Tuesday, April 24, 2007


As I'm finishing up a couple of interviews with directors today, I thought I'd post two Film Notes I wrote for this year's Festival catalogue.


CITY OF GOD and BUS 174 (SFIFF 2003) gripped viewers with their chronicling of the poverty, violence, injustice, drug addiction, child abuse, and police brutality that two million homeless children endure daily in the urban jungle of São Paulo. The less edgy, but eloquent, 12 LABORS could be seen as a “prequel” to BUS 174. “Neighborhoods denote classes, streets denote who you are. Man, depending on where you were born your story is written even before it starts.” Thus begins the account of eighteen-year-old Heracles (Sidney Santiago), just out of a FEBEM reform school, who, on his first day as a motorcycle courier (and like his Greek demi-god namesake), must overcome 12 hurdles of increasing difficulty. Fortunately, he receives the help of sympathetic characters who, much like mythic deities, appear when he most needs assistance. His struggles render Heracles a faithful embodiment of what the Greeks called pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which leads to, if not fame and (in Hercules' case) immortality, self-respect, confidence, and a sense of possibility.

In a metropolis whose congested arteries run thick with 300,000 motorcycle delivery boys, Heracles’ own existence reflects the city’s chaos and its youth in crisis. The film’s lyrical omniscient voice-over narrative counterpoints the hip inner-city soundtrack and energy-infused urban cinematography. And young thespian Sidney Santiago, who deservedly won the Best Actor Award at last year’s Rio International Film Festival, perfectly personifies the somber Heracles whose imagination, poetic sensitivity, and artistic talent may be his sole salvation.

Ricardo Elias, born in São Paulo in 1968, studied cinema at the University of São Paulo. His work includes TV specials, documentaries, and dramatic films. DE PASSAGEM (2003), Elias’ first film, won several awards at the Gramado (Brazil) Film Festival, including: best film, directing, supporting actor, and the critics’ prize. THE 12 LABORS was awarded the Best Film of the Horizon section at the 2006 San Sebastián Film Festival, in Spain. About THE 12 LABORS Elias says, “The myth of Hercules is a reference point used to discuss issues relevant to the difficulty of finding a job in [today’s] globalized world.”

Dir. Ricardo Elias
Brazil, 2006, 90 min.

Sun April 29 9:30 Kabuki
Mon April 30 7:00 Kabuki
Sat May 5 4:30 Kabuki
Mon May 7 9:15 Aquarius


Can one man’s collapse trigger another man’s salvation? One possible response unfolds in screenwriter-director Verónica Chen’s impressionistic venture into the vagaries of identity, fate, and free will. This sophomore effort––after VAGON FUMADOR/SMOKERS ONLY (SFIFF, 2002)––demonstrates a visual and narrative sophistication generally found in more experienced auteurs. The silent opening scenes of AGUA take place in an unearthly, desolate Argentine desert landscape, where a man tangles with a thorny cactus to retrieve its succulent flesh. But this man’s isolation and physical dehydration signify a spiritual thirst. During his prolonged drive back to civilization, the hypnotic pattern of the highway’s broken dividing line, intercut with the solid black line at the bottom of a pool that keeps a swimmer on course, serve as the convergence points for the two main characters: Goyo (Rafael Ferro), a 34-year-old once-discredited contestant of the grueling 35-mile Santa Fe-Coronda River marathon, and Chino (Nicolás Mateo), 20, a long-distance indoor swimmer, with a pregnant girlfriend, Luisa (Jimena Anganuzzi). The protagonists connect to life through swimming. After Chino fails to make the national swim team, a character says of him: “Out of water, he gasps.” And because of his aggressive competitiveness, Goyo is known as “the river shark.”

Water, especially the ominous, serpentine jungle river, interweaves the destinies of these men in profound and surprising ways. “How do you cross the bridge to the real world?” Chino contemplates. AGUA is a meditation on living in the present, rather than in one’s past glories or grievances, or in future promise.

Argentine director, writer, editor, producer Verónica Chen was born in Buenos Aires in 1969. She studied Classical Literature and Cinema. Her first film VAGON FUMADOR/SMOKERS ONLY screened at SFIFF in 2002. AGUA won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Youth Jury Award at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2006, in addition to the Special Jury Prize for New Voices/New Visions at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2007. About the river featured in AGUA, Chen says: “The river for me is the jungle, far from the idea of the 'idyllic' Nature like Rousseau depicts. It’s like hell, the dark side.”

Dir.: Verónica Chen
Argentina, 2006, 89 min.

Sat May 5 12:30 Kabuki
Sun May 6 4:30 Kabuki
Wed May 9 8:50 PFA


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