Back to the Dawn of Cinema

in 6th Motovun International Film Festival

by Deborah Young

A silent movie harking back to the dawn of cinema and the socially critical comedies of Charlie Chaplin, “Margarette’s Feast” cleverly uses pantomime and music (not even titles) to tell how the penniless Pedro manages to throw a wonderful birthday party for his beloved wife Margarette. Director/cinematographer Renato Falcao skillfully mimics the underlit photography and cluttered frames of silent movies, while updating the rhythm to modern taste through editing and use of music. The most striking thing about the film is how depressingly similar today’s Brazil is to the Little Tramp’s universe: ruthless cops, greedy shopkeepers, and a heartless world of wealth from which the poor are forever excluded. It is Falcao’s first feature.

Wild-haired, wild-eyed Pedro (played by actor-composer Hique Gomez, who also composed the film’s notable soundtrack) lives in a solitary shack out of town with his wife (Ilana Kaplan), kids, granny, and numerous relatives. His job assembling cars comes to an abrupt end when his homey company modernizes into a mechanized factory. But there’s an upside to being fired: the accountants hand him a suitcase full of severance pay far beyond his dreams.

Wandering around town with his stash like a babe in the woods, he’s the target of sharpies galore. When the police start chasing him, some friendly street kids hide him in their underground sewer lair. He watches while they’re mercilessly gunned down by a death squad of plain-clothes cops. Horrified, he jumps in a taxi and ends up buying millionaires’ suits for himself and the driver, followed by dinner in a fancy hotel for Margarette and his extended family. Like in a dream, the cash never seems to run out.

Though the ending brings the tale back to reality, the point is clear enough: Brazil is a land of rich and poor where the former are not above using violence, corruption, and dirty tricks to stay on top of the latter. Pic’s allegorical structure brings this home humorously but forcefully. Gomez, amusingly exaggerated throughout, holds center stage with good support from the rest of a game cast, among whom only granny (Carmem Silva) seems reasonably suspicious about his new-found wealth. Gomez’s music, which is varied but always lively, is important in contrasting and commenting on the images and giving the film its springy step.