New "Cinema Novo"?

in 24th Toulouse Latin American Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

Lately, the word is out that Brazilian cinema is heading for a renaissance, moving from the dust of neo-liberal rule to a “Novissimo cine brasileiro”. The recent Toulouse festival “Cinelatino” (the new name for the 24th edition of “Meetings with Latin-American Cinema”) gave proof of this renaissance beyond any reasonable doubt. The International Critics Prize went to Southwest (Sudoeste), the first feature length film by Eduardo Nunes. The title contains a hidden reference to “cinema novo”, which favoured the opposite Northeast region of Brazil and created a specific image of Nordeste.

The career of Eduardo Nunes can be seen as a reflection of the economic and content crisis in Brazilian cinema. He first attracted the attention of domestic critics with his short film Sopro in 1994 and had to wait almost 20 years to make his first feature, working as an editor and assistant director, writing scripts and even being a producer for other filmmakers.

Southwest is black and white and owes a lot to the tragically beautiful photography of Mauro Pinheiro Jr. The film justifies the classical definition of cinema as a “Ribbon of Dreams” from the first scene — a dead and still pregnant young woman, whose child will be stolen by a witch to become the rapidly growing main character of this “moving movie”. The story owes a lot to the tradition of magical realism, bringing striking reality to the ghosts of our imagination.

The protagonist, Clarice (Simone Spoladore), lives her whole life in one single day in a coastal village where nothing ever seems to change. The film is built upon two types of contrasts: dark and light, on the one hand, and movement and immobility on the other. Every event seems to come from nowhere. Disappearance seems inevitable. The force of the film lies not so much in the plot itself (which is sometimes obscure and dubious) but mostly in the ambiance — the image of a world in permanent crisis.

This feeling persists until the last frame and reflects the ongoing (if not eternal) character of existential doubts surrounding the human experience. This particularity reflects the emphasis not so much on the social as on the philosophical implications of the story. This seems to be an exception in the line up of Brazilian films (at least those that enter the international festival circuit), from Walter Salles and his Central Station and to the diversity of contemporary digital production. Nunes, by contrast, is visibly obsessed with the perfection of every frame and overall harmony in a world that is torn inside out.

Southwest is a perfect counterpoint to box-office champion Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite), with its emphasis on action and overt political implications. The roots of the tragic fable imagned by Eduardo Nunes are much more profound and his use of cinematic language reminds us of the glorious years of “cinema novo”, even if the impact seems purely aesthetic. Ancient Brazilian culture remains a source of inspiration for the new generation of filmmakers.