Originally published in Senses of Cinema issue 89, December 2018.
To think of Brazil today is to think foremost of a country in a state of crisis, or indeed of a country that has been in a state of perpetual crisis since at least 2013: politically, economically, socially. In the midst of this turmoil, and in the wake of the pivotal 2018 elections, the national cinema appears to be surprisingly healthy: the number of Brazilian feature films has almost doubled (from 84 in 2009 to 158 in 2017); an abundance of independent domestic festivals showcase works from their own country more fervently than most; and on the world stage, 23 films from Brazil screened at Rotterdam this year, while eight competed in the Berlinale1. Indeed, according to the critic Inácio Araujo, this is the best generation of Brazilian filmmakers we have seen since the 1960s, during the height of cinema novo2. And yet there are various factors that threaten to conspire against this surge: the advances in independent filmmaking have never been cocooned from the political machinations that conspire against them, and a dwindling domestic market that already poses a threat to the national cinema is now being matched by some major changes to government dispensations, which are set to alter the conditions of possibility for film production for the foreseeable future.
On 16 July this year, the Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual (FSA), a funding body responsible for the development of Brazilian cinema and television, confirmed its new mechanism for allocating funds to independent directors and producers in the nation. A month later, the federal agency ANCINE (Agência Nacional de Cinema) published lists detailing the results of various selection criteria, which were used to assign a number to each of the directors therein: one list offered an individual number corresponding to the number of works made (from 1995-2016) by the director in question; the other provided a number signifying the calculation of commercial performance, relative to distribution and exhibition3.
The immediate effect of this incredibly blunt instrument has been to divide directors of popular works from those of festival fare, the latter of which are hardly likely to make a significant debt at the box office. In a climate where more Brazilian films are now screening in domestic cinemas than ever before – 143 in 2016 – independents still struggle against the popular fare, with 66% of films attracting less than ten thousand ticket sales4. Just consider the trends of the top 20 performers in Brazilian cinemas from 2000-2017 (see image below): a mixture of terrible comédias pastelão (slapstick comedies) – Minha Mãe é uma Peça (My Mother is a Character, André Pellenz, 2013) and its sequel; Até que a Sorte nos Separe (Till Luck Do Us Part, Roberto Santucci, 2012) and its two sequels – historical biopics – Dois Filhos de Francisco (Two Sons of Francisco, Breno Silveira, 2005); Chico Xavier (Daniel Filho, 2010) – punctuated by one major breakout film – Cidade de Deus (City of God, Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002) – that is the only real world traveller of note on the list.
The stranglehold of Globo is particularly noteworthy in this regard, allowing for the smooth continuity from television to cinema: as Randal Johnson has observed, in 2014 “115 Brazilian films were released theatrically, attracting 16,006,527 spectators. The top 10 films accounted for 12,342,443, or 77 percent of those spectators. Six of the top 10 were co‐produced by Globo Filmes. Five of the six were comedies, and all featured television actors”5. To the commercial victors go the spoils, and the new ANCINE mechanism promises further funding as a reward for turning out more projects of this ilk, which bear very little resemblance to the best of Brazilian cinema today6.
Brazilian cinema: besieged by the State?
What is perhaps even more worrying about the new ANCINE funding mechanism is that it completely occludes short films, which are not even reckoned in the count of works produced by a director, thus making it difficult for short filmmakers to mount a case for funding a debut feature, and disincentivising the production of short films altogether. In contradistinction to its predecessor CONCINE (Conselho Nacional de Cinema), whose Lei do curta (Short Film Law) guaranteed funding for directors to produce shorter works, the new decree by ANCINE stymies a pathway that once upon a time afforded directors a guaranteed avenue for the exhibition of shorter works in domestic cinemas7. The new disregard for short films resulted in immediate reactions at the Gramado film festival in August, where most of the short filmmakers in attendance donned T-shirts bearing the slogan “Ancine, eu existo” (“ANCINE, I exist”)8, and more recently at the Festival de Brasília, where the curator Eduardo Valente made specific mention of the importance of short film forms in the history of Brazilian cinema9.
Indeed, there are incredible riches to be discovered in shorter works from Brazil: consider the case of Leonardo Mouramateus, a young filmmaker perhaps best known outside of his home country for his first feature, António um dois três (Antônio One Two Three, 2017), but whose abundance of shorter works offer more concentrated and vibrant portraits of youth, from his experiments with analogue photographs in A Festa e os Cães (The Party and the Barking, 2015), to the queer camaraderie of Tiradentes prize-winner Vando Vulgo Vedita (Vando AKA Vedita, with Andréia Pires, 2017). The first of these two films presents its viewers with a series of analogue photographs taken by the director between his departure from Fortaleza and his arrival in Lisbon, a mixture of his friends and acquaintances at a number of late-night gatherings, and the packs of stray dogs that loiter in the streets. These images are shuffled through by different pairs of hands, as a collective narrates their origins and possible meanings (an acknowledgement to Jean Eustache in the credits retroactively calls to mind a comparable strategy in his Les Photos d’Alix (Alix’s Pictures, 1980)). Through these photos, we are left to consider the possibilities of meaningful connections – between friends, but also between humans and animals – and the prospect of relating the experience of a singular evening through an image, or through a song.
Another intriguing narrative experiment is Deborah Viegas’s A Casa Cinza e as Montanhas Verdes (The Grey House and the Green Mountains, 2016), which captures the unfolding of an anxious drama on a bridge in São Paulo state in one static long take. Combining some of the preoccupations with responsibility that inform the work of Ruben Östlund, the film also presents an inducement to the spectator’s roving eye, not unlike those encouraged by a Brueghel canvas. In a subtler way than in A Festa e os Cães, Viegas also draws a parallel between humans and animals: the film begins with an imperceptible blurred image, overlayed with the text of a parable about hedgehogs, who keep close together in the winter in order to keep warm, but who must maintain a safe distance so as to avoid the prickles of the other. It is a distance that is also maintained between the camera and the action, reinforcing the tensions between bodies.
