Brazil in Guadalajara

in 29th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Ernesto Diezmartínez

Although in Guadalajara 2014 the Argentinean movie Natural Sciences (Ciencias Naturales), directed by Matias Lucchesi, swept up the prizes in the Ibero-American Feature Film Section — the Mayahuel awards for best film, best screenplay and best actress — the strongest national representation was Brazilian. The three films in competition were notable and none of them left Guadalajara with empty hands.

The Way He Looks (Hoje eu quero back sozinho) was a real surprise. This is Daniel Ribero’s first feature film, a double winner in Berlin this year having come away with the FIPRESCI Prize and the Teddy Award.

Leo (Ghilherme Wolf) is a young blind boy who has only one friend: the lonely Giovana (Tes Amorim), who dreams of meeting her first love. Leo has not even been able to find a girl to give him his first kiss. Who could kiss or love someone blind? But there’s a new guy in the classroom, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a sexy boy who is a good friend of both Leo and Giovana, but more of him than her. Is it a question of simple affinity, or is it something deeper?

The Way He Looks — winner of the Audience Award — is a very nice and romantic coming-of-age movie about the two boys — and even about Giovana. The three friends’ relationships move them closer to or further from each other, depending on the situation and the complexity of that relationship. The direction of the newcomer Ribeiro works very effectively, and the three youngsters are impeccable.

The Man of the Crowd (O homem das multidoes) is loosely based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe and is directed by the feature film director Marcelo Gomes (Movies, Aspirins and Vultures and Once upon a time, Veronica) and documentary filmmaker Cao Guimarães (The End of Endless), who has just recently been honored with a retrospective in Mexico City.

Juvenal (Paulo André) is a lonely subway operator in the emblematic city of Belo Horizonte, hometown of Guimarães. From the first images of the film, Ivo Lopes Araújo’s camera isolates Juvenal in the 3 x 3 square frame; he only appears in focus, surrounded by the crowds of the title. The silent man walks and observes, stops in front of some shop, feels “and looks, with minute interest, at the innumerable varieties of figure, dress, air, gait, visage, and expression of countenance” as Poe’s short story says. Juvenal smiles when watching the happiness of others, although he is not very happy himself. He lives in a small apartment, his refrigerator is always empty, and his unique conversation is with himself.

But Juvenal, the watcher, is watched. Margo (Silvia Lourenço), his co-worker, the subway controller, studies his movements through the surveillance cameras. Although she has a more open personality, she does not have a better example of a very exciting social life. When she is not working, she’s in her apartment, chatting or feeding her fish. One day, Margo asks Juvenal to be her witness at her wedding. But… why does she do that? After all, she barely knows him!

Guimaraes and Gomes — writers of the adapted Poe short story — manage to carry off this precarious story, built on the basis of the looks of this pair of passive characters, with a multitude of small details that are accumulated and become significant through the lens of the camera of Ivo Lopes Araújo (who won the Mayahuel Award for Best Cinematography).

The music and the sound design by O Grivo follows perfectly the loneliness of Juvenal and Margo, and the song “Felicidade”, performed in the wedding scene, comes to convey a genuine pathos. This film won the Special Prize of the jury.

The good batch of movies in Guadalajara 2014 from the land of the Carioca was affirmed by the third film presented in the official competition: A Wolf at the Door (O Lobo atrás da Porta), the debut of Fernando Coimbra, winner of the Horizons Award in San Sebastian 2013 and Best Director in Guadalajara 2014.

We are in Rio de Janeiro. The film begins with the disappearance of a girl who was collected from her kindergarten, supposedly, by a friend of her mother. When Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) arrives to pick up the child and finds out that someone else has already picked her up, she goes to the police station to report the incident and a young police inspector (Antonio Saboia) begins his investigations.

In the first minutes of the film we are in the mood and manners of a farce: the police seem more obsessed with finding out any dirt on the private and intimate lives of Sylvia and her husband Bernardo than with finding the missing girl. In fact, the inspector does not seem bothered by making some reckless comments here and there. However, very soon we notice that these questions about what’s going on in the marriage of Sylvia and Bernardo are, indeed, very important and make sense. Enter a beautiful girl called Rosa (an impressive Leandra Leal), the former lover of Bernardo, and the waters begin to muddy.

While the young inspector is interrogating and gathering answers, several retrospective episodes are reconstructing all the events that led to the disappearance of the girl. The film is built upon lies and deceptions suffered or perpetrated by all the characters: the father, the mother and the attractive lover. The screenplay, written by Coimbra, is exemplary for its balance of humor and suspense, but who ends up taking over the film is Leandra Leal, who manages to create a character with multiple faces: vindictive, fragile, sensual… a Sphinx.

I’ve been reading her filmography on IMDb and I noticed that she is basically a television actress although she has appeared in a few full-length movies. Given her performance in A Wolf at the Door, I believe that the Brazilian film industry should give her more work. She deserves it.

Edited by Carmen Gray