Suely in the Screen By José Carlos Avellar

in 47th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by José Carlos Avellar

The spontaneous dialogue between Wim Wenders and Walter Salles in one of the 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival Masterclasses can be taken as both an image of the festival atmosphere and a comment about the films in the program.

The festival was a very friendly encounter with a wide open program, a series of retrospectives surrounding a competition of first and second features films: homages to the Chinese and Brazilian Cinema; homages to Wenders and to Nuri Bilge Ceylan; a retrospective about immigration in Greek Cinema, and open encounters, the Master classes, with Costa Gavras, Chen Kaige, Christine Vachon, Lili Taylor and the one with Walter Salles and Wim Wenders.

Wenders came to receive the festival Tribue, Salles came as the special guest for the Homage to Brazilian Cinema. Together in the Masterclass they talked about the road movie idea.

Salles screened two moments of Motorcycle Diaries (2004) to explain that there are in the process of making road movies some procedures that looks like playing jazz, the director, actors and technicians making improvisations around a very solid base. One was the sequence with Ernesto and Alberto fighting against the heavy snow in the South Argentine frozen road to go on with the motorcycle, for instance was entirely improvised – it was summer they were waiting for a day with open sky. The other one was the sequence in Peruvian Macchu Pichu, where the film incorporates some local people, as the tourist guide and the two old Indian women they found by chance in the moment of filming and were not previously written into the scene.

Wenders screened two moments of Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit, 1976) to say that in doing a road movie the only thing you have in your hands is the road and that you should be open to the things you found on the move, travelling along the road, not exactly to arrive at some precise end, but just moving. He said he started Kings of the Road with a single page screenplay describing the encounter between Bruno and Robert, the two central characters. Also to say that in a certain moment in Kings of the Road he also did his own Motorcycle Diaries , an entire improvised scene where the film lets the big road (the one near to the border of the then divided Germany, the one he took as the real screenplay) enter a narrow one in a motorcycle with a sidecar.

It is true, not all of the films in Thessaloniki could be defined as road movies, but most of them present us characters looking to reach the horizon – like Travis in Paris Texas (1984), said Wenders, showing two single images of the film: Travis (he explained he choose this name because of the word traveller) in the middle of the desert hears in silence the question “Where are you going?” The answer came in the following plan we see: the emptiness of the desert and the horizon line. The horizon as an image of utopia, as at same time there is a line that is there, we can see it, and as a line that is not there but far away, we can not reach it. What we have had on the screen were mostly people going to the horizon or suffering because they could not go.

In this space, surrounded by documentaries and fictions about people living in foreign lands or fighting to enter a foreign land without passport or visa (let’s keep in mind: Retrieval (Z Odzysku) by Slawomir Fabicki, with a Ukrainian woman living in Poland; and Eduart , by Angeliki Antoniou, with a young Albanian living in Greece), in this space the good qualities of Suely in the Sky (O céu de Suely) by Karin Aïnouz could be better appreciated.

Something of a road movie, as defined in the Wenders and Salles master class: the wish to reach the horizon. Yes, most of the time we are in a poor and small village in the north of Brazil, but here and there around the bus station. The film stays in the city, but paying special attention to the road: the story starts in a bus arriving (the young Hermila returns from the big city in the south, São Paulo, with her baby son in her arms) and ends in a bus leaving the village (the young woman going deep south looking for a new horizon). But mostly, something of a road movie in the feeling that moves the young woman to leave her village: she is not escaping from anything, not running from something, but looking for a new horizon.

The story line is simple: back home, without the husband that disappeared, Hermila starts dreaming of going out again. She could stay in his home village, with her aunt and her grandmother, with an old boyfriend still in love with her, working around. But she decides to raffle herself for one night only to get the money to leave town. Change her name to Suely and sells ticket for one night in the sky with Suely. From this tiny line, the film advances – incorporating small and marginal incidents – and just lets the camera show the face of the almost always silent character most of the time. In a certain way, the real action happens out of the frame, inside the characters: Hermila, João, her old boyfriend, her grandmother, her aunt, her friends. And so, we are seeing part of the scene in the screen all the time – a face, a hand, someone looking a point out of the frame, doing something out of the frame, a thing we can understand, predict, but a thing we do not see.

What is really important in this treatment is not only a formal, a stylistic, a more or less sophisticated artificial construction, but a way of making possible a more direct and human approach with the characters. We do not know the gestures and the reasons of the people we see in Suely in the Sky and they do not explain their feelings in words or gestures – that is not in the ritual words and gestures cinema characters use to let the audience understand at first sight what is going on. Here we are facing a fiction that came to us almost as a documentary, opening our eyes to real people not yet translated in cinematographic clichés to an easy explanation of the drama they are living. Here there is only a woman’s face on the screen, in a very tender image, a kind of visual whisper, looking for the horizon line she found only in the bus in the road.