Considering ANCINE’s newfound disregard for short film production, another director – indeed, the most prominent director to come out of Brazil in recent years – should be mentioned here, as he cut his teeth in short films for ten years before his debut feature: Kleber Mendonça Filho. And indeed, it was Kleber’s short Eletrodoméstica (2005) that was the germ for what would later become the highly successful O Som ao Redor (Neighbouring Sounds, 2012) – not long ago nominated by Walter Salles (among many others) as the most important Brazilian film made in the last ten years10 – demonstrating a clear path towards feature film production that should be supported wholeheartedly11. While Kleber gained widespread global recognition for that film, he has become something of an enemy of the state in recent years: in March 2018, the director was accused of financial irregularities in the production of O Som ao Redor, with the Ministry of Culture claiming that the film had exceeded its budget as an awardee of the government’s “Edital de Baixo Orçamento” (Low Budget Film Fund). Kleber responded with an open letter to the minister, Sérgio Sá Leitão, refuting any wrongdoing and speaking of the government’s recent criminalization of the artistic class, and the unprecedented penalty for a production that the same ministry also submitted for Oscar nomination12.
It is hardly paranoiac to suggest that in the scheme of things, this complaint is in part payback for Kleber’s anti-establishment position that was cemented very publicly two years ago: the premiere of Aquarius (2016) at Cannes, which took place several days after the exile of Dilma Rousseff from the Palácio do Planalto, was infamously accompanied by a red carpet protest of the coup d’etat by the film’s cast and crew, a gesture that gained instant international recognition13. The fallout from this protest ranged from the comical to the conspiratorial: on the one hand Kleber’s team sardonically lifted a headline from conservative columnist Reinaldo Azevedo’s reactionary article – “o dever das pessoas de bem é boicotá Aquarius” (“it is the duty of good people to boycott Aquarius”)14 – to adorn the film’s poster; on the other, the film was disqualified from the Academy Awards submission process, with Marcos Petrucelli, a member of the selection committee, appearing to rail against Aquarius based not on its merits as a film, but instead on the political gesture made on the Croisette15. In the wake of this controversy, Gabriel Mascaro, Ana Muylaert, and Aly Muritiba all withdrew their films from consideration, and eventually the completely saccharine Pequeno Segredo (Little Secret, David Schurmann, 2016), a movie that was veritably unheard of (and which has since vanished without a trace), was chosen as the national representative.
Of course, Oscar nominations for non-English language films do not necessarily carry the great prestige that some imagine, and given the previous entrants for the trophy from Brazil one begins to wonder about the suspect worth of a film classed as “foreign” for US audiences. The nominee for 2019 is a case in point: O Grande Circo Místico (The Great Mystical Circus, Carlos Diegues, 2018) is a farcical chronicle that follows the lineage of a family of performing artists over more than a century and offers just the right levels of whimsy and star power (Vincent Cassel is involved) to attract the attention of the industry establishment. This perfectly harmless panis et circenses film, which debuted out of competition at Cannes this year, is the seventh film by Cacá Diegues that has been put forward to the Academy for the Best Foreign Film award since he was first earmarked for Xica (1976). Based on a popular 1983 stage musical, O Grande Circo Místico includes one character that appears – impossibly without aging – throughout the entire film. This is Celaví (“c’est la vie”), played by the increasingly ubiquitous Jesuíta Barbosa (Tatuagem, Praia do Futuro), a kind of mystical master of ceremonies whose constant presence bears witness to the repeated triumphs and tragedies marking each generation of the Knieps family, but who might also stand in for Diegues himself, as the cinemanovista who stubbornly marches on well after his heyday16.
What is novo about the new?
Much in Brazilian cinema has changed since Diegues was at the height of his powers, and perhaps no more so than in the current decade. Since the twilight of the retomada in the early 2000s, critics have sought to categorise the new trends that have emerged, severally as “novíssimo cinema brasileiro”17, “garage cinema”18, “post-industrial cinema”19, “realism under erasure”20, and a “detour through fiction”21. These last few years especially have been marked by – among other trends – a preponderance of hybrid documentary works, of a turn to science-fiction and to horror, and of the rise of cinema taking a concerted interest in LGBTQ issues. Furthermore, the changing nature of independent film production has seen a turn away from the figure of the individual auteur, and towards the collective: as Denilson Lopes has argued in his reading of Estrada para Ythaca (Road to Ythaca, Luiz Pretti, Ricardo Pretti, Pedro Diógenes, Guto Parente, 2010), by 2010 it had become “a lot easier (…) than in the past to make films with a group of friends, even without raising financing for production and post-production”22. Perhaps partly in recognition of this shift, in 2017 the crucial independent film festival Semana dos Realizadores changed its name to Semana Festival de Cinema, in order to better reflect its inclusive ambitions, and to move away from the potentially elitist, racist, and sexist connotations of auteurism contained within realizadores (directors/filmmakers)23.
If not coalescing into a ‘movement’ per se, independent filmmakers of the current decade have certainly profited from working in various collaborative formations. Pedro Diógenes and Guto Parente continue to work together, for instance, this year serving up the strangely memorable world of Inferninho (My Own Private Hell, 2018), focused on a liminal and inclusive watering hole that offers solace to all manner of wayfarers, and emerges as something like a meeting of Petzold, Fassbinder and Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972).
But such directorial duos now abound: among the films ahead of which O Grande Circo Místico was nominated as Brazil’s Oscar submission are two of the best high-profile works in recent years, which each represent an instance of this kind of collectivist filmmaking24. The first is As Boas Maneiras (Good Manners, Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, 2017), a work that consolidates the existing partnership of the two directors in activating the social acuity of horror. As Boas Maneiras, winner of the Special Jury Prize at Locarno in 2017, takes up the story of São Paulo nanny Clara, who is employed by the wealthy, pregnant Ana, but soon becomes more than just hired help. The second half of the film – with more than a nod to Tourneur’s Cat People – emerges as a completely cross-genre, intersectional narrative that proposes a powerful coupling of those most marginalised in society.
