Brazil: 5 x Favela, Now by Ourselves (Amaral, Barcelos, Bezerra, Carneiro, Felha, Novais, Vidigal, 2010)

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The film 5 x Favela, Now by Ourselves brings together five short films written, directed and acted by young former dwellers of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The project revisits the original idea of the film Cinco vezes favela/Five Times Favela of 1962, in which middle-class filmmakers from the Cinema Novo movement, amongst them director and now producer Cacá Diegues, resolved to show the life of the dwellers of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and to intervene politically by renewing the themes, language and characters of Brazilian cinema.

Cacá Diegues’s project intends to show how these young people from the slums would nowadays be able to make a film ‘by themselves’ (the project’s original subtitle), and thereby go from being the object to the subject of the discourse. However in order to take on the direction, subject matter and script of the film, they went through an intensive process of training by means of seminars and workshops with professionals in the field.

In every chapter a small individual or collective drama is unique to each character, this uniqueness becoming their only way out of an impasse. The favela is still seen as a place of deprivation and negativity, of individuals who are fragmented and atomized within their social universe, who, whilst strongly marked by collectivism, rely on personal and particular resolutions in order to cope with everyday life. The most interesting aspects of the film are when these individual experiences push social boundaries beyond the clichés which criminalize or romanticize the favela.

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The boundaries between legality and illegality, idealism and pragmatism, mark the chapter ‘Fonte de renda’ in which a young black dweller of the favela decides to temporarily sell drugs to his colleagues at the law school so as to fund his undergraduate studies. His attitudes are not condemned within the narrative, but are changed by an affective didactic event that leads him to reverse his decision.

In the chapter ‘Feijão com arroz’ the same impasse between legality and illegality can be observed but with a looser and fresher narrative, with alternations and turnarounds including the scene in which kids in the favela lose money they have made by working for a gang formed by young people in Zona Sul. The cliché of the favela-dweller as criminal is inverted and is approached in a comic tone when the kids end up losing a chicken they have tried to buy for their father. In order to please his dad, a favela kid commits a petty, justifiable crime and unwittingly ends up repeating the actions of his grandfather, who was humiliated for stealing a chicken from his neighbour in order to feed his hungry family. Once again it is only destiny that enriches the recurrent story of a constituting lack, by opening up different paths, either comic or tragic.

The third chapter ‘Concerto para violino’ displays a virtuosity of aesthetics, themes and characters that are reminiscent of films such as Cidade de Deus/City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002) or even Tropa de Elite/Elite Squad (José Padilha, 2007).

Three childhood friends take three different paths: one becomes a policeman, the other a drug dealer and the female of the group, who is a violinist, has a chance to leave the favela through the arts. The film, the only one of the five chapters to end in tragedy, institutes other limits, in particular the limits of friendship and allegiances. These are always temporary in a context in which once again determinism and ‘necessity’ prevail and there are marked contrasts, including in the soundtrack which changes from classical violin to carioca funk.

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In ‘Deixa voar’ the film reaches a rare level of poetry and lyricism, describing small events in a delicate way. Violence and tension are present in an argument over a kite, heard in the way the characters talk, their tones of voice, their bodies, and their harsh gestures. The chapter explores the past times of wandering and hesitancy on the part of a boy named Flávio, who needs to retrieve a friend’s kite which he accidently lets fly into a neighbouring favela dominated by a rival faction. Fear, curiosity and naivety are vague feelings keenly felt by the character and the spectator. The space of the favela is explored in a sensorial way. The blue of the skies seen from the roofs of the favelas, the football courts, gates, bridges, the conquering of another’s space, real and imaginary frontiers, create a cinematographically expressive whole in this chapter. The chapter returns us to the time of childhood and adolescence, a loving, conflictual state neither of certainty nor clichéd representation.

This freshness is also seen in the Fellinian chapter ‘Acende a luz’, which takes place in a vibrant favela full of bifurcating and contrasting stories. Communitarianism, consumption, dark humour, happiness and petty, wicked group actions form a complex constellation. It is a couple of days before Christmas and the favelas are without light, water and ice. Once again ‘deprivation’ is a motor for the action, but we quickly leave it aside to share in a richly detailed chronicle of swirling habits, gestures, music, noises. The chapter explores the unique situation of the favela as a labyrinth and its distinct bodies, slang and songs. The favela emerges here as a part of city life. ‘It is Christmas here too’ says a State worker in charge of fixing the lights, removing the last obstacle in the narrative. The favela is the city, the favela is the world.

By the end, 5 x Favela, Now by Ourselves makes explicit its central mechanism that goes beyond film or cinema to show the potential and individuality of these young filmmakers. It also shows how these peripheral subjectivities are commodities that have been packaged in a film market that requires such worlds, emotions and experiences to sell its products.

By Ivana Bentes (trans. Natalia Pinazza)

This review originally appeared in:
Directory of World Cinema: Brazil

By Natalia Pinazza & Louis Bayman
Published August 2013

For more information about this volume of the Directory of World Cinema Series, click here

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