Brazilian films at the Berlinale In search of identity

“Antes o tempo não acabava”, regie: Sérgio Andrade, Fábio Baldo
“Antes o tempo não acabava”, regie: Sérgio Andrade, Fábio Baldo | © Yure Cesar

No fewer than three Brazilian films premiered in the Panorama section in the first few days of the Berlinale. The films differ considerably in terms of their narrative techniques and cinematic language, yet they do have one thing in common: they depict characters in search of their identity.

Anna Muylaert’s Mãe só há uma (Don't Call Me Son) is about Pierre, an adolescent who is still in school, plays in a rock band, is exploring his sexuality and discovers that he was stolen from the maternity ward shortly after birth. The screenplay was inspired by a case involving a boy called Pedrinho that occurred a few years ago in Brasília. 17-year-old Pierre, who is now known as Felipe, finds himself confronted with a new life in a new family purporting to be his own. The new name the family wants to impose on him, claiming that it is his real one, becomes a metaphor for his deconstruction and search for identity. What is most striking about this film is the acting, especially of Naomi Nero who plays Pierre.

In Antes o tempo não acabava (Time Was Endless), Sérgio Andrade and Fábio Baldo describe the transformation experienced by Anderson from the Ticuna tribe, who lives with his sister on the outskirts of Manaus. Whereas he chooses life in the city, his sister returns to her native village. The film compares modern city life with the traditional indigenous rituals to which Anderson subjects himself. The soundtrack and production design likewise focus on this contrast, blending indigenous themes with rock and electronic music. “The characters develop along a boundary line between tradition and urban life”, explains Andrade, the film’s director.

Who has the right to decide over the lives of others?

The Berlinale audience was impressed by Curumim, a documentary film by Marcos Prado about Marco Archer, a Brazilian who was executed for drug dealing in Indonesia in 2015. The highlight of the film are scenes which Archer shot himself in prison using a hidden camera: crude images which intimately portray the daily routine of a person facing death far from his friends and family.

Describing his life in prison, the protagonist builds up a picture of his identity in ways that are comical at times and sentimental at others, and in so doing attempts to find his place in the world. “We established a relationship by talking to one another on the telephone once a week over the course of three years”, explains Prado. Using reports from other inmates who were friends with Archer, the film also reveals to a rudimentary extent how the Indonesian legal system functions. The film poses the painful question of whether a state has the right to decide over the lives of others.