Another key success from the same year was Affonso Uchoa and João Dumans’s Arábia (Araby), which hones the strengths of lead actor Aristides de Sousa that were already on show in A Vizinhança do Tigre (The Hidden Tiger, Affonso Uchoa, 2014). The film is proof positive of the wellspring of talent coming out of Minas Gerais at the moment, but it also harnesses the great tradition of storytelling in Brazilian cinema, working with literature (the James Joyce source text from Dubliners) and diary entries alongside music to convey something of the life of Cristiano, a perennial drifter and factory worker whose life comes to a premature end in Ouro Preto. In its focus on an outsider, it seems important that Arábia itself refused the plaudits of the state. After their victory at the Festival de Brasília in 2017, Dumans and Uchoa refused to have their work shortlisted for the Brazilian submission to the Oscars, issuing a statement condemning the process and its overseers: “We did not sign up because the Oscars do not represent the kind of cinema we believe in. We also prefer not to be part of a process led by an illegitimate government and by a Ministry of Culture that recently politicized the process of nominating Brazilian films to compete in the Oscars, as well as acting systematically to stifle independent Brazilian cinema. The new incentive policies of the ministry and the FSA (Fundo Setorial Audiovisual) will make it difficult for films such as ours to be produced”25. Against the official administration of film culture by the powers that be, signs of resistance remain.
The cinematic present feeding off the past
The new generation is not alone in producing contemporary works of great value, with members of the old guard also proving that well-worn paths might still be worth treading. This is certainly true of Júlio Bressane’s last three films, Educação Sentimental (Sentimental Education, 2013) O Garoto (The Kid, 2015) and Beduino (Bedouin, 2016), intensely concentrated chamber pieces that are reduced to the essentials that have animated his work for some time now: a man and a woman, sound and image, eroticism and death26. His latest, Sedução da Carne (Seduction of the Flesh, 2018) continues the director’s fruitful relationship with Locarno, which now dates back six years, a late career output that has been remarkably consistent to this point.
In a different register entirely, Neville D’Almeida’s A frente fria que a chuva traz (The Cold Front That the Rain Brings, 2017) is a welcome addition to the landscape, a stubborn throwback to the style of films – like Rio Babilônia (1980) – that he made four decades ago, which in the light of today seems like a surprising and rare anachronism. An alarmingly caustic assault on the entitled youth of Rio de Janeiro, the film focuses on a group of young men and women who organise a party on a favela rooftop. What develops as day becomes night is open slather for all manner of homophobic and racist sentiment, and the humiliations of guests of all stripes (especially of the character played by the rising star Bruna Linzmeyer, whose talent here is undeniable), all lubricated by copious amounts of liquor and drugs.
While some veteran filmmakers have continued to work well in a new era, film materials from the past carry the promise of imminent deterioration within them. The trend of recapturing archival images of the nation’s cinematic and political histories has gathered pace in recent years, but appears now more than ever to be a necessary counterpunch to the tangible destruction of cultural memory: before the blaze that gutted the Museu Nacional in Rio this year, the February 2016 loss of up to 1,000 reels of nitrate film at the Cinemateca Brasileira was only the most obvious symptom of decay for an institute that has been savaged by funding cuts and staff shortages over the last five years. While not passing explicit comment on the waning of the audiovisual archive, a number of recent found footage films have revived the past in a way that the Cinemateca now seems incapable, even if the results are mixed. In his No Intenso Agora (In the Intense Now, 2017), João Moreira Salles attempts to locate the sweet spot between the personal and the political but only partially succeeds in uncovering revolutionary tales from the very well-trodden histories of ’68 in Paris and Prague, and mixing them with rather nostalgic footage of his mother in China from the same era. Elsewhere, Eryk Rocha’s Cinema Novo (2016) delivers a primer on the movement of which his father, Glauber, was a major force. While it deliberately eschews any contemporary footage – shot but not included in the final cut27 – in a bid to stress the currency of bygone images, the film plays it a little safe when it comes to a proper interrogation of the period and fails to present much that is not already known within the confines of its montage.
Where Cinema Novo often feels like a film purpose-built for a non-Brazilian audience, Fernanda Pessoa’s Histórias Que Nosso Cinema (Não) Contava (Stories That Our Cinema Didn’t Tell, 2017) showcases a chapter of film history much less admired or revisited at home or abroad. Pessoa’s film focuses on pornochanchadas, erotic comedies made with increasing frequency during the 1970s (permissible – at least in part – by virtue of the dictatorship’s repressive desublimation of sex), which proved indelibly popular then but whose reputations have not fared well over the years. Here, footage from many of these forgotten, forgettable works is mobilised in service of telling the story of the military dictatorship, and the images are mined for their references to police brutality, misogyny, sexual violence, and political dissent. What is most impressive about the film is its exercise in contrasts: on the one hand there is a willingness to approach a largely disavowed archive of conservative genre films in order to discover something – a scene, a look, a gesture, a line – that is worth redeeming; on the other hand, the choice to return to a perennially revived passage of Brazilian history that has been mapped right to the very fringes, but which from the vantage point of the pornochanchada might be seen afresh.
Brazilian political cinema in the era of #fakenews
If the threat of disintegrating film materials, archival mismanagement, and the ease of access to digital editing software have all combined to see an upswing in the number of found footage films of late, then the parlous state of the political establishment in Brazil has inspired its own cultural logic in the last few years. Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash) has established the conditions for the house of cards in Brazilian politics to come crashing down in tragicomic fashion, and the responses have been swift, both in cinema and on television, and in evidence at both ends of the political spectrum. The most notable film to deal directly with the coup that overthrew Dilma has been O Processo (The Trial, Maria Augusta Ramos, 2018). Offering something close to party propaganda in the seductive veneer of a Wiseman documentary, the film sets up Dilma’s impeachment proceedings as a lopsided theatrical clash between the measured invocations of Plato and Hegel by the former Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo, and the crocodilian histrionics of prosecution lawyer Janaina Paschoal (who at one point can be seen sipping on a Toddynho, a children’s chocolate milk drink).
