A Touching Look at an Isolation: "The Man of the Crowd"

in 64th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Paulo Portugal

Brazilian cinema had a big presence at this year’s Berlinale, with a film in the main Competition, Karim Ainouz’s Praia do Futuro, starring the Brazilian megastar Wagner Moura, along with two features in the Panorama section: Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks, a tale of young sexual discovery and the winner of this year’s FIPRESCI Prize, and The Man of the Crowd, a touching look at virtual and technological isolation by Pernambucano director Marcelo Gomes and the Mineiro artist Cao Guimarães.

Under Gomes’ masterful direction and Guimarães’ inspired vision, we experience the loneliness of the metropolis Belo Horizonte, which is touched with the possibility of romantic opportunity. This is a free adaptation of the classic short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1840. It is also the conclusion of Cao’s self-proclaimed Trilogy of Solitude, beginning with the ascetic The Sole of the Bone, and followed by the itinerant Drifter.

The resulting film is very inspiring, especially in its use of a 3:3 square framing which aesthetically blends the isolation of the man and woman into the city landscape. You can see this device as a clever and elaborate reflection of the difficulties and realities of an urban romance.

Tram driver Juvenal, played with abandonment by Paulo André, learns to appreciate a simple life consisting of simple habits. In his hometown he divides his time between the train and his solo apartment. He feels fulfilled when he is alone in a crowd. His loneliness is only alleviated by casual conversations with his co-worker Margo, an efficient traffic controller played with gusto by Silvia Lourenço. In this slow-motion life he allows himself to dream about a supersonic Japanese bullet train, while she spends time chatting on social networks.

As the temporary owners and witnesses of the lives of their commuters, Juvenal and Margo accept their imposed loneliness. One day Juvenal awakes to an unexpected invitation from Margo, asking him to be her legal godfather in her marriage to a man she met on the web. Troubled by the sheer expectation of standing on ceremony, Juvenal ends up agreeing to the completion of Margo’s virtual dream.

The Man of the Crowd is a happy blend of the artistic connotations of both Gomes’ and Guimarães’ work, blended into the great settings of the Belo Horizonte urban landscape. Watching it, we can recall the documentary touch and omnipresence of constant movement of the road movie Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, as well as the wonderful I Travel Because I Need, I’ll Return Because I Love You, co-directed by Ceará native Ainouz (the director of Praia do Futuro).

Perhaps the reason for choosing the aesthetic option of window framing is that it doesn’t allow us to see beyond the square and formatted life of the man who is crushed by the anonymous crowd, or the anxiety of the woman who feeds a virtual fish and happily exchanges messages with people she will never meet. As Margot will argue, “you can format a machine as you wish, but human beings are far more difficult.”

It is indeed difficult not to be captivated by a film which moves between the appearance of a VCR image and a digital and decorative look. It becomes clear that the film’s framing could be somewhere between an analog Polaroid picture and a digitally processed Instagram image. Without high production levels or any commercial aim other than to portray a simple heartfelt story, the two directors depict the challenges of modern society in this innovative and touching little arthouse film.

Edited by Lesley Chow