Beto Brant, "Delicate Crime" A New Kind of Brazilian Film By Gabe Klinger

in 7th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Gabe Klinger

Loose and rough like an unfinished canvas, Beto Brant’s Delicate Crime (Crime delicado) has the semblance of a film though it’s best seen as a series of shards broken away from various art forms and collected in somewhat random order on 35mm film. The principal elements, painting and literature, are seen as opposing forces: the writer lives internally and half-fails when he attempts to navigate the external world, whereas the painter lives viscerally and speaks effortlessly of his craft.

The roles are inevitably subverted, such as in a scene when the famous writer, Antonio Martins (played by Marcos Ricca), debases a woman for appearing to parade him around trophy-like. He surprises the woman – and the audience – with his pointed arguments, appearing inchoate before and now suddenly and fully into his own. Yet he’s humiliated in a following scene, where the woman disrobes and lies in bed, laughing, challenging him, with a real-live audience literally peering at him from behind a curtain. The film is full of such surprises but rather than cheapening the characters it makes us stay with them and even hope for more such tangents.

Delicate Crime’s penchant for rambling narrative progression might be explained by the five credited screenwriters (including Ricca and Brant), not to mention the Mexican artist Felipe Ehrenberg – as the character José Torres Campana – who contributes his paintings and has an engaging (and presumably original) monologue in a bar near the end of the film. Lastly there’s Sérgio Sant’Anna, whose novel is the basis of the film. Of Brant’s four features this feels the least like his, though the thematic freedom he encourages is inspiring and exactly the direction Brazilian cinema should be taking.

The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where nary a word was breathed on it. Delicate Crime had the opposite reaction in Rio, though it didn’t beat out the much lamer Cinema, Aspirin, and Vultures (Marcelo Gomes, 2005) for the grand prize. Brant took home the director prize of the official jury; a fellow festgoer at the ceremony commented on the fact that Brant always seems to pick up director prizes.

t’s true that his films call attention to direction, but not in an ostentatious way. Brant picks the right collaborators, and it’s worth noting a few more from this film: first-timer Lilian Taublib, a friend of a friend of Brant’s from Rio, who is a paraplegic in real life and plays one in the film. This reviewer won’t soon forget the writer Martins’ first encounter with Taublib’s character, Inês, in one of the bars he frequents. He stares at her in the way he seems to do everything outside of his apartment: furtively, spinelessly. She invites him over to her table as her friends exit and it’s more like she starts picking his brain though we can see he’s the one falling for her.

Unfalteringly intense dialogues such as the ones in this scene are present in the entire film, in moments of heavy acting as well as of pure naturalism. Ricca and Ehrenberg represent these two margins, and Taublib is unspeakably great in the way she navigates between the two. She’s the saving grace for the film’s duller moments (especially with Ricca); a word like “courageous” would do injustice to this performance, since she simply just is. It was rumored during the festival that the making of Delicate Crime inspired Taublib to stop using her prosthetic leg, which would suggest she is perhaps the one responsible for the film’s last sequence – a moment of liberation as well as incontestable frustration and mystery.

The oft-mentioned Walter Carvalho lensed the film in both black and white and color, another of the film’s physical disjunctions. Relating to this is the writer and the painter, as if there was an easy way to separate the two. The most striking thing about Delicate Crime is its textures: Campana feels things with his hands in the way Martins can only think them. Inês seems to prefer Campana. So it’s only natural that the already-mentioned Ehrenberg monologue is shot in black and white, since it’s the only way, figuratively, that Martins can see the character of Campana.

Delicate Crime’s best scene has Martins’ gaze wander to some of the other tables in the bar he frequents. In one corner is a mostly silent man who caresses the leg of a lively transvestite and her work colleague. They bicker on and on about daily life, and despite their extreme sociological dislocation they have a comically grounded sense of real life that seems to elude other characters in the bar. In another corner is a character played by filmmaker Claudio Assis, who scandalously fights and then reconciles with his girlfriend – the two (the actress’s name couldn’t be found at the time of publication) giving the best purely naturalistic performances in the film.

In a sneaky way this scene might be a jab at the Brazilian film industry, since it mirrors Claudio Assis’ public outburst when Hector Babenco won a director prize for his Carandiru (2003) over Assis, who was nominated in the same category for Mango Yellow (2003). The mini-scandal, in which Assis called Babenco an imbecile and told him to go fuck himself, happened at the same theatre where Delicate Crime had its festival premiere, the Odeon. This reviewer regrets not being at this first screening to witness the reactions of the Brazilian film elite seeing, before them once again only this time with comic dignity granted to him, the furious, “indelicate” (as Babenco called him) Assis. A subversive commentary on mainstream Brazilian cinema, of which Delicate Crime is clearly not a part? Or a simple, self-effacing gesture? Perhaps neither, though that’s precisely what’s great about this multifarious film.