On the other side of the fence sits O Mecanismo (The Mechanism, Netflix, 2018), which does not have to work too hard to find its own set of elected heroes and villains (and it doesn’t). José Padilha’s thinly-veiled serialised recreation of events from the last ten years represents a more conservative take on the long investigation, which provoked a corrective statement from Dilma and a boycott of Netflix from supporters of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party). While for Padilha, the eponymous “mechanism” of political corruption “has no ideology” and “operates in both left and right governments”28, for Dilma and others on the left the series was a “distortion” of historical facts that was tantamount to “fake news”29.
Regardless of the falsehoods that attend the creative licence of historical fictions like this, there is surely something more pernicious in the deliberate twisting of facts on platforms that claim to deal only with reality. In this tendentious era of post-truth reportage, Julia Murat and Miguel Antunes Ramos’s collage film Operações de Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (Operations for the Guarantee of Law and Order, 2017) takes aim at the relentless news cycle, venturing beyond party politics by focusing on the transparently biased manoeuvres of the Globo media corporation in painting the legitimate protestors of the 2013 São Paulo bus fare hikes and the 2014 World Cup as unlawful hooligans30. Its main enemy is clear enough, and the strength of the film lies in its attention to the way that so much of what has taken place in the last tumultuous years has been led by the audiovisual manipulations of Rede Globo. In any case, in this condemnation of established news media (rather than a condemnation of conservative politicians in and of themselves), the film is neatly bookended by opposing statements from the previous two presidents: it begins with Dilma making a speech that encourages (in guarded tones) the demonstrations that “show the strength of our democracy,” and ends with Michel Temer’s call for the full-blown “pacification” of the Brazilian people – “instead of talking about the crisis; work.”
Another film that its director made explicitly against the official discourse of “order and progress” adorning the Brazilian flag is Era uma vez Brasília (Adirley Queirós, 2017)31. Like his previous feature, Branco Sai, Preto Fica (White Out, Black In, 2014), here Queirós focuses again on the city of Cêilandia, roughly sequestered from the national capital as a home for those forgotten citizens who had helped to build the modernist planned city. A futuristic film set in the Year 0PC (Post-Coup), Era uma vez Brasília includes recordings of Dilma and her opposition at the impeachment proceedings, but also considers the present in relation to the inauguration of the capital, and to Juscelino Kubitschek, the president in charge of its inauguration. Also featuring an intergalactic traveller and an attack on Congress, the film offers a refreshing view of the current political situation by locating it within a speculative register, and in so doing achieves a robust vision of a possible present.
Horror off and on the screen
Outside of a direct focus on the three-ring circus that is electoral politics, cinema continues to address itself to the political in its more pressing dimensions. Where politicians themselves have been taken to task in documentaries, dramas, and comedies – see the hysterical caricatures of Dilma and Temer in the low-hanging fruit of O Candidato Honesto 2 (The Honest Candidate 2, Roberto Santucci, 2018) – we might say that the effects of increasingly draconian policies on Brazil’s citizens have been best charted in the domain of horror filmmaking32. Something of this structure of feeling had already come through in the clash of master and servant in O Som ao Redor, but elsewhere the aesthetic treatment of historical, systemic social disparities has regularly returned to the stuff of gore and terror to find its voice. In targeting the ruthless manoeuvres of property development, for example, each of Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s Trabalhar Cansa (Hard Work, 2011), Mariana Meliande’s body horror Mormaço (Sultry, 2018) and Aquarius all feature substances or creatures secreted through the walls of buildings, as concrete manifestations of the problems at hand33.
The genetic residue of horror has made itself felt more generally as a response to problems of combined and uneven development, especially with respect to the histories of race in the country. The anthology horror O Nó do Diabo (The Devil’s Knot, Ramon Porto Mota, Ian Abé, Gabriel Martins, Jhésus Tribuzi, 2017) takes up the lasting effects of slavery in Brazil by depicting (in reverse chronological order) the same farm at five separate historical points – 2018, 1987, 1921, 1871, 1818 – and demonstrating the continuing disparities between black and white that remain (not least of all within the film industry itself). The results are ultimately hit-and-miss and the film as a whole loses traction in some places (as anthologies are wont to do). Nevertheless, the first and last stories (both helmed by Ramon Porto Mota) hold the weight of race hate and solidarity well between them well: the former gives us Tavinho Teixeira as a trigger-happy security guard on the outskirts of a favela, while the latter returns us to the days of the quilombolas, the fugitive slaves who hid from their masters before abolition would belatedly arrive in the country in 188834.
While horror works more or less effectively in this case as a genre for articulating the incongruities of slavery and modernity in Brazil, it is handled with far less grace in Vazante (The Surge, Daniela Thomas, 2017). The film, shot in black-and-white, focuses on the slave trader Antonio who, after his wife dies giving birth on his isolated plantation in the Chapada Diamantina, marries her 12-year-old niece, Beatriz. Although the whiff of revolt hangs in the air (the film is set in 1821, nearly seven decades before abolition), Thomas’s film is never truly interested with those in bondage; its slaves are denied subtitles for their own language, and are ultimately fed through the melodramatic blender, with race relations being troped as a mix of the go-to gothic ingredients of incest and miscegenation. This spectacular misfire occasioned a good deal of vigorous debate the day after its screening at the 50th Festival de Brasília, receiving a mostly negative reception that did not accompany its premiere in the vastly different context of the Berlinale. Revista Cinética critic Juliano Gomes called out Thomas’ film as a “belíssima máquina de manutenção do status quo” (“beautiful machine that maintains the status quo”), and later traded blows with the director in two articles published in Piauí, wherein the latter asserted that “Todo o cinema é político, mas os filmes não têm de ser máquinas de transformação do presente para terem o direito de existir e de ser desfrutados” (“All cinema is political, but films do not have to be machines of the transformation of the present in order to have the right to exist and to be enjoyed”)35. In an extended version of his right-of-reply, Gomes points to the power imbalances in the film, and the fragility of a white director who is sponsored by the almighty Globo Filmes, but at the same time arrogates to herself a marginal position where it is she, and not the vastly underrepresented black half of Brazil that is under threat36.
