By Aldo Padilla
The Rotterdam international competition is possibly one of the most important for filmmakers with a first feature, since it is focused in first and second films. Although the number is very limited (just eight films for a couple of years now), in this competition there’s always place for some surprises.
Latin America has always had a very important relationship in the last years with this section, with great apparitions like the ones of the Colombian editor Felipe Guerrero and his film Animal Oscuro, Peruvian Juan Daniel Molero with Videofilia, the Paraguayan sound designer Pablo Lamar (La Última Tierra), the Chileans Niles Atallah (Rey), Dominga Sotomayor (De jueves a domingo) and last year with Arabia by Uchoa an Dumans, film that ended being one of the best of the year. All these names and films show the importance of this competition for the impulse of Latin American cinema and endorse a great and risky programming. Sadly this year competition is still waiting for the movie that leaves its mark on the festival.
Since Latin American cinema has been the topic of conversation lately, let’s talk about the Brazilian representative of this year which is Marina Meliande’s Mormaço, a sort of generic film which can reference several films of its country for the last decade: Tropa de Élite, due of one of the central topics of the film, a sort of cleansing of the poor in one of the zones near the Olympic Villa of Rio 2016; Aquarius, due to the struggle against a building company that tries to evict the building where the lead character lives, and also some similitudes with Trabalhar cansa, related to the title of the film, “mormaço” or “sultry” which represent the moisture that usually presents in houses, which generate a dark green color.
There’s an idea of transversality that goes through the film, since the lead character, an upper-class female lawyer who lives in a building soon to be converted in a luxury hotel, and the group of people she helps, are in constant threat due to the eviction of their homes. This transversality looks for a kind of empathy between classes in a moment in which corruption and misrule reign in Brazil. Although the film is not very subtle about how the lead characters confront the evictions, something of value can be found in the fantastic allegories that are posed as the only way of escape in front of imminent destruction.
Possessed by Metahaven and Rob Schröder, is the Dutch film of the competition and also a big down for the selection. This is a film essay that mixes performance and a tired discourse on how technology possesses the youth. If maybe the original idea on which its execution is based isn’t wrong, cinema as a way of expression is sometimes forgotten, and the film turns to a different type of resource to express its approach. The film includes cheap moments based on the use of emojis and similar to graph a supposedly automatization of people, and also a sort of constant martyrdom of the lead character, who moves in dark spaces and old beds. Among other excellent productions seen in different sections, this film is completely out of tune in the most seen competition of the festival.
In every case, not all are negative critiques in the competition. João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis’ Djon Africa, in its simplicity, achieve an efficient film about the search of roots by a Portuguese boy, reaffirming the relationship between Portugal and Cabo Verde, something that was already seen in the films of Pedro Costa.
The lead character is a young Rastafari that takes things easily and lives in a Portuguese suburb with his grandmother, who which he maintains a harmonic relationship. In some moment, due to confusion, he decides to find out more about his father, a person he has no reference about. The little information the grandmother has is very ambiguous and it is revealed in a great scene posed through a somniloquium. Through this data, the protagonist travels to Cabo Verde with an unknown direction, but discovering little by little the roots that are unknown to him but settle with him through an instinct not lost as part of his heritage. In the way, he discovers part of his family history, as well as the history of a country very well portrayed by Guerra and Reis.
If maybe this story has been told hundreds of times in different formats, there’s a construction of character that allows that this discovery feels authentic, and allows the spectator to be part of it. Even though the film suffers from an irregular and repetitive development, its musical closing contains a brilliant melody that reinvindicates its African identity.