Monday, August 13, 2007

Brazilian Cinema

Spotlight on Brazilian Cinema, part three

When I started my spotlight on Brazilian cinema a few months ago, I had a few selected themes that I wanted to focus on. But after seeing more than a dozen films, I decided to abandon the themes -- the films were so rich and diverse that trying to squeeze each film into one theme was not doing justice to the movies. However, the one elements that stands out from all the viewed Brazilian films is the beautiful cinematography; it didn't matter if the film is by a first time director or an accomplished film-maker, the visuals are perfect in all cases. In that respect, cinematography in Brazilian cinema is the best in the world alongside films from Taiwan, India and Hong Kong.

Just like India, Brazil is a complex and diverse country featuring many ethnicities and plenty of varied landscapes such as forests, beaches and desserts. In the hands of talented camera men, the wonders of Brazil's natural beauty are captured perfectly on screen and help form the backbone of an engaging narrative.

God is Brazilian (2003, Director Carlos Diegues): Rating 7/10

Diegues is considered one of the film-makers responsible for the Nuevo wave of Brazilian cinema. But his talents are almost wasted on this comedy about God visiting earth. In the film, God (played by Antônio Fagundes) is tired of the daily stress and wants to take a vacation. So he visits Brazil in order to find a saint to temporarily replace him. God shows up in front of Taoca (Wagner Moura), a light hearted simpleton. The two of them undertake a journey across the beautiful Brazilian landscape in search of the saint. Along the way, God performs some magic to prove his identity and even to earn some money for their journey. It is rare to see special effects in a Brazilian movie but the limited effects add to the film's visual beauty. The screenplay and acting however leave a lot to be desired.

Drained (2006, Director Heitor Dhalia): Rating 10/10

This is one of the most witty and original films I have seen this year. Credit for bringing these eccentric characters to life goes to Lourenço Mutarelli who wrote the novel and to Heitor Dhalia for bringing pitch perfect performances from his cast. The film can be described as a deadpan dark comedy but the main character Lourenco (Selton Mello) is much more dangerous than any character in a Jim Jarmusch or Aki Kaurismäki film.

By profession, Lourenco collects people's antiques. But it is never clear whether he sells these antiques or simply keeps them for his collection. He decides the value of each antique himself and if he likes the story behind the item, be buys it. His office (housed in a warehouse) is always lined up with people waiting to sell their item by pouring their heart out to Lourenco. But right from the film's start, Lourenco's mind is preoccupied with two things -- Garconete's behind (a waitress played by Paula Braun) and the foul smell that comes from his bathroom. It would be unfair to give away any more details but the unique characters and scenarios make Lourenco's life hell.

There are some audacious camera shots in the movie -- the opening sequence features the camera shamelessly glaring at Garconete's behind -- we watch every swing as she gracefully heads to work. The film stands out from other Brazilian films because of its visual choices -- there are no bright colors saturating the screen but instead brownish colors are prominent.. Also, there are no scenes of beaches or any other visual cues that could place this film in Brazil.

On the other hand.....

Baixio das Bestas (2007, Director Cláudio Assis): Rating 8/10

Bog of beasts contains all the elements associated with Brazilian cinema -- heat, crime, sex and sensuality. The film is set in a small Brazilian town where not much happens on the surface. But underneath the surface, every possible sin is committed. The local town cinema has been long shut down. So as part of the town's entertainment, the local men head to a designated location every night to see a naked girl -- the girl's grandfather brings the girl every day and asks her to remove her clothes for the men who pay him; he decides when she should put her clothes back on. The raging hormones are kept at a distance but is it possible to keep the girl safe from all those prying eyes?

The film is raw and attempts to show the naked animal behaviour of men. The camera does not flinch during an orgy scene that turns into a gross rape because of the dangerous mix of alcohol, boredom and lust. It has been 5 years since Assis last directed a film. His 2002 film Mango Yellow contained plenty of lasting images about life in Recife. With Bog of beasts, he leaves the port city behind and heads inwards to the Brazilian countryside where the mood is darker and life more bleak.

The Samba Poet (2006, Director Ricardo Van Steen): Rating 7.5/10

Van Steen's film is based on the real life story of Noel Rosa, a famous samba artist. The film follows an often tried and tested formula used to depict life of people who go from being a nobody to achieving instant fame only followed quickly by their decline -- we are shown scenes of his initial love with Samba, followed by how Noel rose to fame and had a passionate affair followed by how he lost everything. However, in Noel's case, his decline was accelerated by his ill health. Ofcourse, his fiery affair also added to his problems. The film does a very good job in showing how Noel turned everyday incidents into catchy music and formed his unique voice.

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