A Brazilian Bomb in Cartagena

in 55th Cartagena International Film Festival

by Ivonete Pinto

At the 55th edition of Cartagena International Film Festival (FICCI), FIPRESCI’s jury felt comfortable choosing the following for the Best Film prize. Everytime we talk about the criterias for choosing a winner, one of the main thoughts is originality, which means that after seeing the film people don’t feel like they have seen anything like it before. Adirley Queirós’ movie, White Out, Black In (Branco Sai, Preto Fica, Brazil, 2014), is full of strength, what made it stand out from the other eleven films competing in the same category, the Official Dramatic section. It’s daring and it doesn’t go for perfection. It takes risks in the film’s language and also in the way it approaches its subject. Let’s see why.

White Out, Black In talks about racial and social segregation in Ceilândia, a city near the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. One of the movie’s layers is documentarian, which tries to bring back and honour the memory of a tragic day in the 1980s, when local police violently broke into a hip hop club in Ceilândia and forced black attendees to leave. Two of the film’s main characters, Marquim (Marquim da Tropa) and Sartana (Chokito) are now physically disabled: one of them is in a wheelchair and the other one has a prosthetic leg. Queirós uses old photos to place the audience inside that universe, but he chooses to tell the story through a fictional tale, where the characters narrate their own real life stories.  This doesn’t happen using regular documentary interviews. They tell their stories using their own talents: music and drawing. Yes, we can immediately think about Jean Rouch, however the author in this movie belongs to the same universe as the characters. In a debate that has been recurrent in Brazilian documentaries since the 1960s, the working class is now finally represented by an insider’s point of view, which is different from the average Brazilian filmmakers, where most of them belong to more privileged classes.

One of the aspects that stands out in the movie is its narrative point of view. It is a documentary with fictional scenes that are sometimes more staged than others, where the story adopts the real life character’s point of view in an organic creation process, just because the initiative of using fictional staging comes from the character itself. Another reason for being so organic is that the filmmaker really belongs to that universe: he lives in Ceilândia and is a close friend of the main characters. More than that, Queirós is also a “segregated” person in that society, which in this case is not just a minor extra diegetic matter. The writer-director is not a full time film director: he has another job so he can earn enough to make a living. He has already discussed social exclusion in his first movie called A Cidade é uma Só? (2011), a documentary that mixes fiction and reality that points out Brasilia as not a really public space. Brazil’s Capital was designed and built in the 1950s by renowned architects Oscar Niemeyer (a noted member of the Communist Party at the time) and Lucio Costa, and the city’s layout puts the lower classes at a disadvantage. The poor people live outside the capital, in satellite towns like Ceilândia, while the politicians and wealthy people live in the capital itself. In White Out, Black In, Queirós plays with the idea that the poor people must create fake passports in order to be allowed inside Brasilia. Obviously there is no such thing as the need of a document to go inside Brasilia, however, which plays a big role in the movie as a symbolic element representing the social exclusion.

Still inside the fictional layer of the movie, Queirós introduces a new character that comes from the future to investigate why the ones responsible for that police invasion at the party weren’t punished yet. At this point, we forget the reference to Jean Rouch and go to something more like Quentin Tarantino, when the movie gets an additional revenge plot. Marquim and Sartana, meanwhile, build a primitive looking and completely metaphorical bomb. By that, Adirley Queirós suggests that only a bomb can explode the differences from classes and race, but he doesn’t say that in a rational and discursive way. Better yet, he actually does, but he does it with such humour that it becomes clear that the explosion is only an emblematic statement, specially due to the deliberately threadbare special effects production.  Nonetheless, Queirós is consistent throughout the entire film, starting with the title he chose for the project: words, as slogans, used by the policeman while they took over the dance party. The few white people present were able to leave the place, but the black people, always treated as guilty for something, had to stay, got beat up, shot and were humiliated.

More than 30 years later, living in the same social condition as before, Queirós and his characters want to explode this current situation. And they use film language as a form of expression and as a weapon.

Edited by Michael Pattison