Racial, gender and religious diversity is today’s Brazilian filmscapes
Films like Vazante notwithstanding, the life of black Brazilians elsewhere provides some of the very best filmmaking in the country today; much has been written about the uncompromising cinema of Adirley Queirós, but there are others besides. A major new force in this regard is André Novais Oliveira, a director who casts himself and his parents in a number of short fiction films and two features, offering an intimate and rounded picture of black middle-class life in Minas Gerais. Pouco mais de um mês (A Little More Than a Month, 2013) has Novais and his partner (Élida Silpe) at the budding, tender stage of a relationship, parting ways after a night together, and conversing without saying much of note. In an ingenious and touching echo of the difficulties of relating through direct speech, Novais constructs – using a curtain in the couple’s dark room – a camera obscura that itself mediates relations between inside and outside, and only makes objects visible by inverting them for our eyes.
With his first feature, Ela Volta na Quinta (She Comes Back on Thursday, 2015), Novais continues in this mode, again acquitting himself as a master of depicting pillow talk in a pitch-black room. This time the couple in question is played by his parents, who in the film are in the process of a drawn-out divorce, which also affects the relationships of Novais and his brother Renato. The final two scenes register an incredible sense of melancholy that is the sum total of all of the meticulous world-building that we have seen to this point. And although Quintal (Backyard, 2015) – his second short selected for Cannes – might have followed suit in this kind of docufictional approach, Novais here shows his versatility, crafting an unpredictable and humorously offbeat short about an intergalactic portal opening in his parents’ backyard, which opens a conversation with B-films and pornography. Most recently, Temporada (Long Way Home, 2018) marks a consolidation of his earlier work, a film about a group of government workers tasked with eradicating the conditions for dengue fever in the town of Contagem. This is a modest, elegant work buoyed by Grace Passô’s star turn in the lead role, and which – as in Novais’s previous outings – is underwritten by a soundtrack deftly balanced between original compositions, soul, and European classical music. Working from within a style of Brazilian social realism that draws its power not from any grand allegorical scaffolding but instead from a sympathy for the banalities of the everyday, Novais has created a signature style that will undoubtedly continue to flourish.
At the same time, the rarity of his achievement cannot be overstated: in a recently published report by ANCINE on diversity and race in Brazilian films of 2016, it was discovered that while black citizens in the country account for over half of the population, only 2.1% of the films released were directed by black men, and none by black women37. Café com Canela (Coffee With Cinnamon, Glenda Nicácio and Ary Rosa, 2017) goes some way to correcting that statistic: it was the first feature directed by a black woman in Brazil since Adélia Sampaio’s Amor Maldito (Cursed Love, 1984)… the first feature ever directed by a black woman in Brazil38. Set in Bahia, Café com Canela focuses on the friendship between Violeta and the older Margarida, who has just lost a child and is in mourning. This loss and others are worked through by way of both Afro-Brazilian spiritual ritual and the everyday habits of self-care – like the preparation of coffee with cinnamon – as the film crafts a unique image of black community that is rarely visible on screen.
This decade has witnessed some promising gains for women filmmakers in Brazil more broadly, with works as diverse as the accessible neon-bathed teen murder mystery Mate-me por favor (Kill Me Please, Anita Rocha de Silveira, 2015) and the conceptual clash of art forms and lovers in Pendular (Julia Murat, 2017) each showing the promise of female directors working with vastly different materials. The numbers tell their own promising tale: in 2016, 20.3% of Brazilian films overall were directed by women, while at the pace-setting Tiradentes festival in January 2017, 43 of the 108 films in the programme (or 40%) were directed by women39. Easily the most prominent of these was Baronesa (Juliana Antunes, 2017), winner of best film at the festival, and produced by an all-female crew. The aristocratic title of the film belongs to a suburb in Belo Horizonte, and signals the aspirational drive of Andreia and Leid, the two friends at the centre of the narrative. Antunes once noted that new neighbourhoods were often given female names; but where this practice of nomination can only attain to a sense of irony with respect to the place of women in the Brazilian underclass, the film itself offers a more thoroughgoing consideration of issues of domestic duty and street violence faced by women on a daily basis. In her depiction of the friendship of Leid and Andreia, and in their desire to leave their favela for the more prosperous Baronesa, Antunes offers women not as “facilitators or helpers” in an economy pitched against their interests, but as “decision makers and protectors” living in a universe “in which men are heard of but rarely seen.” In the words of Ela Bittencourt: “Here are the women of Troy, when their men have gone off to war. Here is the violence that engulfs them, the hunger they must stave off, one caress and one real at a time”40.
Questions of self-determination also arise in the monumental documentary Martirio (Vincent Carelli, Tatiana Almeida and Ernesto Carvalho, 2016), which reaches back three decades to tell the story of the Guarani-Kaiowá people of Mato Grosso do Sul. While Carelli originally set out to make a film of his own, he turned instead to training indigenous filmmakers, establishing the decolonial project Vídeo nas Aldeias. Many of the images created by this initiative are included in Martirio, which also seeks out oral testimony in a bid to trace the horrific persecution of the Amerindian population. While in certain cases, evidence of the repeated attacks on the Guarani was covered over with the caterpillar tracks of a farmer’s tractor, Carelli’s film attempts to recover the indexes of oppression that have remain in the words of the survivors, and in the archival images that he helped this people to create. In returning to the archive and to the testimony of indigenous elders in order to retrieve memories of past injustices, Martirio also serves to demonstrate how Brazil has continued to fail its Amerindian peoples: materially, politically, and on the screen.
