By Mónica Delgado

A Maquina Infernal (The Infernal Machine) is the directorial debut of the Brazilian film critic and programmer Francis Vogner Dos Reis. It is also one of the few Latin American shorts seen in this 74th edition of the Locarno Film Festival. Although Vogner has experience as a screenwriter, producer and even actor in some independent Brazilian films (he was a screenwriter for Jogo das Decapitações (2013), by Sergio Bianchi; O Último Trago (2016), by Pedro Diógenes, Luiz Pretti and Ricardo Pretti; and Os Sonâmbulos (2018), by Tiago Mata Machado), this is a first foray into direction that allows us to know what those affiliations or motivations are, here associated with codes of genre cinema (the most conceptual horror cinema), bundled to a social critique from an automated working-class world. The thing is, Vogner comes off fine.

In this short film, halfway between the political fable and the horror film, the fantastic component is used to generate a nonsense around a labor problem, which functions not only as evidence of a mechanism of exploitation or alienation, but also as a way to bring out the forms of a structure full of black holes, absurd situations, which seek to constitute the heart of an environment surrendered from an irrationality to the exploiting yoke. For this reason, more than a social radiography, we are before a film of atmospheres (protected by a climatic use of the soundtrack), which seek to transmit this emotional and psychological background of a company where an elusive entity seems to govern the destiny of the workers.

The protagonist of A Maquina Infernal is the actress Carolina Castanho, who plays a young woman who enters to work in a metalworking factory. Between the strike requests, a panoptic supervision and the strange attitudes of his co-workers, the character is immersed in this new dynamic, which not only implies a physical disposition, to adapt to a competitive rhythm or to become an automaton, but also the transformation of the psyche, in order to mold a new being: an entity that changes the skin for the uniform and the rubber boots required for the job in a way, perhaps, perpetually.

If in Pedro Pinho’s Fabrica de nada, a family film within what Vogner dos Reis proposes, the dismantling of the workers’ struggle from the devices of the documentary, the essay film or even the musical is posed, here Vogner Dos Reis appeals to the absurdity of fantastic films as existential strategy. He is not in the critical line of the work of his countryman Affonso Uchoa on the labor crisis in Brazil. Rather, his focus is another, that of imaginative speculation. For example, how are those cyborgs originated by this overwhelming system? There is a scene where the drive appears in a sardonic key, in which we see a mutilated worker, wearing an orthopedic metal implant (like the arm from the apocalypse from Terminator 2), which is sexually attractive to the protagonist, adding here another component  (the fetish) to the capitalist card of alienation and how it transforms even the most intimate desires of the working class.

The best decisions of A Maquina Infernal are precisely in the construction of rarefied climates, in some choreographic intentions to order the characters in the shots, in the montage that generates this feeling that we are immersed in a limiting, overwhelming jungle, where the the only way out is to follow the logic of the system without question.

Pardi di domani: Concorso internazionale
Director: Francis Vogner Dos Reis
Screenplay: Francis Vogner Dos Reis, Cássio Oliveira
Photography: Alice Andrade Drummond, Bruno Risas
Edition: Cristina Amaral
Sound: Letícia Yabá, Maíra Romero
Cast: Carolina Castanho, Glauber Amaral, Carlos Escher, Talita Araujo, Maria Leite, Martha Guijarro, Carlos Francisco, Renan Rovida, Carlota Joaquina, Luis Chierotto, Allan Peterson dos Reis
Producers: Maria Tereza Urias dos Santos, Renan Rovida
Brazil, 30 min, 2021