Brazil x 2: Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) & Estamira (2004)

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Brazil x 2: Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) & Estamira (2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Apr 07, 2008 6:36 am


Re: Brazil x 2: Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) & Estamira (2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Apr 08, 2008 6:04 am

*Director Marcelo Gomes previously produced and directed a couple of shorts and documentaries. This is his feature directorial debut.

*Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures premiered as part of a fairly pedestrian Un Certain Regard lineup (The Bow, The King, Time to Leave) at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu took home the award for Best Film.

*The film played in the U.S. back in 2006 thanks to Global Lens, a subsidiary of Global Film Initiative: "A New York-based, nonprofit foundation working with leading American cultural institutions to promote cross-cultural understanding through cinema. Each year, the Initiative acquires a number of features and shorts from the developing world that tour the country for one year." Other gems of the 2006 series: Stolen Life, In the Battlefields and Border Cafe.

*Now available on DVD courtesy of First Run Features, which has distributed select GFI films since 2004. No extra features.

Re: Brazil x 2: Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) & Estamira (2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Apr 08, 2008 6:05 am


To many, Marcelo Gomes' Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (Cinema, Aspirinas e Urubus) may feel too good to be true. After all, this quiet, contemplative and unassuming road-movie unfolds over a few days and nights starting in the August of 1942, when most of the world was gripped by the Second World War. However, unlike the vast majority of films set during that time-period, war never really enters the picture here, at least not in the conventional sense, and even when it does, it does so tangentially. In addition, the film is surprisingly devoid of emphatic rhetorical gestures, focusing instead on the slow-burning consumption of life at its most fundamental. (Or, in other words, "For those looking for a smart alternative to The Motorcycle Diaries' [2004] left-wing hand job, this movie delivers in unexpected ways" [The Village Voice].)

The fact that the film takes place in a poor, draught-ridden Brazilian sertão (Portuguese term for backcountry) certainly plays a hand in its composition. The dusty backroads of this once prosperous northeastern region only seem capable of guiding one back to the westerns of Cinema Novo giant Glauber Rocha. No surprise, then, that our protagonists -- Johann (Peter Ketnath), a German itinerant salesman working out of a truck for a pharmaceutical company, and Ranulpho (João Miguel), a hitchhiker heading for Rio who stays on as his assistant -- start digging one right in the middle of a Podunk town in order to setup a screen for their gig, which involves charming the provincials with promo reels of Johann's "miracle drug" (hint: the title). "With this you can sell Bibles to the devil," Ranulpho once muses. But since even the war can't get out this far, it's hard to say if Lucifer ever will. (According to the filmmaker, these people of Picote, Paraíba, were in fact experiencing cinema for the very first time.)

Pacifist by nature, Johann is neither a saint nor a parasite. He's simply doing what he has to do to survive. And so is Ranulpho, even though he not only looks down on his counterparts but wants to get the heck away from this godforsaken place as quickly as possible (and it's hard to blame him). Much to Ranulpho's chagrin, Johann picks up another traveler or two along the way. One is a young woman who wants to distance herself from the misogyny that has a tendency to fester in such places. (Take a deep breath, Cláudio Assis, that'd serve you well.) The atmosphere inside the vehicle slightly changes once she gets onboard. Her presence could've derailed the duo (not the mention the film itself), but nothing of that nature comes to fruition. Johann tries to impress her with his moving images filled with happy, satisfied people, which only ends up furthering her grief. Next morning, she simply walks off; her destiny lies elsewhere. Gomes faithfully acknowledges the act in a single shot.

"Johann and Ranulpho represent our own dreams of happiness," he has said. "Our desire to find a road for our own lives." Gomes, who got the idea for this film from his uncle's stories about selling the drug in Brazil in the '40s, worked with his contemporary Karim Ainouz to flesh out his themes and motifs. (Gomes, by the way, was one of the writers on Ainouz's acclaimed Madame Satã [2002].) They thankfully did away with any possible variations of the ripe to be exploited "odd couple" scenario; and the hint of impending violence fizzles away in the scorching sun. Speaking of which, the blinding daylight is almost metaphysically captured with over-exposed, bleached out stock, usually employed to add grittiness to the favela-set movies (dare I mention the name of yet another mediocre Berlinale winner?!) This process only seems to have helped in distilling the film down to its essence: man, his dreams and, of course, vultures.

Grade: B+

[B- = Above Average / B = Good / B+ = Very Good]

Re: Brazil x 2: Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) & Estamira (2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Apr 10, 2008 5:08 am


Documentary films about 63-year-old schizophrenics who work at garbage dumps aren't supposed to be this transcendently beautiful. But Marcos Prado's second directorial effort, Estamira, which features the eponymous mentally and emotionally distraught woman who's been scavenging the enormous Jardim Gramacho landfill on the outskirts of Rio for the past twenty years, is that and more. Prado followed his subject for nearly five years, at the start of which she was being treated at a psychiatric clinic, much to her displeasure to say the least. Estamira, however, wouldn't be an ordinary case for anyone. She was abused as a child and was later forced to prostitute herself by a family member. Her mother spent considerable amount of time at an aging and overcrowded mental facility, where she later passed away. Estamira had to suffer through two violent, emotionally crippling marriages, and the younger of her two daughters was taken away from her at an early stage due to her unstable condition. Prado's intimately revealing interviews with her two older children illuminate the fact that things were taking a turn for the better when they eventually asked her to leave the junkyard for health-related reasons, and she did, but not long after she was brutally raped one night right outside her house.

Unlike most documentaries about troubled individuals, Estamira's past isn't related in a linear, prepackaged mode. It's as if Prado wanted the viewers to discover it in the same way he did -- we follow broken pieces of information and stunted memories that somehow end up deepening the work and its protagonist. Prado's aesthetic respectfully emulates Estamira's condition. The film switches between grainy black-and-white vérité to serenely composed shots in color -- the striking images of overcast skies teeming with wild birds hovering just above the heads of people standing in mounds of trash (which I haven't seen so many of since Filipino filmmaker Mario O'Hara's Woman of Breakwater [2004]) are simply unforgettable -- in a manner similar to its subject's transformation from being lucidly poetic to ranting blasphemously in a dialect all her own (she blames god for all modern ills and believes that the universe revolves around her). However Prado doesn't turn away during such moments, which admittedly will be too close for comfort for some (at one point, an extremely angry Estamira shows her young grandson where babies really come from). Like Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), this narration-less effort may also receive some criticism for not contextualizing poverty within a larger framework, but in its own way it's arguably just as remarkable, nearly visionary piece of work.

Re: Brazil x 2: Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) & Estamira (2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Apr 11, 2008 11:31 pm

*Estamira has played at a number of international film festivals. It won the prestigious Fipresci prize at Vienna.

*Director Marcos Prado, who's also a photographer, started his film career as a producer with The Charcoal People (1999) and Bus 174 (2002) before co-directing (with José Padilha, the primary director of Bus 174) a documentary featurette for television. Padilha now serves as one of the producers of this film.

*No U.S. distribution at this point.

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