The Undead of Barra da Tijuca

in 17th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Christian Petermann

The film which impressed me most in the Première Brasil section of this year’s festival was Kill Me Please (Mate-me por favor), the debut feature of director and screenwriter Anita Rocha da Silveira. This film might have been a huge surprise, if not for the fact that its themes and aesthetic choices seemed to be a natural continuation of the director’s previous three short films. However, a surprise does come from the fact that these themes and aesthetics are applied in a smooth and cohesive manner, showing a clear evolution in the director’s style.

Kill Me Please is a suspense drama which flirts intensely with horror; like Silveira’s shorts, it is a “teen movie” about the sexual, behavioral and moral awakening of a group of students in Rio, including a girl named Bia. With the exception of her first film The Noon Vampire (O vampiro do meio-dia, 2008), which remained an academic work, Silveira’s other two shorts, Handball (Handebol, 2010) and The Living Dead (Os mortos-vivos, 2012), also featured a lead character called Bia. The three shorts show numerous points of identification plus narrative and visual continuity with Kill Me Please.

In The Noon Vampire, there is an intense sensuality manifested in an obsession with sweat, the use of color filters, the scenes of characters locked in the school bathroom, and actions interrupted by the sudden fall of an object. Handball refers to the choreography and power of the title sport and features a fascination with human anatomy, a scenic exploration of a bus stop, the inclusion of blood as a dramatic element, and scenes of physical mutilation (bandages and bruises). The Living Dead, a short selected for Cannes in 2012, concerns the mysterious whereabouts of a character named Bia and the alienation of young students.

All of the above references are present in Kill Me Please, a film which depicts the climate of growing fear among students at a school in Barra da Tijuca, where a serial killer (or is there more than one?) targets women. Silveira uses João Atala’s measured cinematography to create a work rich in mood, which has little concern with providing answers. In this strictly juvenile universe where no adult is ever seen, the plot unfolds without identifying blame or motivations. This is a non-naturalistic depiction of a social group: the middle-class teenagers who inhabit the vast and often abandoned spaces of Barra da Tijuca, a neighborhood marked by constant construction and the exploitation of real estate. The teenagers wallow in their latent eroticism and an increasing morbidity.

Newcomer Valentina Herszage is well-cast as Bia, the character’s boredom punctuated by strong facial expressions. Her Redentor award for best actress was well-deserved; Bia leads a cast of characters who behave like animals in their struggle for survival. In between their everyday actions, such as sharing secrets or arm-wrestling in the cafeteria, these young people never question facts, only getting carried away by circumstances.

The soundtrack is apt: a series of funk carioca tunes by the pop band Bonde do Rolê. There is a perverse irony in the scenes where the teenage female pastor of an evangelical cult uses sultry funk swing to invoke the divine. Silveira’s film is a record of mundane youth in a new yet conceptually worn-out setting. It uses the triptych of sex, blood and voyeurism to present strong aesthetic images.

The killer’s identity is of no importance – nor is there any interest in finding out the reason behind the discovery of the girl who was seeing Bia’s older brother. These loose ends give the plot a sense of dubiousness. The film assumes a fantastic, almost ghostly dimension in its final act, when it shows its characters in a manner similar to the ones from Silveira’s The Living Dead. Slow motion is used to display the students’ bruises, bandages, venereal diseases and maiming scars, the results of a horrific journey. It is extremely suggestive to show these bodies emerging from the woods, rising as if from the dead and slowly walking into the unknown while facing away from the camera.

At a time when Brazilian cinema has reinforced its relationship with genre film, especially horror, in both independent and mainstream productions, it is refreshing to witness a work powered by new blood. The film is an aesthetic metaphor for the way in which today’s youth has endless thirst for fluids and hormones but little desire for emotions and facts. Silveira took home a richly deserved Redentor award for best director. I am interested to see what she does next, since Kill Me Please provides an overview of her past work. With or without Bia, what mysteries will her next film bring?

Edited by Lesley Chow