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That makes Gebo sound grim. It is. Almost every spoken line is a complaint or lament; the plot is tragic; the shots long and static; the atmosphere thick and dour. It’s not surprising that a filmmaker who made his first shorts before Chaplin had transitioned to sound now has death on his mind; more unexpected is that he has made a film that, for all its grave trappings, reflects so urgently on what it means to be alive. A final gesture of compassion and self-sacrifice on Gebo’s part is accompanied by a sudden influx of light and immortalized by the oldest of cinematic tricks: a modest, well-deserved freeze-frame. Oliveira lets this moment of triumph slip out almost grudgingly: his moral universe is tough, stoic, unfuzzy, positive almost in spite of itself. Gebo gets no glory for doing his duty—his pathetic gesture comes without fanfare, though it stops death itself in its tracks. It’s an appropriate finale for a festival so full of trauma and anxiety: an affirmation spoken through gritted teeth.
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