Brazil unplugged

The Brazilian Film Festival, which opens next week, shows both the good and the uglier sides of the country.

Brazil 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Brazil 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If all you know about Brazil is the success and insouciant mind-set of its celebrated soccer team, the intoxicating rhythms of its music and the expansive beaches, get ready to learn some more about the South American country at this year’s Brazilian Film Festival, which opens next week.
The festival lineup includes 10 feature films and five documentaries, which will be screened at the cinematheques of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Sderot from August 1 to August 23.
“I have tried to reflect as many aspects of Brazilian society, and life there, as possible in the films we’re bringing this year,” says artistic director Shlomo Azaria. “As anywhere, there is the good side and the uglier side of life in Brazil. I’d be delighted if people come away from the festival knowing more about real life there.”
Azaria feels that the festival’s appeal is boosted by the similarities between Israel and Brazil. “There is music and color and passion in both countries, and I think that makes Brazilian cinema more attractive to people here.
Of course there are plenty of Israeli mochileros [backpackers] who go to South America after the army, so Brazilian culture is not exactly foreign to us here.”
At least in thematic terms, there are no surprises in the documentary section of the program. “All five films are associated with music, in one way or another,” Azaria declares. “That is such an important part of life in Brazil.”
Even so, there is plenty of variety to be had in the musical lineup.
Nostalgia rules the roost in Uma Noite em 67 (One Night in ’67) which is based on Festival da Música Popular Brasileira, a sort of early talent TV show broadcast 43 years ago.
“I remember watching that live in Brazil,” says Azaria.
“These days it may be hard for some people to grasp; but back then, the most popular programs on television were not telenovelas, they were programs about music.”
Uma Noite em 67 must have had the Brazilian TV executives rubbing their hands with glee. There is drama, great and not-so-great music, all kinds of performers and high emotion.
“The audience then was very militant,” continues Azaria. “The people watching the show in the studio got very involved in what was going on on the stage. They took sides, and they expressed their feelings about the performances of the musicians in no uncertain terms.”
One poor contestant, Sergio Ricardo, was so violently verbally maligned by the audience that after finishing his number, he smashed his guitar and threw the pieces into the auditorium. It’s hard to think of a similar incident happening in these squeaky clean PC days.
It is also difficult to comprehend the flak poor Ricardo had to take considering his pivotal role in the emergence of the bossa nova, and his successful musical career both before and after Festival da Música Popular Brasileira.
Azaria, who made aliya from Brazil 40 years ago, is understandably delighted and proud that the festival is now seeing out its first decade.
“IT’S MY baby,” he states. “To begin with I had to be a sort of guerrilla fighter for it to keep going. I had no financial support and, you know what it’s like, you have to set something up and get it going before you can obtain the sponsorship you need to keep it going.
“It’s a sort of Catch 22 situation, but I managed.”
Mind you, he did get some support from high places.
“I was friends with [iconic musician] Gilberto Gil, who was minister of culture until a couple of years ago, and I am friends with the current [Bahian-born] minister Juca Ferreira, so that helps.”
Besides showing the Israeli public different aspects of Brazilian life, Azaria is also keen to show us as much of the country as possible, including some close to home.
“There are lots of films which show places like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – you always get them in Brazilian films. I come from Bahia in the northeast of the country, and you see some of Bahia in Blue Eyes.
Olhos Azuis or Blue Eyes, the festival opener – Tel Aviv on August 1, Haifa on August 2 and Jerusalem on August 3 – offers something of a different angle on Brazil.
“You see the country through the eyes of a foreigner, an American, and I think that approach will ring true with Israelis. After all, Israel is also a country of immigrants.”
Elsewhere on the festival roster there is comedy, romance, homosexuality, a dangerous close-sibling relationship, and some violence.
“A couple of years ago, I opened with a violent film called Tropa de Elite (The Elite Squad), which won the Golden Bear award at that year’s Berlin Film Festival,” says Azaria. “It wasn’t a matter of showing the rough side of life in Brazil, it was because the movie was so good and had won the award.
“In this year’s festival there’s Salve Geral (Time of Fear) about gang war in Sao Paulo. It has some violence, but not a lot.”
There are also a couple of films with homosexual content.
Elvis and Madonna is about an improbable relationship between a drag queen and a lesbian photographer, while Do Comeco do Fim (From Beginning to End) is a somewhat disturbing portrayal of brotherly love that knows no bounds, with a generous dosage of comedy thrown in.
Art film fans should enjoy the lengthily entitled I Travel because I Have To, I Come Back because I Love You, which addresses social and ecological issues, and takes in an abundance of scenic beauty in the northeastern region of Brazil.
Social and political angles are also examined in three of the documentaries – Lenine em Continuação (Lenine in Continuation) about a prog rock musician with strident viewpoints, Simonal – a portrait of Brazil’s first successful black musician, and O Pequeno BurguesFilosofia de Vida (The Petit Bourgeois – A Philosophy of Life) based on the life and career of original samba musician Martinho da Vila.
For more information about the Brazilian Film Festival: