15th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

Brazil, September 26 - October 10 2013

The jury

Carmen Gray (Great Britain), Juan Dominguez (Argentina), Luiz Fernando Gallego (Brazil), Ricardo Largman (Brazil)

Awarded films

This year’s edition of the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival took place from 26 September to 10 October in Brazil. With Rio in preparation to host the World Cup and Olympics, it’s a testing time for the city. Protests have been highlighting public dissatisfactions, and this last week demonstrators in support of better pay for teachers clashed with police downtown in the vicinity of the Odeon cinema, disrupting the festival’s program and meaning a number of screenings had to be shifted away from the landmark ’20s cinema. But despite the added pressure the festival showed it can carry off its status as the largest film festival in Latin America, showcasing the latest fare from the region and a crop of the recent global best from the international circuit.

In the Brazilian competition strand, Hilton Lacerda’s Tattoo (Tatuagem) proved a strand-out for critics and the audience alike. Set in 1978 in the last days of military rule, but with an approach geared more toward impressionistic evocation than period detail, its tale of the romance between a young soldier and the head of a flamboyant anarchist cabaret was reminiscent of that modern classic Latin American dissent parable Kiss of the Spider Woman. This added another layer to the sharp dialogue and performance numbers woven into its spirited portrait of the search for expression of identity on the margins. The rest of the section was stylistically varied – from conventional thriller The Wolf At the Door (O Lobo Atras Da Porta), a morality tale warning against adultery through a case of child kidnapping, to experimentally inclined take on urban alienation The Man of the Crowd (O Homem Das Multidoes), and Underage (De Menor), one of many films in the festival portraying children rebelling against unstable domestic situations.

The Latin American competition was equally diverse, if generally downbeat. Heli — the shockingly graphic drug-crime film that deservedly won Mexican director Amat Escalante a Best Director nod at Cannes — featured, while 7 Boxes (7 Cayas) from Paraguayan filmmakers Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori was a more mainstream crime thriller, owing much to UK and US precursors in the genre. Among the most fully realised films in this section was Argentinian director Santiago Palavecino’s Some Girls (Algunas Chicas), which manifested a hauntingly atmospheric nightmare-scape of emotionally troubled women at a country estate that transcended cliches.

An extensive World Panorama was packed with recent global festival gems — from Alain Guiraudie’s French arthouse cruising-scene thriller Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du Lac), to Paolo Sorrentino’s epic modern take on the contradictory mecca of Rome The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) to Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s comic charmer Our Sunhi (U ri Sunhi). This year’s German Focus ranged from classics (F. W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch) to recent German festival-circuit fare from directors such as Pia Marais and Athanasios Karanikolas. Nor were documentaries forgotten. Directing legend Frederick Wiseman’s four-hour study of a major American educational institution At Berkeley brought a dedicated turnout to the Moreira Salles Institute, a calm and airy hillside haven of palms and fishponds and former home of Walter Salles. Venues were busy, and audiences enthusiastic, showing that within the vicissitudes of Rio’s social landscape, cinema maintains a strong presence. (Carmen Gray)

Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival: www.festivaldorio.com