Being one of the largest countries in the world, Brazil’s cinematic arts display varied viewpoints and styles that represent its massive geographic status. Until now, the country’s film industry has mostly been known for two things: raw exposés of violence in poverty-stricken societies and Carmen Miranda.
Of course Brazil is much more than that; therefore, it’s refreshing to see how Global Lens has put together such a diverse collection of films for this DVD boxset. The titles contained in The Best of Global Lens: Brazil may not be the greatest movies to come out of the country during the past few decades. In fact admirers of world cinema might wonder why this collection has excluded the likes of Walter Salles, Cao Hamburger and José Padilha, to mention a few. The whole point of the collection might be to give us a taste of the filmmakers who never gain worldwide recognition and as such, it’s truly a little gem.
Mango Yellow (directed by Cláudio Asis, 2002) got its name from a story written by Ranto Carneiro Campos, who compared the gruesome resemblance of the ripe mango color to the rheum discharged by poor kids and the pus excreted from wounds. Like this raw simile suggests, the film gives us a world of sordid putrefaction, that still is capable of seducing us.
In the film’s micro-universe—which we are constantly reminded, is part of a larger national reality—we meet colorful characters whose resemblance lies in how they all come from the gutters. There’s a violent cook married to a devout Christian, a fiery bar owner cursed by her extreme sensuality, a gay cook obsessed with a heterosexual man and a necrophiliac who terrorizes the neighborhood with his violent ways.
As we can expect from a mosaic film, all of their paths will cross at some point; however, the real pleasure in Asis’ film is that he doesn’t recur to exploitation to make these people memorable. Beyond their moral and physical decay and beyond their chaotic lives (which seem almost too tragic to be “real”) the filmmaker shows us glimpses of their souls. They don’t exist for the mere purpose of teaching us a lesson and this elevates the film from being a trashy soap opera, turning it into an ironically delightful slice of life. When one of the characters asks to have her hair dyed mango yellow we know that despite its sorrowful appearance, the film is a celebration of life.
The party theme continues with Margarette’s Feast (directed by Renato Falcão, 2003) a surreal silent film, shot in black and white, that aptly works as an homage to the films of Federico Fellini and Charlie Chaplin. The premise is simple: Pedro (Hique Gomez) wants to give his wife the greatest birthday party ever and spends the whole movie trying to put it together, in the process getting involved in all sorts of unfortunate misadventures.
The film is lovingly shot and has scenes of true beauty but most of the time it fails to work because it never justifies its style. The screenplay and mood are filled with anachronisms that never make the entire movie feel coherent and the musical choices sometimes make it resemble a techno music video from the ‘90s. Despite its bittersweet finale and undeniable originality, the film suffers from the major problem any silent movie might have: we would rather be listening to the characters speak.
Inversely, the dialogs might be the weakest link in the talky Almost Brothers (directed by Lúcia Murat, 2004) which focuses on the friendship of two men over four decades. Miguel is a bourgeoisie revolutionary who meets drug dealer Jorginho when he gets sent to prison for his political views. They become friends and we see how they follow what seem to be preordained paths when they are released: Miguel becomes a senator, Jorginho a powerful drug lord. Throw in some flashbacks, a horny daughter in danger of crossing over to the dark side, lots of violent gang members and the film becomes the epitome of what the new Brazilian cinema has become known for. Almost Brothers might be the film that makes the most “sense” in this boxset, however in terms of quality, it’s far from being the best.
That honor goes to the fantastic Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (Marcelo Gomes, 2005) which takes the road movie for a spin and sets it during WWII. There we meet Johann (a fantastic Peter Ketnath) : a German expat making his way through Northern Brazil selling aspirin. He meets Ranulpho (Joao Miguel) a local who befriends him and becomes his companion. Together they travel the country selling people the remedy and showing them movies; both of which appear to be magical to those around them. “If these pills cure hunger they will be a success” says Ranulpho, encompassing the film’s social intentions while relying on the director’s poetic vision.
The sparse settings could’ve made the film’s themes seem forced and obvious, instead they become searing images of the spiritual desolation the entire world endured during the war. Kudos to Gomes for creating a genre film that transcends stylistic limitations to become a universal—but never preachy—reminder that when it comes down to basics, we’re all in search of the same things.
Global Lens has done a fantastic job compiling deleted scenes and bonus material to give the set some extra charm. It’s a shame that not all the movies count with the best transfers, Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures for instance is presented in an aspect ratio that robs us of the opportunity to fully enjoy its composition and wonderful use of lighting. These tiny mishaps can be forgiven if we think of them as accidents that occurred due to the urgency contained in these films. After watching these films, Brazil will seem not like the land of the favelas and samba but a place of infinite creativity.