April 7, 2009

Some thoughts on Cinema Brasileiro

Last week Ray commented on the post about Roberta Sá and my complaints that it’s hard to find quality Brazilian cultural activities. He mentioned films and how directors keep coming out with these violent shoot ‘em up in the favelas movies. Well, he’s right to a degree – after Cidade de Deus (City of God)made such a huge splash both here and internationally, there have been a number of films that followed suit. The most notable recently was that abhorrent film (that everyone but me seemed to love) Tropa de Elite (The Elite Squad). If you haven’t seen it, it’s a violent film about a good cop fighting both the corrupt system and the drug dealers. The acting was pretty good (even the worst movies here tend to have good acting because there are so few options for the country’s actors.) Artistically however it has all the production values and creativity of a mediocre made for TV movie, and thematically it is tedious and unchallenging.

The reason I really didn’t like it was that it seemed like bait and switch propaganda trying to use shock value to actually lull people into some sense of security and distract from the real roots of the problems. It’s message seems to go something like, “See folks, we have heroes saving us from the bad guys. Don’t worry about a thing, just don’t buy drugs (cause drugs are bad and it gives money to the bad guys) and the police will take care of the rest and all our problems will be solved.” If only it were that easy.

I have some friends who are very well-educated, dedicated Spiritists, meditation and yoga practicing pacifists – who loved the movie. I gave up trying to talk people out of it after running into a wall with them.

But just because violence and drugs has been the overriding theme in the Brazilian movies that have gotten the most notice recently, that doesn’t mean that other movies aren’t being made. They just aren’t getting much attention or distribution - so not many people know about them.

Casa de Areia is a good example of this. Directed by Andrucha Waddington and staring the country's two most famous actresses, Fernanda Torres and Fernanda Montenegro, it got little attention here in its home country. We were living here in 2005 when it came out and the first time it crossed my radar screen was when I read a pretty glowing review in the New York Times a year later. It's a lovely film.

Another perfect example is Linha de Passe. Directed by the biggest name director in Brazilian cinema, Walter Salles, it won a bunch of awards in film festival circuits, including Best Actress at Cannes. It was released here in Brazil last September and I don’t ever remember seeing it shown or advertised at the movie theaters. It’s coming out on DVD now so we’ll finally get to see it.

So the problem isn’t that Brazilian film directors aren’t making nuanced, sophisticated films. They are. The problem is that they aren’t getting distributed. In 2007, Brazilian made movies accounted for only 10% of films shown in Brazilian movie theaters and although there has been a bit of a push by Brazilian filmmakers to change this, the number hasn’t grown much. And this isn’t because Brazilians aren’t making movies, or that there isn’t an audience for them. But rather the movies that do get made can’t even begin to compete with the marketing machine that backs American made films. So the films don't make any money and the national industry continues to struggle.

One estimate has a whooping 65% of the total revenue earned by the American film industry made in markets outside of the United States. Here in Brazil, the movie theater franchises that monopolize the market are multinationals. Companies like UCI, Cinemark and Hoyts General Cinema with their surround sound digital technology and stadium seating, show predominantly American films – which bring in the revenue to keep the cinemas operating. How can the practically non-existent Brazilian film industry, which struggles to raise the money to get even a few films a year into production, even begin to compete with the marketing power of Hollywood?

Naturally Brazilians have had little chance to develop a taste for their own movies. They earn very little money, are poorly marketed, weakly distributed, and do nothing to further the Brazilian cineasta’s dream of developing a national cinema industry. If there were money behind it, there is certainly no shortage of talent. Show up at any one of the country’s film festivals and you will see a number of very good, original feature length movies as well as documentary, shorts and animation, that apart from the festival circuit receive very little, if any, screen time.

A few years ago we spent ten days at the Mostra de Cinema de Tiradentes (an annual film festival in the city of Tiradentes in Minas Gerais). C had gotten accepted to a digital filmmaking workshop that ran as part of the festival.

I spent the afternoons watching movies and sightseeing around the historic city with Dharma and eventually was roped into participating in the short film the workshop produced.

It was a disastrous little 5 minute short – exactly what you’d expect from 25 students trying to collaborate on everything from script to costumes to direction in ten days. The only thing that turned out decently were the opening credits which were filmed by the guy who was assisting the director of the workshop. But it was a good and sometimes hilarious learning experience.

While we were there we did get to see a few feature length films that definitely proved that there is a lot more being explored in Brazilian cinema than violence. Here’s a short list (in no particular order) of some good recent Brazilian cinema. Check these out – if you can find them…

  • Sonhos de Peixe (Fish Dreams)
  • Crime Delicado (Delicate Crime)
  • O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation)
  • Anjos do Sol (Angels of the Sun)
  • O Concepção (The Conceptualist)
  • Baile Perfumado (Perfumed Ball)
  • O Veneno da Madrugada (The Evil Hour)
  • Abril Despedaçado (Behind the Sun)
  • Lavoura Arcaica (To the Left of the Father)
  • Olga
  • O Quatrilho
  • Linha de Passa
  • Casa de Areia (House of Sand)

One thing that ties almost all of these movies together is that their funding took years and years to raise -- 14 years in the case of Ruy Guerra’s Evil Hour. Anyway my list is not nearly complete – I’m sure there are Brazilian cinema lovers out there that know a lot more than me, so feel free to add suggestions!

