The rhythms and racial tensions of Brazil’s variegated culture percolate through this festival of recent works, organized by MOMA and screening at Film Forum. Two films receive week-long runs. Joel Zito Araújo’s Daughters of the Wind draws inspiration from Denying Brazil (2000), Araújo’s documentary about the history of black actors on Brazilian TV. This mesmerizing work mobilizes an arsenal of soap opera-ish scenarios to tell the multigenerational saga of Cida and Ju, black sisters raised by their father in a 1960s Brazilian backwater; Cida dreams of a career as an actress, while Ju fancies a “warm cuddle” with a local lothario.
“I can’t even get a part as a slum-dweller,” laments Ju’s daughter, Dora, an aspiring actress following in her aunt Cida’s footsteps in today’s Rio. “A slave here, a maid there, a voodoo ceremony,” is how another character sums up Dora’s prospects for roles. Combining melodrama with political insight (a model might be Imitation of Life), Araújo lifts the lid on Brazil’s legacy of racism and repression, while delivering a moving portrayal of relations among sisters, mothers, and daughters.
Born to Be Blind is Roberto Berliner’s documentary portrait of the blind Barbosa sisters, who have sung on the streets of their native Campina Grande, in northeastern Brazil, since their childhood in the 1950s. Berliner is drawn to their ethereal vocalizations, their anguished tales of abuse, and especially to the vibrant Maria, the eldest, who has been married and widowed twice. Eventually, word gets out that his film is being made—transforming the impoverished sisters (temporarily) into celebrities and Berliner’s film (at least in part) into a story about media manipulation. Berliner captures the eerie beauty of their music alongside their strange dignity. But his mannered style (colored filters, multiple exposures, jump cuts) leaves an uneasy impression about the balance of power in his relationship to his subjects, women of surprising strength and enduring frailty.