Dostoyevsky Brazilian Style

in 6th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Tatiana Vetrova

Brazilian cinema, now on the surge with its 30 films a year, was the focus of the Rio de Janeiro International Festival and its copious program of 347 films. Only Brazilian films can enter the official competition and the most diverse representations of today’s national cinema — from Diary of Provincial Girl, a poetic screen adaptation by Helena Solberg, to Up Against Them All, a violent drama by Roberto Moreira — were presented in the course of the “Premier Brazil” program. Nina, the first film by a young director Heitor Dhalia, is also a bold experimental work.

One can immediately detect the plot of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment behind the film’s ultra-modern appearance of a horror comic book: Raskolnikov’s crime of killing an old usurer is clearly alluded to by the colourful figure of a landlady señora Eulalia (Myrian Muniz) and the axe in the terrifying drawings of her lodger Nina (the first large role in cinema of Guta Stresser, a young theatre and TV actress).

The director’s interest is mainly drawn by the dark sides of human psyche. The confrontation of two protagonists that is the centre of his film takes place in the limited space of a flat where Nina, a provincial girl who has come to São Paulo, rents a corner, and where the landlady, old Eulalia, always after the money that the girl owes, revels in her power over the lodger and constantly humiliates her. At the same time there is no attempt on the part of the authors to arouse compassion to their heroine who wants to live according to her own laws and, out of high sensitivity to the prose of life, gives up her job as a waitress. The only thing that really fascinates her is drawing, and all her emotional experience and hidden fears gradually find their outlet in the horrifying images on the paper. When the threat of eviction becomes imminent she finally loses what’s left of her precarious emotional balance: the outside world comes down on her in the distorted form of sombre hallucinations and nightmares. The horror that overcomes the girl shows in the disturbing music, strange noises and sounds. It seems to her that all the evil of the world is materialized in the person of Eulalia, so Nina on the verge of madness commits a murder and then waits for retribution to come. Nevertheless she is not charged because everyone is sure the landlady has passed away after a heart attack.

Two visual planes are simultaneously present in Dhalia’s film: the imaginary world incarnated by the comic-book drawings à la Japanese mangas, and the real world presented by the actors (unfortunately both of them are too often duplicated). Fear and confusion in the face of real life prevails in both these worlds.

Tatiana Vetrova