I had the chance to see a third interesting city film at the VIFF yesterday. This one presented another pastiche of urban life, but unlike Get Out of the Car (reviewed previously) the focus of the assemblage is a network of everyday interactions taking place in a low income neighbourhood in Recife, Brazil’s fourth largest city.
The film, Defiant Brasilia (Brazil, 2010, 85 minutes) is framed around the residents of the so-named neighbourhood – many of whom were relocated there following the demolition of a nearby slum to make way for the construction of the Brasilia Formosa Avenue. Defiant Brasilia itself occupies an interesting social and geographic space. Despite often been viewed (and treated) as a community that is ‘peripheral’ to the centre of power in Recife, it is in fact located in right near the city’s geographic and historical core.
As viewers, we move from scenes of 5-year old Cauan (celebrating his birthday with a spiderman themed party), to Pirambu (an indebted fisherman hassled for not being able to turn a profit), to Deborah (a manicurist who hopes to make it onto the cast of Big Brother) to Fabio, (the videographer she ultimately hires to help with the process). While one might be tempted to draw larger messages, or search for themes of a macro or universalist nature, the intent is actually the opposite: this is a film about the microcosms that exist within city life. Says Gabriel Mascaro, director, “I chose not to work with the idea of characters that are representative of the wider community. Rather, I wanted to investigate a more subjective, individual idea of representation. I wanted to make a film that respects the singularity of each individual.”
Amidst this cast of aspirations, the city itself (or at least the neighbourhood in question) provides a rich and ever-unfolding backdrop to the movement and interactions of its characters. Fabio and Pirambu, in particular, literally shift the film along as they travel through the streets, laneways and alleys of the city. Their bike rides and boat travels allow the viewer to explore the idea of boundaries and mobility within the constraints of the Defiant Brasilia community.
The film doesn’t have a conventional narrative arc to speak of. Instead, we drop in to watch city life unfold on a fishing boat, at Cauan’s school, on the sidewalk, and listen in on the conversations that unfold therein, becoming implicated in the ambitions, complaints, ribbald humour and gossip before moving along. It’s a fascinating excercise, particularly when you realize that the film is neither a documentary, nor a work of fiction; rather occupying a middle ground between the two wherein a set of predefined encounters set up by Mascaro serve to provide a loose framework for ‘real’ dialogues and situations to emerge.