The eighth annual incarnation of MoMA’s Premiere Brazil!, running through the 29th, offers up a distinctly Brazilian selection, revealing the culture’s propensity to devour the foreign with a shot of cacaÇha.
Screening on Saturday, Reidy, Building Utopia explores perhaps the most expansive examples of such mÉlange. Director Ana Maria MagalhÃes documents the life and work of Affonso Eduardo Reidy, the urbanist architect who transformed Rio from antediluvian colonial capital to modern metropolis. Sumptuous aerial shots of the city, animated archival photos, and 90s-vintage interviews with students and colleagues of Reidy form a lively, coherent trajectory for those unfamiliar with architectural theory. While the International style (which directly influenced urbanism’s dedication to populism) is most commonly known for dreary institutions, urbanism’s break from ornamental, Eurocentric architecture was unprecedented. Reidy’s consideration of the climate and materials unique to a building’s its geographic location—and his prioritizing of the spaces between them, where people gather—is equally radical.
Conversely, Marcelo Gomes and Karim Ainouz I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You, which screened on the 17th and 22nd, is set in the chronically impoverished, rural northeast region of Brazil. With its video art-like visual abstractions and minimal plot, it’s decidedly for fans of Kiarostami and other purveyors of sleepy-toned films. A nameless geologist (heard only in voiceover) surveys land to facilitate a Three Gorges Dam-like canal development that will displace inhabitants. Though set in the present, the film’s use of Super-8 footage and still photography confirm that it tells a very old story. The racial politics embedded in the modernization project are made even clearer by the protagonist’s ethnographic recording of people (noting that, aside from rocks, “everyone else around here are shorter than me”). As he alternately pines for and tries to forget his ex-wife, “Blondie,” his road trip assumes the irrational logic of a broken heart, detouring into meaningless sex. (His disorientation is echoed by a stripper he interviews, who doesn’t know the name of the street where she dances). This traveler’s inability to lose himself entirely, or resolve his sense of estrangement, parallels the conundrum of Brazilianness: in this cultural and ethnical mix of indigenous peoples, the African diaspora, and white Europeans, one can neither “go native,” nor be an
empirically-minded tourist, without being untruthful. Despite obsessively cataloging his experience like the earth he is examining, he cannot bridge the distance into “authentic” experience. Refusing both catharsis and pessimism, the film’s aftertaste is singular.
Screening this afternoon, Esmir Filho’s The Famous and The Dead explores small-town adolescent longing in the same heavily Teutonic southern state that begot Giselle BÜnchen, revealing it to be as hopeless and inescapable a place to grow up as the northeast. The film takes on the demeanor of a sullen teen, eschewing dialogue as if pouting and adopting a pace that loiters rather than lingers. As such, it’s unafraid of showing that growing up disaffected in a small town mostly entails being alone in your room and posting super-emotional shit on the internet, rather than dressing quirky or servin’ up the sassy quips. (When the somnambulistic protagonist is reprimanded by a teacher for playing soccer poorly in gym and is switched to goalie, he abandons the game entirely and walks home in the fog.) Avoiding friends and the town’s polka-centric Spring Festival, the majority of his time is spent blending fantasy with the amateur-artsy digital mementos of his deceased sister and still-living ex-boyfriend, freely mixing grief with incestuous desire. Filho’s commitment to honesty is achingly poignant.
A celebratory and less cerebral option is the documentary Dzi Croquettes, screening on Monday. An all-male dance troupe that came to prominence during the most oppressive years of Brazil’s military dictatorship (71-74), Dzi Croquettes’ shows were somehow a Tropicalia cabaret with elements of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Monty Python. Such wildly disparate referents could lead one to believe they were terrible—but watching them perform, it all makes fabulous sense. Living together in the same house, the troupe was a family, down to the constant drama: “Mother” Wagner Ribeiro founded and wrote their material, “Father” Lennie Dale choreographed many of the numbers, with their “Daughters” retaining their chest hair and beards to keep the gender and sexuality ambiguous. What made the group utterly offensive to the dictatorship, yet made them impossible to shut down, is that which wistful, parasitic 60s nostalgia has cheapened: they preached love and art in a world of war. The film is reminiscent of Paris Is Burning in its attitude and as an artifact of gay pride within a hyper-masculine culture; wading through the effusive praise of talking heads for the stories from the remaining members and amazing archival footage is gleefully edifying.