A rosa azul de Novalis (Gustavo Vinagre and Rodrigo Carneiro, 2018)

By Pablo Gamba

A rosa azul de Novalis (Brazil, 2018) and Blue Boy (Argentina-Germany, 2019) are documentary films by two emerging filmmakers of Latin America in the International Competition of Cinéma du Réel. Gustavo Vinagre’s second feature: Lembro mais dos corvos (2017) shared the main award in IndieLisboa last year with Juliana Antunes’ Baronesa (Brazil, 2017) . Abramovich won the Silver Bear for short films in this past Berlinale with Blue Boy, and had become known before specially for Años Luz (Light Years, Argentina, 2017), a film about Lucrecia Martel shooting Zama (Argentina, 2017), which was premiered in Venice.

These are films with a gay theme, which adds a problematic tag to them. They competed this year for the Teddy award in Berlin Film Festival. But another coincidence, a more profound one, can be found in the reflection about the filmmakers’ relationship with the subjects of their films. Marcelo Diorio, the only character in A roza azul de Novalis, compares cinema vérité with torture, while Blue Boy starts with a recitation of all the rights the producer and director have on their use of the captured sounds and images of the people they film.

In Vinagre and Carneiro’s film the issue is how the torment of documentary filmmaking doesn’t produce truths, but the opposite: characters that invent themselves in front of the camera. It’s worth saying that the lie used to justify torture for the police and the military, is its supposed capacity of obtaining true information.

Diorio, who we can see all the time at home with his robe, doesn’t work and refers to himself as a useless person, “like all the things that really matter”. He has AIDS, but assures everyone that the problem around the disease is the negative myth built upon it in the eighties, the lies that were made about the affected. In Cinética, Fabian Cantieri labels Diorio as a “tropical dandy” and “rebel quasi-aristocrat”, and the “blue rose” of the title as a reference to the romantic hero looking for the impossible. The lecture of the poet Novalis (in voice over) in a certain part of the film is accompanied with a general aerial shot, which ironizes on the distance, which is always away from the ideal. But the ironic thing in documentary filmmaking is that the unreachable ideal can be the real.

Thus, A rosa azul de novalis constitutes a continuation of the search started in Lembro mais dos corvos, a subtle and touching film about transsexual actress Julia Katharine and the invention that she makes of herself. In this case, however, the film is about a character that doesn’t have enough strength to make a feature film through a cinéma vérité encounter. –or cinéma mentiré (cinema of lies like it was appropriately called by Luis Ospina). It’s a forced film in this sense, as Pedro Henrique Ferreira noticed in Desistfilm. Nevertheless, this is its most interesting aspect.

Blue Boy (Manuel Abramovich, 2019)

To “inflate” the film, Vinagre and Carneiro introduce scenes (as a surprise) where Dorio switches from his implicit performance in front of the camera to the explicitly performatic, without a proper continuity of the characteristic interaction of cinéma vérité. With the same goal, the co-directors turn to pornographic scenes –another kind of performance- which is something more shocking presented out of its habitual context. If the encounter with the intimacy of its character brings A rosa azul de Novalis closer to Lembro mais dos corvos, its porn scenes come directly from Nova Dubai (Brazil, 2014), awarded in Olhar de Cinema.

The issue is that these resources sharpen the problem of the absence of the real. The comparison with torture seems to be not as metaphorical in a particular aerial shot -spooky chiaroscuro- where Diorio defends himself as if being interrogated: “I’m the person who is here”, says. Every actor is “there” when playing a character; it’s their only window to its reality.

The pressure that the camera inflicts is perceived in Blue Boy through sustained fixed shots and out-of-field gazes of the characters, who feel as if they were asking an end to this torment. It’s a sadistic low angle shot, lit in the stylized way of Technicolor. The most intense point of violence is, however, that of the sound editing, which identifies its characters in a certain way, attributing them certain qualities with a particular voice over which talks about male prostitution, even if we see them saying nothing.

The voice over telling us about the producer’s rights quoted at the beginning, edited in a similar way, and the claims of a different voice over, at the end, make evident the problem that the film poses in relation to the subject of documentary filmmaking. The tension in the relation filmmaker-character is a recurrent theme in Manuel Abramovich’s cinema, for example in Años Luz and especially in Solar (2016). The problem is that the question posed is ethical, and in consequence, has to be answered by the filmmaker in its practice as a director. To pose the question without the necessary correction isn’t an exercise in lucidity; it can come as cynical at the end.

Both A rosa azul de Novalis and Blue Boy bring up the problems with reflexive documentary, something which has acquired the aspect of resignation, resignation to the innocence demanded as a requisite for a film to be considered serious. But here, one passes from being conscious of its difficulty to the justification of resources which are considered “reflexive” because they manifest their own invalidity as a solution.

Paradoxically, it seems that this is accepted without the sufficient reflection, as if the necessary thing was only to get to the problem, and not try to solve it. 

A rosa azul de Novalis
Directing, script, production: Gustavo Vinagre and Rodrigo Carneiro
Cinematography: Bruno Risas
Editing: Rodrigo Carneiro
Sound: Rubén Valdés
Brazil, 2018

Blue Boy
Directing, cinematography, production: Manuel Abramovich
Editing: Catalin Cristutiu
Sound: Francisco Pedemonte
Argentina-Germany, 2019