OPEN MIC: Made in Brazil

GFI intern Julianne Quimby talks about CRAFT, THE TENANTS and why there’s more to Brazil than samba and sandy beaches

Julianne in Copacabana

After returning from a year spent studying language and culture abroad in Brazil, I was frequently asked a question I found surprisingly challenging: “How was your trip?” Brazil is a diverse country characterized by complex intersections of history, politics, and religion and therefore not easily summarized. In addition, I found my descriptions clashed with the misconceptions of Brazil listeners already held. Americans—and global audiences in general—only have access to Brazilian culture through select avenues. Sensationalized news stories reporting on Rio’s violent crime, “The Girl from Ipanema,” national soccer victories, and the occasional film that’s lucky enough to make it to our shores leave Americans with a clichéd and misinformed perception of what Brazilian society is actually like. My brief experience in Brazil was enough to make it painfully obvious that Americans’ experiences with Brazilian culture through popular music and film aren’t painting a satisfactory picture of the country and its people.

However, while working at GFI, I’ve had the opportunity to watch CRAFT and THE TENANTS, two Brazilian productions from the Global Lens film series (2012 and 2011, respectively). Not only do these films display original storylines and distinctive cinematographic styles (setting them apart from other independent foreign cinema as a whole) they also portray Brazilian life from a Brazilian perspective.

A scene from THE TENANTS (dir. Sergio Bianchi)

THE TENANTS is the story of a working-class family living in a poor residential neighborhood in São Paulo. The film centers on the family’s reactions to the young criminals that move in next door, disrupting the balance in their difficult but peaceful lives. Although the film revolves around themes typical of other Brazilian movies, like crime and political bureaucracy, THE TENANTS employs an unusual method of examining these issues. Instead of relying on sensationalized violence or street shoot-outs, the film utilizes a character-driven script, extended periods of dialogue, and close-up portraits of the cast to construct a sense of suspense palpable throughout the movie. As a result, the film is able to discuss the challenges that make up daily life for many Brazilians without turning their lives into a spectacle or sensationalizing their reality.

I spent most weekends while living in Brazil with my local friends, navigating the maze-like streets that make up low-income areas very similar to the São Paulo neighborhood in THE TENANTS. Although the majority of my adventures involved dancing until the wee hours to the synthesized rhythms of Rio’s baile funk, I also spent many enjoyable moments laughing, joking, and eating in the homes of my friends. Yes, it’s definitely true Brazilians have a high regard for get-togethers and down time at the beach, but what’s most important to them is that they spend these moments together with their friends and family. This important distinction, clearly reflected in THE TENANTS, is what makes the film such a valuable example of Brazilian culture. Although frequently stereotyped themes like violent crime are central to THE TENANTS, the film’s real focus remains on character dynamics and family relationships, making it a faithful reflection of true Brazilian priorities.

Julianne Quimby (far left) with music students she taught in Brazil

The film’s familial focus is also visually emphasized through its distinctive aesthetics. Many of the scenes set in the home’s kitchen show the actors seated in chairs turned out slightly from the table, as if they were delivering their lines onstage in front of a live audience. These scenes clearly portray the director’s background in playwriting and contribute to the film’s unique cinematographic style. By grounding the film in a character-driven narrative set inside the home, THE TENANTS creates a realistic portrait of the Brazilian family unit largely misrepresented by the sort of Brazilian cinema that has previously reached American audiences.

While THE TENANTS deals with themes like crime and violence subtly through dialogue and visual referents, CRAFT takes a different approach to when portraying daily Brazilian life. The title refers to the main character’s unwavering devotion to her acting career despite the challenges she faces. CRAFT also deals with the trials and tribulations of the working-class as addressed in THE TENANTS, however, the harsh realities that many Brazilians face are largely absent from CRAFT. In this film, the main character’s challenges stem from her struggle with her career, not from a fight for survival surrounded by urban violence.

A scene from CRAFT (dir. Gustavo Pizzi)

Although CRAFT does not discuss the same themes characteristic of most Brazilian cinema (including THE TENANTS), its subject matter is equally deserving of examination. The absence of violence from CRAFT makes it a refreshingly atypical Brazilian film and its portrayal of a different facet of life in Brazil illuminates a frequently unrepresented Brazilian reality.

Personally, I must admit that a large part of my study abroad experience was colored by preoccupations with safety and an exhausting awareness of the petty crime that shapes urban areas. When I first arrived I would frequently return to the safety of my homestay, drained from constantly keeping an eye on my personal belongings while battling city crowds. Although these anxieties make up an inescapable reality for most Brazilians, the country’s rich traditions, sweeping landscapes, and amiable outlook ensure residents can push daily concerns aside and enjoy life to the fullest. This is why it’s such a relief to see Brazilian films like CRAFT that grant local audiences a much needed reprieve from the political corruption and urban violence that affects their lives.

Because Brazil is such a diverse country, it’s impossible for a single film to reflect the entire spectrum of Brazilian experiences. However, both CRAFT and THE TENANTS communicate singular interpretations of daily Brazilian life that are typically overlooked by popular Brazilian cinema. In a world where many Americans assume Brazilians are perpetually dancing samba in the streets, these and other films in the Global Lens series afford audiences the opportunity to view representations of genuine Brazilian realities.

Although films in the Global Lens series discuss topics unique to a particular country or people, they are still accessible for global audiences because they do so through universal themes. Audiences are able to relate to shared aspects of universal experiences like love, labor, and family as discussed in THE TENANTS and CRAFT, granting them an understanding of how these experiences are enacted within a uniquely Brazilian context. As a result, these films not only present frequently underrepresented interpretations of Brazilian society, they also work to reconstruct perceptions of the country and its people for foreign audiences.

Julianne Quimby graduated from UC Santa Cruz last June with degrees in the History of Art and Visual Culture and Cultural Anthropology. She currently works as an intern in the Main Gallery at SOMArts Cultural Center and at the Global Film Initiative.

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