Latin Films

in 6th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Luis Carlos Merten

In one sense, we can relate The Holy Girl (La ninã santa), the new movie by Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel — in competition at Premiere Latina in Rio International Film Festival — to films American director Nicholas Ray used to make in the 50’s. Those who saw Ray’s masterpieces such as In a Lonely Place, The Lusty Men, Johnny Guitar and Rebel without a Cause should remember the most essential gesture in his work: a hand suspended in the air. People are always afraid to touch the others in these movies. It would be like admitting their necessity of love and understanding. The same thing happens in Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl.

People don’t touch each other and the one who does — the medicine man — molests the girl. He likes that and it persuades him to repeat the experience. Lucrecia Martel didn’t do some kind of Argentinean version of Bad Education (La mala educación), the new picture by Spanish genius Pedro Almodóvar. In many ways, her movie is better — Almodóvar, talking about the abuse he suffered in school, as a boy, didn’t have the distance to talk, this time, about something that’s not unusual in his cinematic world. But Almodóvar, and this is an interesting point, is one of the producers of The Holy Girl. What Lucrecia Martel has made, in fact, is the most intense and radical metaphor on Argentinean society, today.

We can transfer the idea of people being afraid to touch each other to a whole country that is afraid to approach its problems. That’s the drama — and dilemma — of Argentina as nation, with all the terrible problems Argentineans got from dictators and governors corrupts such as Menem. The Holy Girl is certainly a powerful film and a strong confirmation of Lucrecia’s talents. In Cannes, she was forgotten by jury president Quentin Tarantino and his jurors (the surprise, in fact, it would be the opposite). In Rio, the FIPRESCI jury praised Lucrecia Martel’s intelligence and cleverness. Her movie may be a bit difficult because it is a very cerebral construction, not related to senses or to emotions. However, good as it is, The Holy Girl is not as good as the previous picture by the talented director, (The Swamp – La Ciénaga). The other movie had more impact and it was even better as a cinematic experience.

This kind of staff helps to understand why another woman got the FIPRESCI prize in Rio. It was Brazilian director Lucia Murat, with her movie called Almost Brothers (Quase dois irmãos) in competition in Premiere Brazil – which can be also part of Premiere Latina. Lucia Murat, just to inform, got the prize of best direction from the jury of Premiere Brazil, headed by director Ruy Guerra. Her movie may have some problems (in the beginning), but in the road opened by the success of City of God (Cidade de Deus), is one – if not the most – creative experiences in the vein of Fernando Meirelles. During the 60’s, Brazil was ruled by the ‘milicos’ (members of the Army). The dictatorship developed – with the aid of the CIA – a very brutal system of repression. The urban guerrilla from left was destroyed by fire. The ‘guerrilheiros’ (fighters) who escape from death was send to Ilha Grande, in the same jail-island with common criminals. The movie explains how difficult it was for both groups to divide space (and coexist).

The almost brothers of the movie are two men. They came from the same neighbourhood. One is white, the other an African Brazilian. The first is member of a higher class, but not at the top of the social pyramid. The other comes from the slums (favelas). The white guy is a fighter against dictatorship. The black guy is a criminal, but they share experiences, even affections, and they are not alone. Each of them has many friends from the same side, and they share influences. Lucia Murat, who was a former prisoner in Ilha Grande – as a guerrilla woman – shows how the criminals absorbed the tactics of guerrillas. This new band of criminals created what, in Brazil, is called Red Command, ‘o Comando Vermelho’, the entity behind criminal activity (read traffic) in the slums of Rio.

It is a very courageous analysis made by the director and Paulo Lins, the author of City of God (the book) and her partner in the script of Almost Brothers . The failure of the urban guerrilla in Brazil is a very controversial matter and Lucia Murat reveals how these old fighters who wanted to make revolution to change the country finally helped to create the civil war that makes Brazil the champion of urban violence in the world. The country is not in state of war with a foreign menace. Brazilians fight internally – criminals against police and citizens. One moment of the movie is very brilliant and almost clarifies everything Lucia Murat wants to tell. There is this fighter who was a cat. His fellows want him to kill the cat because the animal needs milk and they (the men) are so many and also need the food. The guy tries to convince his fellows he will give his cup of milk to the cat if necessary, but they insist he kills the cat. It is so brutal and at the same time so common. This kind of orthodoxy passed from one group to other and helps to explain what happens in Brazil today.

The most impressive part of the episode is what Lucia Murat reveals and is not the idea of the screenwriter. It is true that it happened to her in the group she was in. Not only for that but for the integrity of conception and filmmaking Almost Brothers was selected by the jury of FIPRESCI as the best Latin movie at the Rio International Film Festival 2004.

Luiz Carlos Merten