Having risked a tarnished reputation with last month’s screenings of Walk the Line, MOMA now opens this year’s Premiere Brazil series with the favela-to-riches equivalent: Breno Silveira’s Two Sons of Francisco, the purported true story of two sertaneja (country music) singers and their predestined, plodding rise to fame.
Pegged as musicians even before conception (says the father: “We’ll have two boys. They’ll form a duo. A duo of two”), this pair finds itself trapped in a movie prone to delaying its flash forwards and reduplicating its clichés. The sole intellectual frisson is a measure of class consciousness—in Dad’s schema, these boys can either sing or become janitors—but in proffering a late-breaking twist, the film effectively replays the same success story twice. Viewers looking to get into a bossa nova groove would do better to check out the new print of Black Orpheus (1959), a snazzier (if still shallow) blast of aural gratification.
For a more effective social-outrage outlet, there’s Sergio Bianchi’s What Is It Worth?, a devastating, inventive reckoning with Brazil’s pronounced wealth stratification and poverty. An associational ensemble piece with contempt for upper and lower classes alike, the movie posits a satirical world where race relations are addressed primarily through cinematic lip service and where assistance to the poor occurs only in literal daydreams. Interspersed with re-enactments of 18th-century slave stories culled from Brazil’s National Archive, What Is It Worth? doesn’t mince words, depicting the poorest segments of the country’s economy as contemporary slaves and the more mercenary elements as the modern equivalent of slave hunters.
Less shrill but no less impassioned, 500 Souls is a disarmingly beautiful documentary about Brazil’s native Guató people—an indigenous, water-faring culture officially declared extinct in the 1960s. Through a combination of descendant interviews, linguistics lessons, and judicious staged performances, this heavily prettified doc isn’t a civics discourse so much as an elegy. The flowing, Malickian nature shots only add to the sense of poignancy.
The most audacious film in the series may be Beto Brant’s Delicate Crime, an Almodóvar-inflected anti-thriller about a theater critic (Marco Ricca) who finds himself involved, professionally and romantically, with a one-legged model (Lilian Taublib). With its penchant for chiaroscuro interiors and monologues delivered from an orchestra-seat remove, Delicate Crime is an enigmatic parable about the way we turn our lives into works of art. The music selection is key: The use of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat unavoidably calls to mind Barry Lyndon, the ultimate film about characters who prove less significant than their mise-en-scéne.