If Martirio represents an ongoing struggle with a long history, a more recent phenomenon that has altered the political landscape is the rise of the evangelical right in the country. In films like Mate-me por favour – where a charismatic, doctrinaire youth group binds together the uncertain teenagers of Rio’s Barra da Tijuca – evangelicalism has provided fertile ground for satire, even if this particular denomination presents itself as a rather soft target. Canny in its approach to the topic is the short experimental film Terremoto Santo (Holy Tremor, Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, 2017), which excels precisely by working with, rather than against, the seductive power of the Pentecostal church. “Made in rouchian collaboration with the artists portrayed in the film,” as Fábio Andrade has pointed out in his reading of the work, “Holy Tremor is mostly comprised of musical numbers I which kitsch uncovers genuine emotion, synthesizers entwine with the gurgling of a creek,” and “salesman rhetoric holds hands with the gospel”41. The film sharpens its critical edge by working through the play of “the profane as sacred,” presenting the sincerely felt connections between the religion’s adherents and the baser things of this world: pop music, politics, and the money promised by prosperity doctrine.
Perhaps partly in recognition of its slippery approach to its subject, Terremoto Santo also featured in this year’s ‘LGBTQ Brazil,’ a programme curated by Ela Bittencourt for the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, an event that testifies to the efflorescence of films concerned with the nation’s LGBTQ communities42. Once the province of a handful of filmmakers such as Karim Aïnouz, queer cinema in Brazil has certainly come into its own of late, emboldened on the one hand by the near-mainstreaming of same-sex desire on screen – along with its official recognition courtesy of the Félix Award at the Festival do Rio – and conversely by the troglodytic homophobia in evidence in political discourse, in the country’s disgraceful record of anti-gay violence, and in highly-publicised incidents such as the attack on Judith Butler and Wendy Brown at São Paulo airport in late 2017.
Outside of the country, a variety of films responding to this particular moment now find new audiences in new contexts. Also screened in ‘LGBTQ Brazil’ this year were Lembro Mais dos Corvos (I Remember the Crows, Gustavo Vinagre, 2018), the Brazilian heir apparent to Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967), and Bixa Travesty (Tranny Fag, Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman, 2018), featuring the aggressive, dynamic performances of Linn da Quebrada. But the best film in Bittencourt’s programme – and indeed, one of the very best of the year – belongs to Tavinho Teixeira, who has followed up on the digressive, transgressive narrative experimentations of Batguano (2014) with a more expansive vision in Sol Alegria (2018). Here is a futuristic Brazil which is supercharged by a tropicalist past, and which feeds off the aesthetics of B-movies in an effort to loosen the seriousness of its political imaginary; here is a jungle convent of guerrilla nuns that revels in the sensuous, camp quality of Catholicism as a religious force that works against the hard-line evangelical church; here is the nuclear family recast as queer terror cell, who shit on police cars and auto-asphyxiate while receiving unsimulated blowjobs, a small taste of the film’s “militancy of affect”43.
“If we don’t build a revolutionary machine, able to encompass desire and its phenomenon, desire will continue to be manipulated by the forces of oppression and repression,” cautions the daughter (played by Tavinho’s own daughter, Mariah Teixeira) towards the end of the film. Contemporary Brazilian cinema is poised at a unique moment: even pitched against obstinate funding mechanisms and unstable political machinations, cinema can choose to construct itself as a conservative ‘beautiful machine’ disengaged from the world, or as a ‘revolutionary machine’ that can work with the desires of the present in order to resist an unknowable future.
- John Hopewell and Jamie Lang, “Brazilian Women Producers Make a Splash in Berlin,” Variety, 15 February 2018, https://variety.com/2018/film/festivals/brazilian-women-producers-make-a-splash-in-berlin-1202701700/. ↩
- Inácio Araujo, “Festival de Brasília começa em meio ao desinteresse do public por cinema nacional,” Folha de S.Paulo, 13 September 2018, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrada/2018/09/festival-de-brasilia-comeca-em-meio-ao-desinteresse-do-publico-por-cinema-nacional.shtml. ↩
- For more on this development, see “ANCINE divulga regulamento e lista de notas de diretores, produtoras e distribuidoras,” ancine.gov.br, 17 August 2018, https://www.ancine.gov.br/pt-br/sala-imprensa/noticias/ancine-divulga-regulamento-e-lista-de-notas-de-diretores-produtoras-e. ↩
- Bruno Carmelo, “Cinema brasileiro bate recorde de produções em 2016, mas filmes independentes ainda lutam por espaço,” AdoroCinema, 5 February 2017, http://www.adorocinema.com/noticias/filmes/noticia-128433/. ↩
- Randal Johnson, “Television and the Transformation of the Star System in Brazil,” in A Companion to Latin American Cinema, ed. Maria M. Delgado, Stephen M. Hart and Randal Johnson (Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 2017), p. 29. ↩
- An interesting exception to this general split between popular and independent cinema is the genuinely funny TOC – Transtornada, Compulsiva, Obsessiva (Neurotic Quest for Serenity, Paulinho Caruso and Teodoro Poppovic, 2017), which manages to work from within the mould of national comedies – as suggested by its star, Tatá Werneck – while at the same time emerging as a less ridiculous and more heartfelt affair. ↩
