The organisers of the Rio de Janeiro film festival know that it’s useless to compete with the world’s biggest film festivals (Berlin, Cannes, Venice) for world premieres, particularly with films from North America and Europe. This is why Rio chooses to ground its importance through another strategy: a judicious focus on the new Brazilian productions (shorts, features and documentaries, all shown in the Official Competition) and an overall view of the most significant Latin American movies of the year. It is thus that this extensive and complex program of cinematography, that covers all countries from Mexico to Argentina, has become an important panorama of the festival.
It is urgent to underline the actual strength of Latin American cinema, the issue of its recent co-productions (mainly with Europe), and the attempted breakthrough in the United States scene, particularly through the Sundance Independent Film Festival. Brazilian directors Walter Salles’ Central Station (Central do Brasil) and Fernando Meirelles’ City Of God (Cidade de Deus) have become well known in the USA after they were nominated for Oscars. Mexican director Alejandro González Iñarritu now works in the USA in the aftermath of his Life’s A Bitch (Amores Perros) almost immediately becoming a cult movie. Another Mexican director, Alfonso Cuáron, saw his And Your Mama Too (Y tu mamá también) make the transition from a small home-grown production to an American blockbuster. In contrast, there is also the recent example of American director Joshua Marston, who went the other way: in order to shoot his first feature, Maria Full Of Grace, he went to Colombia.
Notwithstanding the bad example of North-American/ European co-productions, all these outward lines of communication do not seem to have harmed these Latin American films, their specific viewpoints on the world, their aesthetical choices and the realistic aims they now wish to fulfil as never before. The Rio film festival is big enough to display a Brazilian cinema that bravely fights the patterns of their TV serials (the so called ‘telenovelas’, an imagetic cancer spread all over the world); these are films that do not even want to turn out the sequel to City Of God, a film that also achieved similar success abroad for Fernando Meirelles.
In the context of these handiness times of DV cameras and MTV temptations, Lucia Murat’ s Almost Brothers (Quase Dois Irmãos) (FIPRESCI prize) features a different angle and attitude, giving back to Brazilian cinema a deep historical perspective, rekindling the approach of the more introspective Brazilian ‘Cinema Novo’ of the 1960’s. The incredible film Estamira (directed by Marcos Prado), is named after a schizophrenic old woman who lived for over two decades in a dunghill. This documentary is ready to accept and mix itself in a group of micro-fictions, budding through Estamira’s ill mind. With the excellent Up Against Them All (Contra Todos) (prize for Best Film), the first feature by Roberto Moreira, produced by Fernando Meirelles, is a work we have good reasons to be thrilled with. This penetrating plunge into the violent suburbs of São Paulo, made through the adventure of the middle class family of a corrupt cop, generates strong characters without leading them to a kind of metaphorical ending and thus avoiding all sentimentalism around the subject. In this no redemption history, there’s also the breakthrough (at least for me) of a great actress, Sílvia Lourenço (a prize-winner in her category). She acts in a non-dramatic and low-profile way, adding meaningless impulses to her sensuous character. Her performance is based on concentrated suggestions, her silences, eye movements, and a jigsaw feeling which starts to piece together the violent world around her.
With a diverse industry in each country, sometimes depending on co-productions and still trying to obtain a reasonable distribution abroad, I think it is fair to say that the Latin American cinema (like the Portuguese one, by the way) is surrounded by ‘snipers’. Some of them are taking risks and thus pushing far the traditional narrative paths and playing an important experience in contemporary cinema. This is paying off for them with breakthroughs in other countries. That is what we can say about a film so particular as Ana Poliak’s DV-shot Parapalos (Pin Boy), from Argentina. Adrian, the main character of this first feature, cannot find a real job. Meanwhile he earns some money replacing the sticks of an old Buenos Aires bowling room. It seems that nothing is happening in the narrative. However, in this fiction, freezed by the minimalist script and the tedious standing of the characters, Ana Poliak starts to explore an adventure in cinematographic time, a ‘durée’ based in dead moments, small gestures, which is finally a new way to define a cinematographic space where all the complex feelings of life are allowed in. The Holy Girl (La Niña santa), by Lucrecia Martel (Argentina), Whisky , by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll (Uruguay) and, above all, Duck Season (Temporada de patos), by Fernando Eimbcke (Mexico), are doubtless three of the best Latin American movies of the year, but don’t stop searching even further for what Latin Cinema currently has to offer.
© FIPRESCI 2004