An Angry Film

in 25th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema

by Carlos Brandao

In 1976, Italian master Ettore Scola made a U-turn on his usual lyrical style of cinema and filmed a ferocious story called Ugly, Dirty and Bad (Brutti, sporchi e cattivi). Scola portrays a brutal panel of subhuman individuals living in a Roman shantytown. They were also mean, greedy and egotistic besides being ugly, dirty and bad. In his first feature Mango Yellow (Amarelo Mango) young Brazilian director Claudio Assis took Scola’s characters and made them look like people coming out of some religious boarding school. Nevertheless, Assis’ film impressed film critics everywhere: in the Berlinale’s Forum, Mango Yellow received the Award of Best Film given by the International Confederation of Art Cinemas; in the Toulouse Latin American Film Festival, it received the Grand Prix and in the Miami Film Festival the prize for the best cinematography was given to Walter Carvalho’s splendid yellow-tinged work. In the Brazilian Fortaleza Film Festival, Mango Yellow won all the eleven awards offered.

Yellow is the color of the teeth of Pernambuco’s poor peasants, yellow is the color of their hats, yellow is the color of the pus in their wound, says an indignant Claudio Assis who himself is born in the poverty of the northeastern part of Brazil. A passerby who occasionally heard those explosive words could even think they come from the mouth of a pamphleteering radical. Yet, Assis believes in each word he says, and he’s not exaggerating — not too much, anyway — his description of the poor people he chose for his film. For Assis, this is the best way to help them.

Filmed in Recife, the same location as his first short film Texas Hotel, Mango Yellow is a parade of bizarre and marginal characters. Kanibal, a womanizing butcher (Chico Diaz in a first great performance) is married to Kika, a churchgoing evangelical fundamentalist. Dunga (Matheus Nachtergaele, again in a strong showing) is a homosexual cook who is in love with Kanibal. Isaac (Jonas Bloch) is a sadistic necromancer who trades marijuana for corpses with a morgue employee. There’s Ligia (Leona Cavalli), the sexy proprietor of a nearby café, who teases men but really despises them and a catholic church is kept closed because its priest is always drunk.

Mango Yellow is not easy to see without feeling a certain weight in the stomach: it puts together stories and characters which mingle adultery with necrophilia and sexual perversions, loneliness and depression, all tightly put in a film basket of human misery. Assis doesn’t seem afraid of being labeled as just another director who loves scatology, mental disorders or gratuitous violence. He says: extreme poverty, the lack of respect for the human being and the daily battle so many people have to fight to survive, represent the real violence.