carandiru, the 2003 gritty Brazilian prison drama film. As it turns out, Babenco directed both these films so the similarity was understandable. In a sense, Carandiru is an extension of the work that Babenco started with Pixote. In this 1981 film, he focuses on the poor Brazilian youth of São Paulo. He shows that how sometimes these kids are grabbed by the police on the slightest pretext and housed in reformatories. All these kids are less 18 years of age and that is the key. Because if the kids are under 18, no matter what crime they commit, they won't be thrown in prison but sent to a reformatory. So certain people abuse this loop hole by getting the children to commit drug trafficking, theft and even murder.

Pixote is not an easy film to watch. It is not afraid to show the disgusting side of crime and poverty that most films often cover-up. While watching this movie, it is easy to understand how some of the kinds will land up in the jails in Carandiru. The main character of Pixote is a 10 year old boy who gradually loses his innocence as the film progresses. This film was made long before the recent Brazilian youth crime films and it predicts the horror that is shown in City of God, Bus 174 and Carandiru.

After two films, onto a book.........

Garrincha, written by Ruy Castro

Plenty of non-soccer fans have heard of Pele but how many have heard of Garrincha? Plenty of myths surround Garrincha and his ability. I often heard he was better than Pele and the limited black and white footage I saw of his goals and moves seemed to confirm that. But it was a truly eye-opening experience to read this fascinating book by Ruy Castro. Castro has done an amazing amount of research for this book and honestly, it is truly one of the best books I have read in a very long time!

The cliched phrase of "truth is sometimes stranger than fiction" seemed to apply to Garrincha. Right from his birth, he defied belief. He was born with two defective legs -- both legs were bent, one outward and the other inward. On top of that, one leg was shorter than the other (by one inch) and he even had a hip problem. Doctors didn't give him much chance to walk, let alone run. But run he did and he became one of the best dribblers the game has known. Unfortunately, that is where the romantic side of his life ends. Everything else about him is so tragic and miserable that you feel no fiction writer could make this stuff up.

-- Garrincha had a weakness for alcohol and woman. He count not resist either and while he was not drunk, he was screwing (or doing both together). In fact, sex was the only exercise he used to keep himself fit. He never went to gym and played the game however he felt it. He is believed to have fathered atleast 14 recorded children with 5 different women.
-- He was naive and simple-minded and other people took advantage of that. He was constantly under-paid by his club and later in life, he was sucked dry by a greedy lawyer who tried to steal any money that Garrincha earned.
-- Throughout his career, friends and people tried to get him back on his feet by creating jobs for him. But the lure of alcohol always was stronger.
-- A man who led Brazil to two World Cup trophies died in a manner one does not associate with such heroes. On the other hand, Pele's fame went from strength to strength. Both were heroes to the world in that 1958 World Cup but Pele went to become a global icon, while Garrincha disappeared into the dust of the earth.
-- By the end of his life, he was depending on organizations and even the Brazilian football federation on keeping him alive and paying his hospital bills.

One can argue that the pattern of Garrincha's destruction is the same followed by other people who found over-night wealth and blew it all away. But Garrincha's case is different. He didn't care for money. And when he played, he didn't want to be a hero and score the most goals. For him dribbling was his only joy. His team-mates often got mad at him for not passing the ball enough, but they didn't realize that for him playing tricks with the ball was the highest form of pleasure.

But no matter how many mistakes he made and how many affairs he had, some people were always ready to forgive him. In fact, people blamed his marriage problems on the other woman who was hated more than Garrincha. Part of the love that people had for him might be attributed to his poor background. Castro does a good job in starting the book at a point when the local natives were tortured and abused by the colonials. The start of the book feels like something out of the Brazil that Werner Herzog showed in Cobra Verde -- plantation owners who exploited the locals.

This book highlights all the cliches and myths one associates with the images of Brazil -- futbol, sex, poverty, politics, corruption, carnival. But more than the cliches, this is a engaging look at the life of a flawed man. Full credit for the wonder that this book is goes to Ruy Castro and the English translator, Andrew Downie.

Full title: Garrincha, the triumph and tragedy of Brazil's forgotten footballing hero

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