It’s about the brazilian cinema
A film about struggling ballet dancers – with its premiere in one of the city’s favelas ? was the pick of this year’s Rio de Janeiro film festival.
The Brazilian cinema showcased at last week’s Rio de Janeiro film festival has a look and style clearly shaped by the country’s international heavy-hitters, directors such as Walter Salles and Fernando Meirelles. But weirdly, the most purely enjoyable Brazilian movie I saw was the most atypical ? and partly British-made. Only When I Dance, a lovely, sweet-natured film directed by Beadie Finzi, has been enthusiastically but misleadingly described by the New York Times as a “Brazilian Billy Elliot”. In fact, it is a documentary following a talented young dancer from the favelas, 19-year-old Irlan Santos da Silva, and his struggle to get a job with a classical ballet company in New York.
Da Silva comes from the Complexo do Alemão favela and, startlingly, a special premiere was held in a church in the favela itself ? the toughest urban slum-village in Rio, and one very much not part of the city’s tentative new “favela tourism” industry. A group of journalists were driven there by arrangement with the local community; we were given to understand that this was the first time outsiders had entered thefavela in this way ? unarmed, at any rate.
Traffic up the hill to the favela was slow and jammed, provoking spirited comments among the Brazilian members of our contingent, directed at the country’s 63-year-old president, Luiz Inácio Lulada Silva , or “Lula” ? increasingly scorned among the younger generation for his smugness, dullness and readiness to forget his early, radical beliefs. “Lula says there should be a car for everyone!” said one. “How about decent public transport?”
When we arrived, the neighbourhood was in mellow, welcoming mood, though one journalist almost gave our guide a heart attack by producing a video camera and trying to film ? tactless on a number of levels. He was brusquely hissed at to put his camera away or he would have to make his own way back. But the film itself, a charming yet unsentimental story, was an antidote to any tension. The story of Irlan’s triumph is juxtaposed with that of 14-year-old Isabela Coracy, also from the favela ; she has big dreams, too ? but after her parents have borrowed the thousands of dollars necessary to send her to Europe and the US for auditions, Isabela flunks, and is repeatedly told that she is too overweight for classical dance. That never happened in Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. The final scene showing Irlan’s parents struggling with empty-nest blues put a lump in my throat, and seeing the film within thefavela community was an unforgettable experience.
Marcelo Gomes and Karim Aïnouz‘s I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You has a lonely traveller’s tristesse. A geologist undertakes a severe, 30-day journey through remote north-eastern Brazil to make a land survey for a new canal. He narrates the film, unseen the whole time, and his sense of geological time corresponds to the film’s feel for the country’s physical vastness- a shock every time I see Brazil on a map. He yearns to be home with his girlfriend, but this homesick melancholy is actually worse than it seems: his girlfriend has in fact left him already, and the narrator yearns to be swallowed up by the gigantic landscape.
The Famous and the Dead by Esmir Filho is another reminder of Brazil’s colossal scale, and the alienation that makes up some of its emotional landscape. A teenage boy earnestly blogs about his hero, Bob Dylan, but can’t make Dylan’s Brazilian tour date in São Paulo, because he lives too far away ? in rural Rio Grande do Sul, among a German-descended community about to have their annual June festival, where they dress up as if for the Munich Oktoberfest. Yearning, love and fear blow across the scrub like tumbleweed.
The Stillborn by Paulo Machline, who was Oscar-nominated for a short film in 2001, is a very different piece of work: a serio-comic chamber piece, set largely in a single room. A beautiful young singer is brought to São Paulo and put up in a hotel by an older man, ostensibly so she can audition for an opera company, but really so that he can confess to her his slavish devotion. This, he claims, is “asexual”, though he is certainly intensely weird – gabbling on about his obsession with tarot cards, and their relationship to the various awful images of illness featured on cigarette-packets (he is a heavy smoker). This is a very strange, talky film that could have been made in the 1960s, featuring quirky camera angles, the like of which I haven’t seen since The Ipcress File. Gangsta-favela chic is what Brazilian films for export are supposedly all about. But Rio showed the poetry, melancholy and complexity that interests its film-makers more.
Entry filed under: BRAZILIAN CINEMA, DISTRIBUTORS, DOCUMENTALS, EXHIBITIONS, FILM FESTIVALS, LATIN AMERICAN FILM, PRODUCTORS, RIO DE JANEIRO FILM FEST. Tags: Beadie Finzi, Fernando Meirelles, Karim Aïnouz, Marcelo Gomes, Walter Salles.