Resistance as a commodity

By Adriano Garrett


I remember when the film critic Jean-Claude Bernardet took the stage of Cine Brasília to receive the Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes Medal, created to distinguish prominent figures in the teaching, criticism and diffusion of Brazilian cinema*: it was September 2016, very shortly after the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff, and the 49th edition of the Brasilia Festival had been marked by protests against the coup. We could count on our fingers the film crews that, while presenting their films, did not evoke the slogan “Fora Temer” (“Out with Temer”, demanding the outing of the vice-president of Dilma Rousseff, who took her place after the impeachment process). When the same shout was carried by the audience on the last day of the festival, Bernardet did not follow the wave, and warned that it would be necessary to find other forms of articulation from that moment on.

I make this preamble to think of the continuous process of “emptying” that some protest slogans have experienced from 2016 onwards. As a regular at the Brazilian film festival circuit since 2014, I hear some expressions being repeated ad aeternum. “Resistance” is the order of the day, having already become a commodity that attempts to legitimize some works and events in advance. In the context of the 21st Rio de Janeiro Int’l Film Festival, this is no different: campaigns, speeches and synopses refer to the notion of “resistance”. But how is this evocation supported by the internal discourse of the films? What practical implications of this idea are present in the construction of their images and sounds? To reflect on this, I bring to the conversation three Brazilian films of 2019: “Piedade”, by Claudio Assis; “Ressaca”, by Patrizia Landi and Vincent Rimbaux (photo); and “The Fever”, by Maya Da-Rin.


As I argued in a recent text, “Piedade” promotes a constant movement of emptying the issues on which it promises to dive into. The comfort that pervades the film is associated with a tired and nostalgic notion of resistance whose finer portrayal appears in the scene where Omar (Irandhir Santos) sings a song by Sérgio Ricardo that refers to the classic “Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol” (“Black God, White Devil”, Glauber Rocha, 1964). In a film such as “Bacurau” (Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2019), the allusion to the same composer proposes a parallel that evokes the representation of the sertão in Brazilian cinema at different times; but in the case of Claudio Assis's work, the homage is sufficient in itself. Such a scene is also fragile because it repeats practically the same composition as other passages that contrast the smallness of the beach with the gigantic port machines, failing to generate any kind of meaning beyond the surface.

Another moment that corroborates a place of comfort is when the same character points his cigarette to the sea aiming at some ships. The “attack” from a person sitting on a rock is as effective as the much-criticized “couch activism”: none at all. Later, in the film’s ending, the abrupt way in which Omar chooses to stop resisting only reinforces how unsubstantiated the basis of this discourse was. In turn, the film’s adherence to the naive idealism of another character, the young Marlon, culminates in a self-important discourse (“message for the future”). And the final attempt to establish a criticism of the individualism of the new generations, by emphasizing Ramses’ fascination with virtual reality glasses, points to a cinema in a tired place, with very little to say about the future. Present

“Ressaca” is a documentary that accompanies the artistic body and other employees of the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro during the period of suspension of payment of their salaries by the state government of Rio. There is a moment in the movie when artists mobilize to protest wage arrears, which reminded me of the “Vira Voto” movement that took place in the second round of the 2018 presidential election: in both cases, middle-class people facing stunning prospects took to the streets to change the situation, promoting open gestures for dialogue that are absolutely essential today.

The question I bring, therefore, is not about the value of those initiatives, but about how the film portrays it. The choice of directors Patrizia Landi and Vincent Rimbaux is symptomatic as it wraps the sequence of plans that shows interventions by artists on staircases, traffic lights and restaurants with the melodic soundtrack of the band Sigur Rós, thus forgetting the main reason that this movement should have: the interlocution. By completely ignoring the reactions to what the dancers have to say, the film opts for performance exhibitionism over friction with the real.

By desiring to incorporate the Brazilian macropolitical context in a broad way (going from the “Fora Temer” movement to Bolsonaro’s inauguration), the film juxtaposes without great nuances a fall in a dance performance, the murder of Marielle Franco and the death of João (who worked for decades at the Municipal Theater), indirectly generated by a slaughter in the favelas, yielding to an absolutely contemporary problem: false equivalence. This is accentuated by the fact that the structure of the film, previously divided into chapters with the name of the characters portrayed, brings in its fifth block a broad concept (“The Fall”) that tries to tie very different things and ends up weakening the notion of resistance that marks its construction.


“You must be the Indian,” says a co-worker for Justino (Regis Myrupu), an Indian of the Desana people, who works in the port of Manaus. “I thought you would understand,” someone says to Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto), after she was asked to talk to a patient of another ethnicity in a hospital. In “A Febre”, such scenes emerge very early on in order to confront an imaginary of uniformity of indigenous peoples. At the same time that they are associated with an ongoing story of genocide (“it's not good to draw blood from us”), the characters are not treated as mere allegories, with their subjectivities respected.

In a shot like the initial one, where a slight zooming out of Justino's face to frame him full body in front of a container, Regis Myrupu's body posture and gaze are enough, added to the multiple machinic sounds that invade the picture, to suggest a whole history of construction / destruction of Brazil.

Another moment that blurs temporal boundaries occurs in the scene where the protagonist tells about a dream that will later materialize in the present. The cut from an open shot to a close-up on Justino's face enhances this moment and reflects a joint understanding – of film and character – about time and history. Compared to “Piedade” and “Ressaca”, “A Febre” has a less pretentious extra-filmic discourse – there is no term “resistance” in its synopsis – and less “urgent” – another word that deserves a text of its own. Its historical understanding is more refined and its formal choices seek to enhance what is most striking in the work: Justino's body posture and purposeful and elegant walk.

In a moment in which Brazilian cinema is under attack, this fact cannot serve as a justification for easy adherence by critics to a speech often found on microphones, but not on screens. In this sense, it is worth recalling what Jean-Claude Bernardet wrote in 1967 in the book Brasil em tempo de cinema: “The critic’s attitude towards the cinema of his country is necessarily combative, and his responsibility is direct, not only before the films, but also before the reality approached, before the public and the filmmakers”.

  • PS: Between 2016 and 2018, the person honored with the Paulo Emilio Medal was chosen from the nominations of three entities (ABPA, Abraccine and Socine). In 2019, the Brasilia Festival organization broke with this practice, choosing to honor Fernando Adolfo, who was not among the names mentioned in the previous consultation. The reaction of the entities was to unlink their names from the Medal, but there was no joint note publicizing what happened.