Nowadays the Best Latin Films Are Brazilian

in 26th Rencontres Cinémas d'Amérique Latine, Toulouse

by Gaetano D'Èlia

If we consider Cinélatino, the Toulouse Film Festival devoted to Latin American cinema, we realize that the best films come from Brazil. Out of nine feature films coming from those countries, never before screened in France, the best is The Woolf at the Door (O lobo atràs da porta) by Fernando Coimbra. Relentless: this is how we must define the film. The director, step by step, from happiness to tragedy, follows the two characters whose passionate love changes into punishment and death. A married man obliges his mistress to abortion. The young woman (a wonderful Leandra Leal) takes revenge by kidnapping and killing (by bullet and fire) the little daughter of the man. The author does not take resort to “coups de théatre” and refrains from “low strikes”. A magnificent Brazilian sun gives a blinding light to a story which gradually fills with horror and deep pain. The director never condemns them because he, very clearly, understands the reasons of the two protagonists. She kills because her unborn child was killed (Greek tragedy and Old Testament are taken into account). He wants abortion because of conformism and cruelty. In spite of it, the story, as a whole and at every stage, isvery modern.

Fellipe Barbosa’s Casa Grande opens with a superb view of a huge mansion. But we hear that the landlord is bankrupt. The young protagonist, a teenager, overcomes his parents’ worries getting and giving love to two under privileged women: the lively maid servant and a precocious and spontaneous little girl. ‘Favelas’ are just mentioned. The three characters simply ignore their class differences. Soap stars are part of the cast but their performances are not superior to those of the young actors. In this way director and scriptwriter neutralize social clichés, creating an enjoyable and sincere work.

Let’s consider now the Spanish-speaking countries. The two films we must take into consideration come respectively from Chile and Argentina. Sebastiàn Sepùlveda shot The Quispe Sisters (Las ninas Quispe). Three shepherdesses (three sisters) wander with their goats on the Andean Highlands. They meet two men they speak of as don (they call them Don Juan and Don Fernand). They appear and then disappear. One of the sisters (who wishes to live elsewhere) falls ill (her sickness is clearly a consequence of sexual frustration). In the meantime, they realize that nobody is anymore on the highlands. The fear they feel for another man (Pinochet) overcomes them (they had heard of something terrible that happened in Santiago and elsewhere). So they decide to kill themselves. It is necessary to write about the plot extensively because the director’s and scriptwriter’s device is ingenious and effective. They show that loneliness and unhappiness may precipitate into self-destruction (an external event may increase an already serious psychological ‘malaise’). The livid (grey and reddish) photography shows us an environment characterized by a ridity. The wind covers everything, burying bodies and souls. The film from Argentina we appreciated is entitled History of Fear (Historia del miedo) by Benjamin Naishtat. It is finely built: its narrative structure is solid. It lets us see some little daily incidents which, not withstanding their partial insignificance, frighten the people who reside in an elegant block of flats. A lift which stops, electric current which comes and goes, an epileptic boy, a hoover left on, a naked boy who stops a car, an anti-theft alarm that continues to hoot: these are the trifles which create anxiety and anguish. The idea and its realization are brilliant. However the film is only partially enjoyable because it is changed into a theorem. The authors wish to demonstrate their theses (not even original). This creates coldness and monotony with the risk of praising the director’s cleverness without admiring him.

Edited by Steven Yates