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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 4:53AM   |  19 comments
still from MADAME SATA

Blog written by Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity, Kino Lorber Films

By the end of 2009, the internet was flooded with Top 10 lists. The best of the year, the best of the decade, and of course, the best of the best. The assumption was that we needed someone to cut through the clutter, and that these lists are (or would be) useful tools as historical and curatorial documents – maybe an express lane to our past.

Of course, the assumptions within these selective practices need to be examined, and although not all lists are born equal, most of them (at least in the film world) seemed to bring a whiff of the canonical, as if motivated by the simple desire (and excitement) of creating a hierarchical division.  

It goes without saying that looking back (i.e. making history) should be an act of re-interpretation, or at least, a moment to re-examine the very process in which selection takes place – and not an opportunity for exclusion.  

Mostly made by young and still independent filmmakers in Brazil, the films on my list of the best the decade, reflect the importance of “looking back and re-interpreting Brazilian culture” in the way Brazil is reinventing itself at the beginning of the 21st century.

And while some of these films have been successful outside Brazil, others are still largely unknown outside Latin America. Well, be as it may.  

So, here it goes:

Madame Sata (2002 / Dir. Karim Ainouz)

Madame Sata (2002) has many similarities with another Brazilian film that captivated thousands of film lovers around the world: City of God (2002).

Both films depict real-life stories from Rio de Janeiro's past. City of God focuses on the development of Rio de Janeiro's slums during the 1960s and 70s, while Madame Sata is the story of Francisco dos Santos, a famous criminal in the Rio de Janeiro of the 1940s.

Also, both of these films are also energetic portrayals of a stunning city surrounded by violence, musical vitality and a unique kind of multiculturalism and racial politics.
Yet, at its core, Madame Sata is the anti-City of God.

Ainouz's film is, first and foremost, a character story about a bipolar transvestite and a capoeira master who was widely famous in Rio de Janeiro for being a street criminal – and nothing else.

The film re-captures the figure of Francisco dos Santos from the hands of canonical, government-produced and neoliberal history, and makes him into much more than an enemy of the state recorded on criminal records.

With Madame Sata, dos Santos is a father, a creator of street law and ethics, and also, a one-man sexual revolution. This is the Brazilian film to beat from the  last decade.

Praca Saens Pena (2008 / Dir. Vinícius Reis )

As a family drama about marital infidelity, Praca Saens Pena has the most unlikely male lead: a history professor.

Paulo, a high school teacher working at a Catholic institution, barely makes enough to get by – and yet, he lives a stable life with his wife Teresa and their teenage daughter Bel.

But when Paulo decides to take on a book assignment to write about the history of  his neighborhood, Tijuca, his deep immersion into urban collective history frustrates his family and then, pushes his wife into an affair with a younger lover.

Besides being an intimate and incredibly well-crafted (and acted) melodrama, Praca Saens Pena also works as an examination on the very nature of looking back. Is historical investigation always tied to something in the present? Do we sometimes look at the past simply as a way to validate our present moment?

What is specially interesting about Praca Saens Pena is that the main characters' need to recover the history of his neighborhood is directly tied to the way the place is changing in the present.

And in that sense, looking back, at least for Paulo, becomes a way to effect change in the present. And yet, that is exactly how he almost loses the very thing that kept him grounded: his family life.

Yellow Mango (2002 / Dir. Claudio Assis)

On the contrary of the two title above, Yellow Mango isn't based on a historical fact pr research. Instead, Yellow Mango tells four short stories about intersecting characters who live in a poor neighborhood in the city of Recife, in the Northeast of Brazil.

The scenario is a bit depressing, and so are the character's lives: Dunga, an effeminate gay man working at a low-budget hotel, has a crush on an unscrupulous butcher, named Wellington, who is himself married to an evangelical woman named  Kika. Wellington has a mistress Dayse, and, as you already suspect, not a single character is this movie is on a path to dignified happiness or intellectual fulfillment.

Yet, what's so interesting about this film is the way in which it combines religious fanaticism with a picture of a society completely ruled by endemic poverty – both economic and social-cultural. What's left is desire, capital, and a kind of faith that looks more like a black hole than divine light. Still, Yellow Mango never feels unbelievably pessimistic.  



It is interesting to see a trend of recapturing and renegotiating history among your choice of films. Though I must say it is a shame not a lot of people outside of Latin America would be able to see all these!

I just want to echo what Koon Yen said. It is sad that more of these films aren't accessible to a global audience. Of course, I'm speaking personally as I would like to see these films, but I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on global distribution of cinema.

I'm a film student studying to make movies in the future, and I find much of popular cinema frustrating as the effort to make a project global causes the story or the film's content to feel shallow or irrelevant. Perhaps it is good that I should want to journey to South America to see these films rather than expecting them to flash up on my computer screen or suddenly appear on a self in Blockbuster.

Well, Madame Sata and Yellow MAngo are available on netflix, just so you know. Praça Sãens Pena is probably too small and intimate to get a NY/US release, but I can always lend you a copy - or you can email netflix and demand they get you a copy. But I understand your complaints: just a very small number of foreign films get released in the US, and it's a pity that the so-called curators on the film world, have in actuality become part of a commercial system that wants to control film distribution and use it simply as a means to profit.