- Although in truth, for some time now the graduation from short to long film forms in the industry has been an arduous path, with directors like Eduardo Nunes only able to make short films and TV documentaries for almost two decades before the release of his first feature-length work, Sudoeste, in 2011. See Marcelo Ikeda, “O ‘novíssimo cinema brasileiro’: Sinais de uma renovação,” Cinémas d’Amérique latine 20 (2012): pp. 136-149. ↩
- Maria do Rosário Caetano, “Os vencedores de Festival do Gramado,” Revista Cinema, 26 August 2018, http://revistadecinema.com.br/2018/08/os-vencedores-do-festival-de-gramado/. ↩
- Carmelo, “Festival de Brasília 2018: Filmes sobre a ditadura militar e a posse de Lula ajudam a pensar o Brasil de hoje,” AdoroCinema, 15 September 2018, http://www.adorocinema.com/noticias/filmes/noticia-143286/. ↩
- Inácio Araujo, “Cota para filmes brasileiros no streaming é fundamental, diz Walter Salles,” Folha de S.Paulo, 4 July 2018, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrada/2018/07/cota-para-filmes-brasileiros-no-streaming-e-fundamental-diz-walter-salles.shtml. ↩
- Something similar could be said about the progression from the Cronenbergian short Um Ramo (A Branch, 2007) to the similar tone of the feature length Trabalhar Cansa (Hard Work, 2011) both by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. Rojas continues to make shorts alongside her major work in feature filmmaking, with O Duplo (Doppelgänger, 2012) and A Passagem do Cometa (The Passage of the Comet, 2017) further opportunities to explore the worlds of her longer works. ↩
- See Marcel Plasse, “Para não pagar multa, Kleber Mendonça Filho se diz perseguido pelo MinC e recebe resposta,” Pipoca Moderna, 30 May 2018, https://pipocamoderna.com.br/2018/05/para-nao-pagar-multa-kleber-mendonca-filho-se-diz-perseguido-pelo-minc-e-recebe-resposta/; see also ‘Esclarecimento: carta aberta de Kleber Mendonça Filho,’ Ministério da Cultura, 30 May 2018, http://www.cultura.gov.br/noticias-destaques/-/asset_publisher/OiKX3xlR9iTn/content/id/1495239. ↩
- At the premiere of Renée Nader Messora and João Salaviza’s Chuva é Cantoria na Aldeia dos Mortos (The Dead and the Others, 2018), winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes this 2018, a similar protest was staged against indigenous genocide in Brazil, and in favour of the demarcation of land in the ongoing struggle against the territorial encroachments of agribusiness. For my review of the film, see Stefan Solomon, “Rite of Passage: Renée Nader Messora and João Salaviza’s ‘The Dead and the Others,’” Kinoscope, 25 May 2018, https://read.kinoscope.org/2018/05/25/rite-passage-renee-nader-messora-joao-salavizas-dead-others. ↩
- Reinaldo Azevedo, “Assim que ‘Aquarius’ estrear no Brasil, o dever das pessoas de bem é boicotá-lo. Que os esquerdistas garantam a bilheteria,” Veja, 9 February 2017, https://veja.abril.com.br/blog/reinaldo/assim-que-aquarius-estrear-no-brasil-o-dever-das-pessoas-de-bem-e-boicota-lo-que-os-esquerdistas-garantam-a-bilheteria/. ↩
- Marcos Petrucelli, “E o Oscar vai para… o melhor filme brasileiro com chance real,” Folha de S.Paulo, 11 August 2016, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrada/2016/08/1801277-e-o-oscar-vai-para-o-melhor-filme-brasileiro-com-chance-real.shtml. ↩
- Diegues attracted both celebration and murmurs of disapproval elsewhere in his election to the Academia Brasileira da Letras (ABL) ahead of the black female writer Conceição Evaristo and others; he replaced his cinema novo compatriot, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, who passed away in April 2018. ↩
- See Marcelo Ikeda, “O ‘novíssimo cinema brasileiro.’” ↩
- Ikeda, “O ‘cinema de garagem,’ provisoriamente: notas sobre o contexto de renovação do cinema brasileiro a partir da virada do século,” Aniki: Revista Portuguesa da Imagem em Movimento 5, no. 2 (2018): 457-479. ↩
- Cezar Migliorin, “Por um cinema pós-industrial: Notas para um debate,” Revista Cinética, February 2011, http://www.revistacinetica.com.br/cinemaposindustrial.htm. ↩
- Angela Prysthon, “Furiosas frivolidades: artifícios, heterotopias e temporalidades estranhas no cinema brasileiro contemporâneo,” Revista Eco Pós 18, no. 3 (2015): 68, quoted and trans. in Guilherme Carréra, “Brasília amidst ruins: The sci-fi documentaries of Adirley Queirós and Ana Vaz,” Aniki: Revista Portuguesa da Imagem em Movimento 5, no. 2 (2018): 351. ↩
- See Victor Guimarães, “O desvio pela ficcão: contaminações no cinema brasileiro contemporâneo,” Devires 10, no. 2 (July/December 2013): 58-77. ↩
- See Denilson Lopes, ‘Alumbramento, Friendship, and Failure: New Filmmaking in Brazil in the Twenty‐First Century,’ trans. Stephen M. Hart, in A Companion to Latin American Cinema, 295. ↩
- “A 10a Semana Começa Agora!,” Semana.art.br, 22 November 2017, http://www.semana.art.br/2017/a-10a-semana-comeca-agora/. ↩
- Although it is by no means an indication of the current intergenerational dialogue, two unfortunate articles by the major Cinema Novo editor Eduardo Escorel criticising in turns Arábia and As Boas Maneiras, betray what seems like a complete misunderstanding of the directions that Brazilian cinema is taking today. See Escorel, ‘Arábia – quando o excess de elogios pode ser contraproducente,’ Piauí, 26 April 2018, https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/arabia-quando-o-excesso-de-elogios-pode-ser-contraproducente/; Escorel, ‘As Boas Maneiras – sinal de alerta,’ Piauí, 12 July 2018, https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/as-boas-maneiras-sinal-de-alerta/. ↩
- “Não nos inscrevemos porque o Oscar não representa o tipo de cinema no qual acreditamos. Preferimos também não fazer parte de um processo conduzido por um governo ilegítimo e por um Ministério da Cultura que recentemente politizou o processo de indicação dos filmes brasileiros para disputarem o Oscar, além de atuar sistematicamente pra sufocar o cinema independente brasileiro. As novas políticas de incentivo do ministério e do FSA (Fundo Setorial Audiovisual) vão dificultar justamente que filmes como o nosso sejam produzidos.” Marcel Plasse, “Vencedor do Festival de Brasília não entrar na disputar do Oscar para protester contra ‘governo ilegítimo,’” Pipoca Moderna, 28 August 2018, https://pipocamoderna.com.br/2018/08/vencedor-do-festival-de-brasilia-nao-entra-na-disputa-do-oscar-para-protestar-contra-governo-ilegitimo/ ↩