Oh, and in a funny anecdote, while we were at the Tiradentes Film Festival, the movie O Concepção was being shown and one of the actors, Matheus Nachtergaele was in attendance. But much like his character in the film, he’s a bit of a drug fueled lunatic. One evening, C and I were sitting in the garden of one of the nicer restaurants in Tiradentes, conversing with the owner, an old friend of C’s. He brought us over to some benches in a quiet corner of the garden next to the hot tub he had just installed. (I know, a hot tub in a restaurant seems weird, but it was very tastefully done and had a bamboo screen around it). Anyway suddenly Matheus and his boyfriend came charging through. He was clearly high on something and he started tearing off all his clothes right there. We were trying to get up but were trapped in the corner between the building and the bamboo and couldn’t get past. The owner kept saying, wait, wait, hold on a second. But the crazy actor got stark naked and jumped in and then called to his boytoy to join him. We were tripping over chairs but managed to get away, barely containing our laughter.


Evelyn said...

Thanks for the great recommendations. I found a couple of them on Netflix. We had seen House of Sand before and really enjoyed it. I love the pacing and depth of so many Brazilian movies!

A few others I've seen that I liked:

O Caminho das Nuvens (The Middle of the World)
Eu, Tu, Eles
O Homen Que Copiava

Great post!

Rachel said...

I really need to see House of Sand!

I liked Tropa de Elite, but I think the message didn't get across very well. Jose Padilha wanted to show that the police are basically no better than the drug dealers, and that it's impossible to fight in the drug war without succumbing to the "dark side." Unfortunately, many people thought the violence glorified BOPE, and applications soared the past few years to enter Rio's SWAT team. I think Padilha was not happy about that, nor was he happy that most people watched the movie before it was released on pirated DVDs.

Ray Adkins said...


This is my favorite post ever!
You shared a great amount of knowledge on Brazilian film and I will put it to good use.
There is a great "Movie Rental" place near Brown University in Providence, they are specialized in foreign movies.
I took note of your list and also wrote down Evelyn's list and will browse the little video store from top to bottom.
Thank you so much for this great educational experience!


Ballerina Girl said...

Thanks for the suggestions, we will have to check them out!
I do not go to the cinema often enough...a little hard to get away with the kids!

I only saw bits and pieces of Tropa de Elite...and what I saw was horrifying. I didn't want to watch anymore.
I am not a fan of watching that sort of film.

Thanks again...only 2 more days until we come!!! YEA!!! :)

Unknown said...

You haven't commented, so perhaps you might know, but Fernanda Torres is Fernanda Montenegro's daughter.

They both are really good actresses, and Fernanda Montenegro is widely considered one of the best Brazilian actresses of all times (at least since she did "Central do Brasil", that kind of restarted the Brazilian film industry in 1997).

lovelydharma said...

Thanks for mentioning that Tiago. I knew that -- it's another thing that makes Casa de Areia so interesting. I didn't mention Central do Brasil (Central Station) because it is so well known, but yes, on an all time list of Brazilian movies it should be right up at the top!

Rachel, I agree, the message got lost somewhere between his choice of documentary style realism and the annoying voice over. It would have been more interesting to see it shot not as a hollywood style action movie but closer to a cinema verité style documentary.

Ray - hope you can find them. Evelyn mentioned netflicks. We can't even find them all on DVD here in Brazil. Frustrating!

Have a great trip BG! I think you're going to love it!

markuza said...

Excellent post. I have to check out some of these films. I ran into someone I know at the video store and we got talking about brazilian films, and I made the comment (I was in one of my more cynical moods) that most brazilian films are either 1. super violent, 2. super depressing, or 3. super cheesy. In some ways it's the third category that bothers me more than the first two (and there's plenty of it on TV as well, and in what passes for children's books, etc). I read in the book The Brazilians that many Brazilians consider the roots of their culture to be based more in carnival (not carnaval) slapstick rather than theater and such... who knows. It's great to know there's other stuff out there, I just wish it was a little easier to find.

Ballerina Girl said...

Thanks for the tips... unfortunately we are going on a tour bus with the American Society...
I know, it sounds a little scary right? But they offered a trip over Easter, and we couldn't really have made it otherwise, so off we go!
I am worried the kids may get bored so I will look at where you suggested.
thanks again and have a Happy Easter

Ray Adkins said...


On another note, this is in reference to a recent post:


Corinne said...

What also makes it hard for films like the ones on your list to get theater time is that other Brazilian movies get way more marketing. Besides the violent-themed ones, there are the "Globo" movies, (Se Eu Fosse Você 1 and 2 and the like). These are really just "novelas" for the big screen, but get a lot of advertising and theater play. I actually did not like House of Sand, it was a bit too slow and confusing for me.

AkuTyger said...

Keep an eye out for "O Trampolim do Forte" - our friend João's film. Should be out... um not sure, they finished filming in December I believe.

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