By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
To the point: Adirley Queirós is helping reinvent the “Sci-fi” genre with Once There Was Brasilia. This is by no means, however, a statement that gives Queirós film the qualification of a “masterpiece”: some scenes feel overly long, and one gets the sense that an equally powerful work could’ve been made in approximately 70 minutes of duration, against the 100 minutes which drag a little bit too much, even for the most seasoned, slow-cinema cinephile lovers. But there is a significant gesture in the political realm that the Brazilian filmmaker articulates perfectly, in this universe of post-apocalyptic intergalactic time travelers (a shared feature with White Out Black In -Branco Sai, Preto Fica-, his previous film) which fail to assassinate president Kubitschek, landing in 2016 Ceilandia and forming a new alliance to kill the “creatures” that inhabit the National Congress.
In midst of a political chaotic debacle-turned-spectacle in Brazil, Queirós installs this b-series science fiction film, which is placed in Brasilia and Ceilandia, two very particular places in Brazil who had been explored in similar fashion in Joana Pimenta’s outstanding An Aviation Field. Pimenta also serves as a cinematographer for Queirós’ film, and their shared interests in portraying two very particular cities in the country in one of the main axis on which this film dwells: Brasilia, an artificial capital, with its modern architecture which feels almost futuristic, and Ceilandia, a peripheral city, are two main points on the country which serve as different HQ’s, one for the government (power), one for political prisoners (people).
Seeing this in a middle of a corruption scandal in the country, allows us to understand the main interest of constructing a fantastic universe which also feels somewhat false and precarious. In imagining a parallel universe where a coup or assassination of a past president will allow for a different future, Queirós is reflecting in a whole period of turmoil on Brazilian politics: Kubitschek, the main architect behind the construction of Brasilia, intended to have this new capital as an integrating center of different spaces in Brazil, which might be seen as a main failure for decentralizing the country’s politics, specially since the inequalities between different cities is immense. Hence, Brasilia and Ceilandia (a satellite city) both mean very different things when recalling the government politics about social inclusion in the country.
This special fascination for contemplation of the time travel, or just the passing time in between the actions of the different characters of the film, is somewhat frustrating, but can be easily understood as an analogy for the frustration that comes out of this political struggle that goes nowhere. Everything is lost in the process, in the long waiting, the climax is never achieved. Here’s where Quierós instrumental mind works better, even if it goes a bit too far: subverting the elements of the classic sci-fi fast paced film into a introspective experience akin to the metaphysical experience of Soviet science fiction, but here turned around to signify a struggle that seems almost like a lost war, almost consumed in its initiative.
In painting a portrait of Brazilian politics and social turmoil in quite an creative way, Queirós has made one of the most interesting films of the year.
Director: Adirley Queirós
Cast: Wellington Abreu , Andreia Vieira , Marquim do Tropa , Franklin Ferreira
Producer: Adirley Queirós, Simone Queiroz
Cinematography: Joana Pimenta
Sound: Francisco Craesmeyer
Editing: Adirley Queirós, Guile Martins, Frederico Benevides
Art Director: Denise Vieira
Production: Cinco da Norte
Brazil, Portugal, 2017