In contrast to a modern
pornographic film, the trajectory of
A Film of Love (from clothed to naked to ejaculation) is glacially
slow. The tedium of the scenes in the apartment is intercut with
stunningly poetic views, finding poetry where one might least
expect. This is one of the longest 90-minute films I have ever seen.
The name of Brazilian film director Julio Bressane (born 1946) is virtually
unknown in the United States, and none of his films are listed by major video
His 1995 film, O Mandarim,
starring, among others, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Raphael Rabello, Chico Buarque,
Edu Lobo, and Caetano Veloso was released on video in Brazil, but is long
The director’s most recent
film (he has a total of 26 feature-length works to his credit, beginning in
1966) is Filme de Amor (A Film of Love), which is currently showing
at the Estação Unibanco in Botafogo, an art-film house with
several screens, a coffee shop and an excellent used-book store.
American filmgoers are
so used to "realist" filmmaking (even if the reality depicted is
completely fantastic, as it so often is) that it can be a shock to realize
that there are other ways to make films.
From the outset Filme
de Amor (originally titled Filme Pornográfico) is completely
stylized. The film plays with the clichés of films set in Rio, beginning
with languorously long takes of the triad of characters/actors/icons who will
inhabit the film, standing, lying, talking, in studied poses by the rocks
near Arpoador (if I am not mistaken, in the part of the shore off limits to
the public by the Fort in Copacabana), seemingly belonging to the golden youth
of Zona Sul.
Already here, though,
something is off-keythe maillot worn by the redhead, the unusual whiteness
of the beachgoers. Bressane then moves to black and white to show the viewer
that his three muses (one male, two female) are not south-zone dwellers but
from the suburbsthat enormous part of Rio that is usually invisible
to those who don’t live there, stretching along the tracks of the old Central
railroad in Zona Norte, and absent from the iconography of Rio, which is usually
limited to the refinements of bossa nova or MPB (think Ipanema, Leblon,
Lagoa) or samba or funk (think favelaMangueira, Salgueiro).
There are places in popular
culture where the suburbs make an appearance (for example, the Globo sitcom,
A Grande Família, which pokes fun at the vulgarity of the suburban
lower middle class), but these occasions are rare.
And strikingly the shots
of suburban and central Rio which follow are almost empty of people, which
is a completely unnatural condition for Riothe filming must have been
done at dawn.
The viewer gets a glimpse
of the fragmented remains of the Rio of sixty or seventy years ago, the homely
beauty of the decaying and neglected heritage that is falling to pieces in
the districts that have neither the advantage of being beyond the reach of
the law (the favelas) or being desirable addresses (the beach neighborhoods).
Finally the trio, one
by one, reaches their destination, an old apartment house someplace near the
center (I couldn’t place it exactly) with the business prominently named "Popular"
(with a smaller sign noting that there are rooms for rent for rapazes,
which is an archaicism at this point in time).
The space they occupy
(over the weekend?) was once beautiful, with a lovely parquet floor, but has
clearly been neglected for decades (it is lit by a solitary bulb hanging precariously
from the ceiling).
The speech of the three
actors (it would be erroneous to call it dialogue) is inaudible at first,
and when it finally can be heard it is not conversation at all, but almost
entirely quotes from literature, whether read from books on screen, or recited.
The first order of business
for the actors is to entertain themselves with vicedrinking cachaça,
smoking, taking pills, playing cards, and interestingly enough, inhaling ether
(known usually in Rio as loló or cheirinho, a mix of
chloroform and ether).
The whole effect of the
details is to return the viewer to the vice of earlier decades, to the vice
of film noir, to the vice of Lapa when it was the center of vice. In the true
tradition of the pornographic film, these actors are not characters (we never
learn their names).
Gradually the clothes
come off, the characters embrace in a variety of combinations, there is even
a view of a vulva in closeup being penetrated by a banana.
But in contrast to a modern
pornographic film, the trajectory of the filmfrom clothed to naked to
ejaculationis glacially slow. And none of the moments should be exciting
in the slightestquite the contrary.
The tedium of the scenes
in the apartment is intercut with stunningly poetic views finding poetry where
one might least expect itthe water of the Maracanã River in its
channel in Tijuca, with the thick leaves above, the tangle of wires above
a suburban street (one of the most striking is the black and white image of
the exterior of Maracanã stadium).
Finally (this is one of
the longest 90 minute films I have ever seen) the viewer is returned to the
busy Rio of the workweek, the Rio of 2003, and one sees the social context
of our suburbanites, a social context (one is an elevator operator, one a
hair-stylist, one a manicurist) that would never allow us to imagine their
interiority, their poetry, outside the interactions we have with them.
This is a film for a small
audience of connoisseurs, a sort of coffee-table, art book sort of a film,
full of striking images, full of poetry, but with no character, no plot, no
dialogue. And an interesting view of a completely different Rio.
Filme de Amor,
directed by Júlio Bressane, with Fernando Eiras (Gaspar), Bel Garcia
(Hilda), Josie Antello (Matilda), 2003, 90 mins.
Tom Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since
1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German,
and is also active as a musician. Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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