I find it interesting that it is hard to find films from other countries such as Brazil especially when they are trying to share important information about their history and culture. By limiting the access to films from other cultures into the Western world it shows where the priorities of these film industries are located. It seems like it is about maintaining money and cultural hierarchies rather than art and education for the film industry.

i am an international film student in the US and i come from a latin american country, so i have several questions regarding latin american film industry.
how accessible are these films to the US audience? How much effort does the film industry do to distribute them and what is the response of the audience, if any?

After reading about Madame Sata, I want to go see it. I saw CIty of God a few months ago and I loved it. I am interested in widening the spectrum of movies that I watch and I definitely plan on watching more Brazilian and Latin American films in the future. I also find it interesting to think about how making movies that portray a country's culture could offer different perspectives on the history and present time of said country. I wonder what other movies have done that for other cultures and countries.

I'm keeping that quote--"It goes without saying that looking back (i.e. making history) should be an act of re-interpretation, or at least, a moment to re-examine the very process in which selection takes place – and not an opportunity for exclusion."
I know it's heresy, but I often wonder what the point of art is when it's not politically or documentarily-driven--why do we tell stories? If we aren't historically motivated, shouldn't we be fighting poverty or becoming doctors or something? I think this is a good answer to that struggle. Even in presenting fiction, at the very least we shape perception of a place or time period, and in doing so preserve it.

I am extremely interested in seeing Yellow Mango. It seems that you get a lot more out of international films than you do out of American films. Commercial films appeal to all audiences and do not address issues quite as specifically as international films, especially Brazilian ones! Watching a film from a different nation is also an easy way to get an insight on their culture and beliefs.

Looking back to consider and appreciate a film's context within history is something I have been striving to do lately. As a result, I am very intrigued by Alexandr Tant's post in that it questions the purpose of telling stories. After all, the motivation behind something is often key to understanding it. In the past, various types of cinema have been powerful tools for change. The utilization and appreciation of this medium should be priorities.

The lack of popularity of these movies demonstrates the power Hollywood has over distribution and simply representation. Unlike in some areas of the world, for example Indonesia, where Engage Media is providing an outlet for local filmmakers, for countries like Brazil an international outlet is just not possible. The overwhelming power of Hollywood cinema makes it difficult to find a foreign gem amongst a sea of blockbusters.

The lack of popularity of these movies demonstrates the power Hollywood has over distribution and simply representation. Unlike in some areas of the world, for example Indonesia, where Engage Media is providing an outlet for local filmmakers, for countries like Brazil an international outlet is just not possible. The overwhelming power of Hollywood cinema makes it difficult to find a foreign gem amongst a sea of blockbusters.

These films are very intriguing, and I plan on watching the films that are available on Netflix. I agree with Gary Chin on how watching a film from a different nation can teach you about its culture. I am currently watching films from India and I've learned things that I wouldn't have known if I didn't watch those movies. If Hollywood didn't have as much power and these films had a more international distribution, I believe more people would watch and learn about these subjects and learn a lot while being entertained.

I agree with what Mark said about Hollywood's power over pretty much the entire film industry. It does take some research to discover some of these foreign gems, and it is somewhat unfortunate that lots of people, particularly Americans, remain fairly ignorant of anything that wasn't released by Hollywood. City of God remains one of my favorite films, and I will make sure to check out the other Latin American directors. With the influx of netflix and other online viewing capabilities, hopefully foreign films will have a rise and Americans will begin to discover the agenda and skills of non-American filmmakers.

I agree with Mark about the power Hollywood possesses over the film industry. Not only they shadow the international art cinema, they also distort the concept of multi-culture, by turning everything into a stereotype. Most of these international film industries cannot compete with Hollywood, and these amazing films remain unknown. Fortunatelly, some of them have been gaining strength recently, like the Indian cinema, and their diffusion may rise, hopefully, in the next few years.

I agree with Rodrigo in that I believe that having such a small amount of foreign films coming into the country hinders the perspective of other filmmakers and cultural influence that it could have. Cinema today has just become about the dollar, who ever spends the most money will most likely have a good picture. Present day films lack a substance and quality. Over the years I have seen the progressive lowering if the quality bar. Ever since new technology has come out, films are leaning more towards the actual visual stimulation, rather than the narrative. If avatar had not been shot in such in 3D the plot and acting wouldn’t have receieved so much critical acclaim.

One year ago, before taking any film course, when someone asked me what kind of films I liked to watch? I would definitely say "Hollywood film". But now I start to find Hollywood film annoying. In fact, I need to say their business structure is the most successful ever in film history. Film? Not quite. The reason why Hollywood film gain so many audience very much is advertising strategies, especially star system. As for the three best Brazillian movies, I did not even know them until today when I saw this post. When I look at the film summaries, they are quite attractive in certain degree. I think I would watch them when I have time.

Nice list

An excellent information provided thanks for all the information i must say great efforts made by you.

Great post ever. Keep going on. Very nice and thanks for sharing with us.

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