- For more on O Garoto with respect to Bressane’s back catalogue, see Guilherme Savioli, ‘O Garoto,’ Revista Interlúdio, 16 December 2015, http://www.revistainterludio.com.br/?p=9144. ↩
- See Carolina Soudris (in collaboration with Andrés Pedraza), “Conversation with Eryk Rocha: The Legacy of the Eternal,” Cinema Comparat/ive Cinema IV, no. 9 (2016): p. 30. ↩
- José Padilha, “O mecanismo agredece,” Folha de S.Paulo, 1 April 2018, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/opiniao/2018/04/jose-padilha-o-mecanismo-agradece.shtml. ↩
- Dilma Rousseff, “O mecanismo de José Padilha para assassinar reputações,” dilma.com.br, 25 March 2018, http://dilma.com.br/o-mecanismo-de-jose-padilha-para-assassinar-reputacoes/. ↩
- For my analysis of further examples of political cinema in Brazil today, see Solomon, “Two Ways of Filming a Crisis: Brazilian Political Cinema Today,” LOLA 7, http://lolajournal.com/7/brazil.html. ↩
- Bittencourt, “Brazil’s Extreme Social Tensions on Film,” Hyperallergic, 14 February 2018, https://hyperallergic.com/427303/tiradentes-brazil-film-festival/. ↩
- The following films might also be considered as examples of what Angela Prysthon has referred to as a kind of ‘furious frivolity’ in Brazilian science-fiction cinema. Guilherme Carréra has written of this phenomenon that “the sense of so-called ‘frivolity’ attached to horror or science-fiction genres embraces ‘furious’ as an adjective, for those films would also contain an inevitable fury in their storytelling due to the problematic reality they are actually attempting to emulate.” Carréra, “Brasília amidst ruins,” p. 352. ↩
- Here we should also mention Sinfonia da Necrópole (Necropolis Symphony, Juliana Rojas, 2014), which sees the dead being exhumed so as to condense the space of a São Paulo cemetery under threat from real estate speculation. ↩
- Although not an entirely convincing film, Joaquim (Marcelo Gomes, 2018) is perhaps most productive in its feeling for historical causality, towards the end of the film presenting a quilombo as the site of personal transformation for the revolutionary Tiradentes. ↩
- For a brief overview and contextualisation of the debate (which is archived in its entirety on YouTube), see Carol Almeida, “Belíssima máquina de manutenção do status quo,” Revista Continente, 18 September 2017, http://revistacontinente.com.br/coberturas/festival-de-brasilia-2017/rbelissima-maquina-de-manutencao-do-status-quor; for Juliano Gomes’s initial review of the film, see “A fita branca,” Revista Cinética, 18 September 2017, http://revistacinetica.com.br/nova/a-fita-branca/; for Daniela Thomas’s response to criticisms of her film, see “O lugar de silêncio,” Revista Piauí, 4 October 2017, http://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/o-lugar-do-silencio/; for Gomes’ rejoinder in the same magazine, see “O movimento branco,” Revista Piauí, 19 October 2017, http://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/o-movimento-branco/ ↩
- Gomes, ‘Quem controla os silêncios? (resposta a Daniela Thomas),’ juliano-gomes.com, 12 October 2017, https://juliano-gomes.com/2017/10/12/quem-controla-os-silencios-resposta-a-daniela-thomas/. ↩
- Vinícius Lisboa, “Ancine diz que nenhuma mulher produziu ou dirigou filmes nacionais em 2016,” Agência Brasil, http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/cultura/noticia/2018-01/ancine-diz-que-nenhuma-mulher-negra-produziu-ou-dirigiu-filmes-nacionais-em; for the complete study, see “Diversidade de Gênero e Raça nos Longas-metragens Brasileiros Lançados em Salas de Exibição 2016,” ed. Cainan Baladez, ANCINE, https://www.ancine.gov.br/sites/default/files/apresentacoes/Apresentra%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20Diversidade%20FINAL%20EM%2025-01-18%20HOJE.pdf. ↩
- Since the debut of Café com Canela at the Festival de Brasília in 2017, there was also the release of the documentary O Caso do Homem Errado (The Case of the Wrong Man, Camila de Moraes, 2017), as well as Nicácio and Rosa’s second collaborative feature, Ilha (Island, 2018). ↩
- Carmelo, “Cinema brasileiro bate recorde de produções em 2016”; Léo Rodrigues, “Com 108 filmes, Mostra de Cinema de Tiradentes dá início à 20ª edição,” Agência Brasil, 20 January 2017, http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/cultura/noticia/2017-01/com-108-filmes-mostra-de-cinema-de-tiradentes-da-inicio-sua-20a-edicao. For a very good summary of some recent trends at Tiradentes, see Victor Guimarães, “Neighbourhood Realisms and the Return of Utopia: A Dive into the Effervescence of Contemporary Brazilian Cinema,” Senses of Cinema 75 (June 2015), http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/festival-reports/tiradentes-film-festival-2014-2015/. ↩
- Ela Bittencourt, ‘Love in Times of Hunger: On Glauber Rocha’s Terra em Transe and Women in Brazilian Cinema,’ in Tropicália and Beyond: Dialogues in Brazilian Film History, ed. Stefan Solomon (Berlin: Archive Books, 2017), p. 78. ↩
- Fábio Andrade, “Holy Tremor (Terremoto Santo, 2017) Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca,” 5 September 2018, https://wp.nyu.edu/fabioandrade/2018/09/05/holy-tremor-terremoto-santo-2018-barbara-wagner-benjamin-de-burca/. ↩
- For further details see ‘LGBTQ Brazil,’ Museum of the Moving Image, 28-29 July 2018, http://www.movingimage.us/programs/2018/07/28/detail/lgbtq-brazil/. ↩
- See Bittencourt, “Tavinho Teixeira: Militancy of Affect is Extremely Important,” Lyssaria, 9 July 2018, https://lyssaria.com/2018/07/09/tavinho-teixeira-militancy-affect/. ↩