"Still Orangutans": A Scorching Day in Porto Alegre By Tadeusz Szczepanski

in 20th Toulouse Rencontres des Cinémas d'Amérique Latine

by Tadeusz Szczepanski

The majority of debuts presented this year at the 20th Toulouse Latin America Film Festival were low-budget films concentrating on family tragedies, puberty issues and seeking one’s own identity, as well as dilemmas relating to family attachment and the desire to look for happiness in the wider world. In most cases, the films were set in the rural provinces, in the circles of poor people who are doomed to hereditary impairment but who try to change their fate. Apart from two films — Burn the Bridges (Quemar las naves) and Agnus Dei (Cordero de Dios) — which are surprising because of their professional, though traditional direction, the neo-realist aesthetics prevails. The aesthetics are based on the contemplative observation of human behavior and, at times, it is suggestive or even hypnotic but it also becomes monotonous and schematic.

In this context, the debut of Brazilian Gustavo Spolidoro Still Orangutans (Ainda Orangotangos) serves as a counterpoint, due to its experimental courage and the production’s verve. It is an adaptation of a selection of short stories by Paulo Scott who, like the director, lives in Porto Alegre. The film starts on a scorching day at 7 am on the local underground train and it ends 14 hours later. During this time, viewers can see numerous characters who, like in the domino effect, trigger new dramatic, comical and grotesque situations; numerous places of action — the underground, the street, the block of flats, the boutique, the restaurant etc; and different times of the day. There would be nothing astonishing in that, as the film’s dramatic tension is in the spirit of Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (Fantôme de la liberté) and Altman (Short Cuts) were it not for the fact that this 81-minute film was done in one shot! The camera, held by Gustavo Spolidoro himself, smoothly follows the characters, accompanies them in the crowded street, in the narrow space of the underground train, the bus or the lift, and describes successive settings, creating the effect of unusual closeness and naturalness. It also crosses the boundary between reality and dream, as in one of the sequences where the narration imperceptibly becomes oneiric. Taking into consideration the fact that there are as many as 15 successive characters who initiate the successive narratives of the film, which sometimes involve greater numbers of heroes (e.g. the final sequence), the film by Spolidoro is not only a cameraman’s feat but, most of all, a feat of staging and logistics.

The one-shot narrative in this film is not merely art for art’s sake. It allows the director not only to show in one long look characters different in terms of age, sex and social status, but to express the flavor and the atmosphere of Porto Alegre; to create an evocative impression of taking part in the life of the city and to feel its rhythm. Spolidoro’s look is cruel and ironic when he shows cowardly men abandoning their women in need; surreal when he enters the space of dreams; comic when he shows an absurd row between two girls and a Santa Claus on a bus; and grotesque when he shows an unexpected end of a birthday party. However, it is also full of affection when he shows the adventures of a small boy who earns a living in the street. The boy is the only character who appears throughout the film and who brings the light of hope into the rather pessimistic picture of life in Porto Alegre on a scorching day.