Tuesday, January 9, 2018

VAZANTE: Daniela Thomas' trip to a time and place you'll not have experienced until now

An immersion -- so strong, specific and total -- into an experience you're not likely to have undergone elsewhere, VAZANTE, the new movie from Brazilian filmmaker Daniela Thomas (shown below), is one of a kind.

Ms Thomas has created a world of mid-1800s Brazil, photographed in the kind of sumptuous black-and-white cinematography (by Inti Briones) in which you will lose yourself completely.

Her movie offers a minimum of dialog and is slowly paced, but it is so beautifully and intelligently put together that you will have little difficulty following its action plot, or character motivation.

Briones and Thomas show us a small piece of Brazil's vast slave trade of that century, taking place in the countryside on the estate of a seigneur whose diamond mines have failed and who is too entitled and stupid to realize that his land can be profitably farmed (by those same slaves who worked the mines -- one of whom actually shows him how).

The film's leading character -- a near-perfect example of how entitlement creates inequity, injustice, stupidity and horrific waste -- is played quite well by Adriano Carvalho (below, right). Some time after his wife dies in childbirth, our anti-hero finds himself attracted to her niece, Beatriz, who is also the daughter of the fellow who runs his estate. The young actress (Luana Nastas, below, left) who plays Beatriz brings out everything from the girl's playfulness and disquiet (she is so young that she has not had her first menstruation) to her budding sexuality and her need for companionship of any kind.

The pair's marriage, as might be expected, is a disaster: one that accumulates slowly but inexorably, and we watch in fascination and finally horror as the inevitable occurs.

Ms Thomas, who directed and co-wrote (with Beto Amaral) sees to it that we also come to know surprisingly well the group of slaves, above, who work inside and outside the estate. Their own hierarchy and connections, as well as their sometimes surprisingly sense of morality and justice, adds immensely to the manner in which this compassionate and tragic movie engulfs us.

Beatriz's closest companion is also the son (Vinicius Dos Anjos, above) of the woman our seigneur has chosen as his sexual companion, which adds yet another dose of irony to the tale. The inequality here mirrors that of today's Brazil (the favelas, of course, are a lot more crowded), with Brazil's legacy of slavery simultaneously different and similar to that of the USA. Each country, it seems, would prefer to ignore this in perpetuity. Thank god for the artists working in both.

Vazante, from Music Box Films, in Portuguese with English subtitles and running 116 minutes, opens this Friday, in New York City at the IFC Center, and on January 26 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Over the weeks and months to come it will play at least another ten cities across the country. Click here (then scroll down and click on THEATERS in the task bar) to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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