Can this country catch a break? Judging by its recent cinematic output, Brazil is and always will be a hinterland beset by the scourges of crime, poverty, and pathological soccer fandom. This series does little to correct said notions, but it adds a few shades of complexity to the depiction of a country eternally perched on hell’s doorstep.
The best film on the roster, Cinema, Aspirin, and Vultures, is a WW II road movie that follows a German deserter and his local buddy as they truck through the wilderness, hawking pain relievers to destitute bumpkins. Co-scripted by Karim A (Madame Sat ), the film is subtly acted, patiently directed (by Marcelo Gomes), and mercifully averse to big statements about pan–South American misery. For those looking for a smart alternative to
The Motorcycle Diaries’ left-wing hand job, this movie delivers in unexpected ways.
In the documentary category, nothing matches the otherworldliness of Estamira, an abstracted portrait of a nutty landfill dowager who commits herself to a clinic following a lifetime of scavenging. Director Marcos Prado avoids the easy questions. (Is she really crazy? Yes and no.) Instead, the movie obscures our comprehension of its subject through distancing devices both structural and visual. A more conventional bio-doc, Pelé Forever was no doubt designed to give futebol freaks the opportunity to relive on-field glories. Clips of the legend’s most famous goals are interspersed with reverential talking heads. (Fans, grab your balls: Pelé himself will be on hand to present the film.)
Al Al Carnaval, a 1936 musical starring a then unknown Carmen Miranda in one of the diva’s few Portuguese-language performances, is a must-see. Admittedly, it’s disorienting to watch this trifle alongside the country’s weightier cinematic efforts. No matter how far Brazilian film has come, its most recognizable emblem remains a cha-cha-cha-ing firecracker in fruit basket headgear.