At “Mr. Tambourine Man” Rhythm

in 11st Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Rodrigo Fonseca

Feeling like being rocked by the sounds of Bob Dylan on the nostalgic Mr. Tambourine Man, one of the most creative and awarded short-movie-makers from Brazil was raised to the platform of the 2009’s “feature film”. The highlighted cinematographer is Esmir Filho, born in São Paulo and known by Alguma coisa assim (Something like it), Saliva (Saliva) and Tapa na Pantera (Marijuana), this last one creating a fever as soon as it was launched on YouTube. With Os Famosos e os Duendes da Morte (The Famous and the Dead), Esmir fully met expectations and changed his usual format. His first feature length movie, showing strength for its 101 minutes, shocks tradition and technology focusing on the adolescence of a web navigator that lives in the Southern part of the country, one hundred kilometers from Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. Moved by the logic of the melancholy, the camera follows sixteen-year-old fellow, Henrique Larré, whose virtual nickname is Mr. Tambourine: it is a daily habit for the youngster to try to heal the losses that suffocate him by surfing the blogosphere. 

‘Loss’ and ‘adolescence’ are – in Esmir’s direction – like traffic light signals of his aesthetic trajectory. In interviews given in Brazil, as well as outside the country, the cinematographer has said to be enchanted by passage rites; rites that people must loose in order to improve. His lemma is: “My movies take the characters to the unknown territory of the self.” The inhospitable in The Famous and the Dead was imported from the homonymous book signed by Ismael Caneppele, who is part of the cast. It was from Caneppele’s prose that he took the cement with which to steady the dramatic structure of this feature length film, able to produce poetry while x-raying the geographically distant, though virtually close, society. The most transparent portion of his volcanic poetic conception comes from Mauro Pinheiro Jr.’s photography, that allows to picture the relationship games amongst the youngsters, without the habitual colors of the teen comedies, while avoiding the flat shades and the pale grey of the Indie-American and European cinema.

Exhibited in August 2009 at Locarno’s Festival, and scheduled for an opening in March of 2010, The Famous and the Dead screens in the seldom seen soil of the Brazilian cinema landscape: the existential comprehension of the MSN generation. Resembling the beautiful Paranoid Park (2007), by Gus Van Sant, in its efforts to document the discursive emptiness of the ones who grew adolescent staring at Windows Explorer, Esmir’s work traces the dilemmas of the youth who learned to say “no” by simply pressing ctrl+alt+del. Departing from a contemplative behavioral process, Esmir examines the management questions of a delicate production that, nevertheless, takes at least fifteen minutes to shift into gear. There is an introductory presentation trying (without much success) to acclimatize the aficionado public to the strange people that live in the region mapped between the Southern cities of Roca Sales, Lajeado-Estrela and Monte Belo. Nevertheless, these sequences in the prologue, the attention given to the role performed by the Internet in Mr. Tambourine’s and his contemporaries lives – the closest and the most distant ones – spooks the audience, overwhelming their interest by the geographical drawing. Only after the happening of a breakfast between the protagonist and his mother, a scene contingently lived by Áurea Baptista, the movie shows his vigor: the actress’s refined interpretation is vividly established by the premise of the incommunicability, and with a piercing tormented look she contaminates the public with the anguish of someone who finds herself without tools capable of building a dialogue with her son. 

Áurea’s character guides The Famous and the Dead to a curve that connects it to the beautiful Adoration (Adoração), a film by Atom Egoyan, exhibited in competition at the 2008 Festival de Cannes. In this film, there are, also, the ethos figures of the so called paternity – in Egoyan’s case, an uncle assumes this role – fighting for the opportunity to establish a dialogue with the young fellows who vanish by keeping themselves in line most of the day. But Egoyan’s movie shows faith, in the components of his flirtation with religion, from which Esmir’s film is exempt. Mr. Tambourine’s dilemma comes from a stolen passion, from the girl who was capable of imprisoning him risks, hits and misses. In summation, the reality is Tuane Eggers opts for committing suicide in the name of a romantic crush on another boy; an older boy who survives the impact of both deaths. The efforts of this second fellow – longing to be pardoned (or else, to feel accepted by Mr. Tambourine) – are used by Esmir as a resolution; to bring his protagonist out of his introspection. Faithful to his own belief – everything taken by life is compensated with wisdom-, the director demonstrates how Mr. Tambourine recovers, forcing contact with people who clearly worry about his tendency for solitude. Here comes Áurea Baptista, once again astonishing! And, like a rolling stone, she arrives blowing in the wind her son’s sadness when he begs for her tenderness. Such musical references are essential here; for it was on Bob Dylan’s poetry that Esmir constructed the nest where he hatched his own pop language. 

At this moment, the Brazilian cinema invests in the search for movies with attention to youth fevers, such as Believe me! (Podecrer!), by Arthur Fontes; Stolen Dreams (Sonhos roubados), by Sandra Werneck; Before the World Ends (Antes que o  Mundo   Acabe), by Ana Luiza Azevedo, and The Best Things of the World (As melhores coisas do mundo), by Laís Bodansky. Esmir enters this territory raising the temperature of the existentialists to boiling point! His The Famous and the Dead does not make any concession to obvious lyricisms. He chooses to show the obstructions by the rejection of discomfort and suspense. This way, for Brazil this is a unique movie, ready to become universalized in its poetry.

Edited by: Tara Judah