The Brazilian Banksy: Bel Borba Aqui

10/03/2012 4:00 AM |

Bel Borba Aqui
Directed by Burt Sun and André Costanini

Bel Borba, basically a Brazilian Banksy, has tucked public art into every corner of his hometown Salvador: underwater sculptures in the harbor, painted airplanes at the airport, countless tile murals, and a giant beachside Coke-bottle Christmas tree commissioned by the soft drink company. He has left no medium or space unexplored; as one local says weirdly: “He is to Salvador as a sperm is to a woman.”

Sadly, this documentary does a great deal to sap the artistic virility from the urban revivalist whose ceaseless movements it tracks. Borba’s populist public art offers an appealing vernacular alternative to Brazil’s increasingly professionalized contemporary art scene, as well as a means of visual enrichment for a chronically poor region. But his scattered oeuvre hardly justifies the filmmakers’ similarly disjointed documentary. Burt and Costanini continually shift between grainy hand-held video, lush hi-def and touristy interludes, doing debilitating disservice to an intriguing subject whose charisma should easily suffice to sustain a much better film.

Bel Borba Aqui‘s frenetic form occasionally calms down, allowing for some exquisite sequences. The opening mural-painting session on an abandoned and eviscerated apartment building stokes hope for a better film ahead, and the artist’s astoundingly lucid musings on art’s relationship to politics during a drive through town offers a glimpse of a more thoughtful, less condescending documentary that could have been. But flaws both technical and structural quickly undo the film’s immense potential—and do great disservice to its intriguing subject.

Opens October 3