Filming By Accident By José Carlos Avellar

in 22nd Guadalajara Film Festival

by José Carlos Avellar

Let’s imagine the tributes to the directors Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Costa Gavras and to the screenwriter Vicente Leñero, and also the gala screening of El Cobrador: In God We Trust, by Paul Leduc, as the frame for the picture presented in the XXII International Film Festival of Guadalajara, Mexico. Inside this frame of old masters, the festival presented in the official section, the Ibero-american and the Mexican fiction and documentary competition, with a group of young directors showing their first features films. The most representative of this collection were two Mexicans; Two Love Stories (Dos abrazos), by Enrique Begne, and Blue Eyelids (Párpados azules) by Ernesto Contreras, and two Brazilians; Accident (Acidente), by Cao Guimarães and Pablo Lobato, and Alice’s House (A casa de Alice) by Chico Teixeira, which won the FIPRESCI Prize of Guadalajara 2007.

The frame of old masters was a group of films with screenplays by Vicente Leñero (among others: Life Sentence (Cadena perpétua), by Arturo Ripstein, 1978; Midaq Alley (Callejon de los Milagros), by Jorge Fons, 1994, and The Crime of Father Amaro (El crímen del Padre Amaro), by Carlos Carrera, 2002) and a biographical book, Vivir del cine, by Gerardo de la Torre, University of Guadalajara editor; a special prize and a group of films by Nelson Pereira dos Santos (among them, Barren Lives (Vidas secas), 1963; How Tasty Was My Little French (Como era gostoso meu francês), 1970; and The Amulet of Ogum (O amuleto de Ogum), 1974); a group of films by Costa-Gavras (among them Z , 1969; State of Siege (État de Siège), 1972) and a book, De traidores y héroes, el cine de Costa-Gavras, by Esteve Riambau, Festival de Guadalajara editor; and a gala for the first public Mexican screening of the film that bring us back the creative force of Paul Leduc, after an absence of fourteen years, El Cobrador: In God We Trust, with a screenplay based on short stories by the Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca.

Inside the frame, stories with ordinary people where at first sight not much happens: in Blue Eyelids a very quiet lonely and shy young woman, Marina, won at work a quest for a ten days vacation trip for two on a paradisiacal beach and decides to invite a friend from her school days called Victor. Marina does not actually remember him being as shy and lonely as her, but makes the invitation after a casual encounter. Also, she has no other friends to invite. The film goes as quiet as the childish and quiet central characters, both not knowing how to express their feelings, hiding in a society that mostly acts as an inhibition force against them; in Two Love Stories, the quietness is a little more complex and has a better solution; it is a two episode film whose theme centers around an impossible love between a teenager and an older character. The first episode centers around a thirteen years old schoolboy, Paco, who is falling in love with the cashier of a supermarket, Silvina. She is more worried about the new marriage of her mother (who abandoned her when she was a little child) and with the sexual harassment of her boss, so does not pay attention to the kid. The second episode shows an almost father and daughter love between a lonely and poor taxi driver, Joaquim, and Laura, also around thirteen years old, the daughter of a man who the driver does not know but dies in his taxi – people in the hospital believe he is a relative of the victim and give him all the papers of the dead man, which is how he meets the girl. Joaquim wants to go back to work and does not pay attention to her. Laura hates the dead father because he spent all the time with their ugly friends and never looked at her as his daughter. In both stories – the boy in love with a woman looking for the mother, the girl in love with the taxi driver who takes care of the funeral of the father – finish with a single touch between the characters. When the situation reaches a natural conclusion they embrace each other.

In the middle of a cinematographic tradition of melodramas with strong and overacting stories illustrated by passionate music, both films, the one by Enrique Begne and the one by Ernesto Contreras, can be considered like chamber music. The drama – if there is a real drama in the sense of the Mexican tradition of the Golden Era – is not here: it is somewhere out of the space we are seeing.

More radical in this sense is the experience of the documentary Accident, by Cao Gumarães and Pablo Lobato: the film construction puts the viewer in front of moving pictures. Not documentation. Not an explanation of an action. Not an investigation beyond the simple surface of things a photographic camera can see. It is a round trip around twenty very small villages in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. No interviews, no questions, most of the time not even a single statement, only a fragmentary record of day by day gesture, or of a casual moment discovered by the eye. A storm night flashing over a street corner; children preparing for a religious festival; two small plastic glasses rolling in the floor by the wind; the street through the half open door of a bar; a man singing; people crossing a street on bicycles; a barefoot man driving a truck; a part of something reflected on the glass; drops of water falling in the bathroom; a woman watching TV – and that is maybe a very special example, because we can not see properly the woman or the picture in the television, we just have a photographic composition, light, shadow, colors, composition; what the film says to us is the photographic texture, in the picture, not in any dramatic event recorded through the photographic process.

The choice of the twenty cities in the film was made – we can say so – almost by accident, according to the possibility of writing something as a poem with the names of the villages. And so, from time to time, the names of the cities appear as a poetic text on the screen:

Virgin of the rock
Joyful awaiting
Hyacinth Watery eyes
Between leaves
Iron, Palms, Juices
Father Peter Open field
Effervescence Uncovered
Shots, Stumbles, Flatness
Red Water
Aching fields

More radical than the others, the film organizes the editing as a free poetic construction and lets absolutely any story, any action, out of the frame, sometimes even the picture. There is a moment in which the screen is the empty blue sky and we can only guess through the tiny forms on the margins of the frame a signal of a building. This is a challenge not only to the idea of a melodramatic fictional narrative but also to the idea of a documentary one. That is why looking at Accident maybe the best starting point to feel the special quality of Alice’s House, a fiction film, with a fictional screenplay, a fiction organized production, but with a documentary shooting which is responsible for the consistently surprising scene construction.

Also here, in the film by Chico Teixeira, not much happens on the screen around this forty-something mother of three boys (the oldest starting military service), married to a taxi driver, living in a small apartment shared by her mother, a quiet old woman that takes care of everything at home listening to the radio all day long. Not much happens on the screen, but much happens out of our view, sometimes just before the scene starts. Maybe we can say that the director does not direct the fictional part of the story he is telling. The drama is a kind of preparation for the character to the thing Teixeira wants to record as a documentary filmmaker just after the drama. There is, yes, a splendid moment in which the central character, Alice, becomes mad with no very clear reason for such an explosion: she is mad with her husband because he is having an affair with a teenage girl in the neighborhood, but she also attacks her sons for the chaotic life they are living.

This single uncontrolled behavior of Alice, as a cinematographic solution, corresponds to the two embraces of the original title (Dos abrazos) of Two Love Stories by Enrique Begne. And those three moments; Alice angry and lost at home, Paco and Silvina, Joaquim and Laura embracing each other, are pure cinematographic pictures created from the same impulse that made Cao Guimarães and Pablo Lobato move around taking pictures guided by intuition, finding images as if by accident.