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An Emerging Brazilian Filmmaker is Ready to Take Over


By Roger Costa


Just last year, Brazilian filmmaker Carolina Markowicz has proved she is an auteur. Her directorial debut, “Charcoal” premiered at Toronto leaving a remarkable mark and announcing a major world cinema force. Her sophomore project, “Toll” examines some of the same issues she did in the previous one, but in different tones. She received a special award at Toronto, where “Toll” premiered, and was named by Variety as “one director to watch in ’24”.

This one feels somehow more sensitive, a little distant from the rustic, dark and tragic aspects of her debut. However, “Toll” also carries so much pain, tragedy, political, ecological and economical conflicts, making it her most accomplished work yet. The balance between morbid and sensibility is just perfect and unique. Anchored by a mesmerizing performance by Maeve Jinkings, it follows the desperation of a conservative mother in trying to “cure” her gay son. Repulsive about his feminine behavior (he aspires to be an Influencer diva and obsessively creates lip-synch musical videos) the toll booth attendant will risk everything, her dignity, reputation and future, even helping a few criminals, in order to raise the money needed to pay the treatment offered by a foreign pastor. In the other side, her son, Tiquinho, struggles to connect to a boy he once had a thing with, and silently suffers with his mother’s rejection. Do not expect a beautiful family drama out of this.

Unconventional, provocative, deeply raw and unashamed, director Markowicz is more interested in presenting the facts and the harsh reality of the lower class in trying to survive. Her characters are not really nice people. There are perversion, cheating, betrayal, lies, contempt, exploitation and moral disorder all over them, yet, they are a reflection of the human condition facing obstacles, going through their limits and resisting surrender. Most of these cases involve corruption, criminality and abuse. In this remarkable drama, Markowicz examines all of these elements through the complicated relationship of mother-son, and how they react individually to each other’s motives. Set in Cubatao, considered the most polluted city in Brazil, the film also casts a warning on global warming enhanced by its haunting cinematography, capturing the contrast between mountains and foggy images of air pollution.

In one striking scene, Tiquinho takes a photo of his mother smoking, using the Industrial landscape as a backdrop.  In his breakthrough role, Kauan Alvarenga delivers a devastatingly emotional and charismatic performance, easily conquering the audience’s heart, as the outcast Black queer kid who just wants to fit in. I can easily see a very bright future for him in the industry. The way he looks at his mother, carrying anguish and a sense of abandon, and the way he reacts to the surprisingly flirts of a boy he meets at the treatment program are examples of the tension and anxiety he is able to efficiently demonstrate with his complex character. Massively awarded everywhere it goes, including taking home Best Film at Rome Film Festival, Best Ibero-American Film, Director and Queer Film at Guadalajara Film Festival, and Best Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress and Art Direction at Rio Film Festival, this is reality cinema at its best.

(Screens Friday, July 12 as part of the 50th Newark Black Film Festival presented by The Newark Museum of Art)

Social Press . 26/06/2024

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