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The Light and Dark Sides of Communal Existing at New Directors/New Films ’24


By Roger Costa


Back in the 60’s, a group of Brazilian revolutionary artists joined forces to create a cinematic movement as a response to the political hurdles of their country, and to challenge their more “commercial” fellow filmmakers. Instead of fantasizing magical and mainstream projects, names such as Carlos Diegues, Ruy Guerra and Nelson Pereira dos Santos decided to portrait the injustices and sacrifices the working-class and other minorities had to endure. Influenced by the French Wave and its predominant sense of freedom, a new movement was born, called Cinema Novo. Its geopolitical, social and humanitarian issues continue relevant and impactful today. Fruit of such talented national pattern, a group of Millennials created a film company, Filmes de Plastico that resembles such sociopolitical engagement. The films conceived by Filmes de Plastico could easily be described as a modern form of Cinema Novo, structured and deeply grounded in neo-realism. Director Andre Novais Oliveira is among these artists. Along with Filmes de Plastico company, they have created groundbreaking narrative style, re-inventing realism cinema. They are also engaged in depicting the lives of their region, most specifically, Belo Horizonte and its surroundings in the state of Minas Gerais. They portrait their city with the same passion and engagement as Mendonca Filho does for Recife.

Oliveira simply casts the camera over his characters, following them through their routines, capturing their emotions, conflicts, aspirations and expectations. He extracts poetry and emotional tension from ordinary situations reflecting on the life changing consequences. These personal elements blur with the political, social and economic shapes of the country, which has been enduring one corruptive presidential mandate after the other, and no-one knows if there will ever be an ending to this. Through ordinary, yet profoundly thoughtful and urgent dialogue, the film paints an important canvas of the realities faced by the Brazilian working-class, the effects of post-Covid modern society, and mostly, the struggles for a better tomorrow, seeking emotional stability and financial safety.

Grounded as a new Cinema Novo, structured as a one-long-shot film with influences on Eric Rohmer and the Richard Linklater “Before” trilogy, using a barroque, deeply immersive aesthetic to contemplate his characters, Oliveira presents the unlikely bond developed by two co-workers at a library. Zeca has been having trouble to sleep well and he begs his roommate to kick him out of bed the next morning. It doesn’t matter what it takes. He asks to be thrown a bucket of water on in case “I try to say there is no need anymore; don’t fall for it, just throw water on me”, he says. Despite his efforts, he still gets up late, and experiences what looks like a bad omen trajectory: he almost misses the bus, and later, it breaks down, forcing him to stop at a historical site of Belo Horizonte for a snack and small talk. As he gets to the job late, assists a girl who is fascinated by “The Little Prince” and wonders on his own solitude, Zeca is surprised by Louisa’s visit. She is a co-worker and she is bringing some not so good news: he is being fired. But the news doesn’t shock him, instead, there’s a sense of relief and gratitude to it, but then, comes the question: how to survive in a country amidst a constant crisis without a job?

She is kind enough to offer him a ride to the centre of the capital where he is heading to. She is going to meet a friend for a drink. Along the ride, they discuss their mutual feelings and criticism for the educational system, learning they have a lot in common. Things won’t stop there. As her friend never shows up for the girls night out, she suggests spending the night with him, and something bigger, special occurs: a strong, impactful connection leading to a possible romance. They also share their loneliness, wounds and mental crisis, confessing their addiction to controlled medication and inclinations for depression. They open up their anguish as a way of healing.

As they spend a day/night together, Oliveira conceives an original, utterly humane and passionate unusual love story. Richly observational, contemplative and intriguing, it reflects on the human condition as simple and extraordinary as life itself.

(Screens April 6 and 7)


Anchored by a towering and hypnotic performance by Yara de Novaes in the title role, this efficient, poignant and tragic drama directed by Pedro Freire presents one of the most turbulent and shocking mother-daughter relationship ever depicted in cinema. The impact is so profound one can feel it crawling over the skin. In fact the show belongs to three different women, playing each one a generational branch. While Novaes is the central force here, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha who plays her mother, and star-in-the-making Carol Duarte (“Invisible Life”, “La Chimera”) in the role of her estranged daughter elevate the tension in the narrative, giving their best and delivering unforgettable roles. You’ll hardly forget what goes on between these three women, when they confront each other representing traumatic elements and behavior disorders accordingly to their generations.

Unable to find a role decent enough for her to play, Malu moves away from the stage life, confining herself at a beachside slum, where she shares a property with strangers and bohemians alike. Her mother lives with her, but things get out of control when Malu’s daughter comes to visit after spending a couple of years in Europe. She is also an actress and is trying to convince her mother they all should live together in Sao Paulo where they can hopefully find some acting opportunity. But Malu is interested in creating a cultural center aiming to inspire local artists and launch their careers. Her mother is opposed to everything she plans, including her lifestyle choices. At one horrifying moment, her conservative mother invites a priest over just to try to change Malu’s perspective, only to have the priest running away after being confronted about his faith and beliefs. The scene is shocking, and right there you can feel exactly where this is going: an intense, profoundly aching multi-character female study about family bond and the loss of it. There is not much to say beyond this, because the viewer must be graced with the plot twists, subtly exposed when secrets and unsolved matters from the past come to surface.

Inspired by the true story of his mother, first-time filmmaker Paulo Freire leaves an impressive mark with this material. It is one of the most explosive, courageous and confident debuts of the year.

(Screens April 11 and 13).

(The 53rd New Directors/New Films runs April 3-14 at Film at Lincoln Center and MoMA. Visit for details).

Social Press . 03/04/2024

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