By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Adirley Queiróz and Joana Pimenta have already gone through the transit of particularly suggestive individual filmographies. Pimenta, from the experimental field, has worked with a certain tangential approach to ethnography (often subverting ethnographic logic and subordinating it to strictly cinematic development) since his experience with the Harvard Sensory Ethnographic Lab, in The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees (2014) and Um campo de aviação (An Aviation Field, 2016), short films whose exploration is based on the interest of the hybrid discipline of documentary and fiction, approaching issues such as colonialism, territory and the relationship man/space (land). Pimenta imagines, not only the intervention of the natural world and its inevitable unfolding in human development during the unfolding of the appropriation of the territory by man, but also cities built as immanent imaginaries that are constantly presented (in Um campo de aviação) as arcadias. failed, or planes that are traversed thinking of an imagined city that confronts banana trees, a volcano, the earth itself.

On the other hand, Adirley Queirós, also imagines these lost arcades, but recreating a science fiction fantasy fueled by the documentary and by the active participation of the populations involved (and the territories) and their mediated interactions, in improvisation, or in frank documentation. Time travelers, intergalactic agents, assassinations, prisons and exiles, motorcyclists and always a totalitarian state in surveillance and punishment mode. In this way, we can also understand Mato Seco em Chamas (2022) as part of a trilogy that Queirós has been presenting since Braco Sai, Prieto Fica (2014), going through the suggestive Era Uma Vez Brasília (2017) and culminating (perhaps) in this last feature film lasting two and a half hours. Queirós, who seems to have gone from the dystopian chaos of his first films to a kind of explicit revolt, something that seems to respond directly to the government and fascist policies of Bolsonaro (who is also president in this future parallel universe). Apparently, the urgency of locating poles of resistance from the “peripheral” bases -territory of the declassed-, has led the filmmakers to recreate this kind of science fiction with western and hybrid documentary tones.

In Mato Seco em Chamas, Ceilândia and Brasilia, are two territories that seem to be antipodes of the same nation. Sol Nascente is the satellite from which a gesture of resistance is gestated. And it is particularly suggestive that it is the women of the place who recover their agency: agency over the means of local production, seizing the oil of the place to resell it to motorcyclists in exchange for a cut in their drug sales, agency of the biopolitical, their body, the performatic/libidinal, of the state’s counter-surveillance, of their very role as political figures ready to subvert the status quo. And from political rallies representing the “prisoners’ political party,” suggestive dances and the display of eros in venues and buses, to motorcycle tours in open fields amid a desert landscape, these women, led by their leader, Chitara, open cracks in the foundations of a dictatorial state, represented by the solitary “futuristic” surveillance vehicle that travels the streets of the city. The fascist salute, with an outstretched arm and open palms of the forces of order is not subtle: it is represented precisely with the ideological violence of those who wield it.

And despite this, the shots, the scenes a-la-Mad Max and this dystopia from where this community of women resists and survives, the two and a half hours of the footage dedicate the narrative pulse from the observation of the exchange of dialogues among its protagonists: Chitara, Léa and the rest of them. It is difficult to circumnavigate the waters where precisely the documentary record is superimposed on fiction as an observation that integrates both elements in the same film. And it is precisely because the conversations that take place, probably recorded from the same internal voice of its protagonists, are part of the primary element, the fuel of a work that gravitates the space of the peripheries and the lives of these women on the margin. Even illegality is not hidden from them: the resistance does not know of laws, rules or policies of struggle against totalitarian oppression.

Mato Seco em Chamas culminates with a procession of motorcyclists after the fire of the repressive apparatus, represented in the armored police vehicle. An ending that adopts the western epic as a declaration of principles, but in this case, principles of elementary subversion in the face of repression. A remarkable film in both filmmakers’ filmography.

Berlinale Forum

Director, cinematographer, script: Joana Pimenta
Director, script, producer: Adirley Queirós
Editor: Cristina Amaral
Cast: Joana Darc, Léa Alves, Andreia Vieira, Débora Alencar, Gleide Firmino
Brazil, Portugal, 2022