São Paulo Int’l Film Festival 2019

It’s that time of the year again! Papiro & Mint is set to cover the São Paulo International Film Festival, a place where I can finally watch all the most talked about movies of the year. In this edition, however, I’ve found myself a little disappointed in not finding certain major titles in the line up such as Portrait of a Lady On Fire, A Hidden Life, Le Daim, Sorry We Missed You, Matthias & Maxime and Jojo Rabbit. However, movies like Parasite, Synonymes, The Lighthouse and The Young Ahmed ended up coming along with titles that even though they weren’t on my priority list, the festival will give me a chance to watch them on the big screen.

With that said, I’m planning to cover 18 movies throughout the course of 10 days. I’m not sure if I will be able to watch them all, but my schedule is pretty arranged for that. Stay tuned for updates!

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Parasite (2019) by Bong Joon-hon

Winner of the Palm d’Or of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, I was a little skeptic about Parasite since it appeared to me like a different version of the previous Palm d’Or winner, Shoplifters – a film that I couldn’t possibly find more mediocre. Bong Joon-ho’s film, however, is undoubtedly superior. Telling the story of a poor family who slowly infiltrates a bourgeois household, Parasite is a brilliantly directed film that unpeels the layers of social class paradigms with smart metaphors and uncomfortable situations. Being also extremely satyrical, the movie goes to places that you would have never imagined going, with a masterful direction and cinematography. I’ve never been really a fan of Korean, Japenese or Chinese films, but Parasite proves to be one of the best movies of the year. ★★★★½

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Synonyms (2019) by Nadav Lapid

Being one of the 2019 movies that I most wanted to watch, Synonyms is an amazing film portraying a young Jewish man from Israel who decides to move to Paris to be a Frenchman. If that doesn’t sound like much of a story, Nadav Lapid creates an extremely original and surreal script based on his life experience when he decided to do the same when he was young. By wanting to be from another nationality, Lapid’s character decides to renounce his language, country, and identity. But what makes a Frenchman a Frenchman and a Jew, a Jew? Synonyms doesn’t quite answer all these questions but rather plays with them by putting this young Jewish man walking through the city with a dictionary and working at the Isreali embassy while telling his life stories to a young couple who seems to use him for personal fulfillment. Nadav Lapid creates a very subtle but powerful direction, while Tom Mercier gives life to this incredible character with an outstanding performance. ★★★★½

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A White, White Day (2019) by Hylmur Pálmason

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to watch A White, White Day by Hylmur Pálmason is because he made Winter Brothers, one of the most fascinating movies of 2017, if not, of the decade. In his sophomore feature, however, his brilliance doesn’t shine as bright as his debut film – which doesn’t mean it isn’t a special one.

Telling the story of an elderly man who is grieving the loss of his wife while he has to take care of his granddaughter, Pálmason creates a very slow and intriguing film about a man trying to make sense of what’s left of his life, especially since he starts suspecting his wife was having an affair. Despite being a little tiresome sometimes, A White, White Day is an interesting film because of Pálmason’s touch, who does not only creates singular situations for his characters but also turns his camera to concrete, giving emphasis on rocks, walls, and roads as a symbolism of the construction and deconstruction of the soul – a theme that is much better explored in Winter Brothers. With a beautiful cinematography, A White, White Day may not be the best movie of the year but it is definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of slow films. Really looking forward to seeing what Hylmur Pálmason does next. ★★★½

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The Waiter (2018) by Steve Krikris

The Waiter was a film that appeared in some film festivals around the world and it seemed to be part of this “new Greek cinema” that shares the title with movies like Dogtooth, Attenberg, and Chevalier. Being shown with Yorgos Lanthimo’s short film Nimic, I’ve decided to give it a try but I couldn’t possibly be more disappointed.

By telling the story of a waiter who has a hobby for painting plants, The Waiter follows the relationship of this character with a new neighbor who seems to have killed the previous tenant. Despite being an interesting beginning for a film, Steve Krikris proves that he has no idea what he is doing when it comes to filmmaking by not adding any depth or story to his characters, creating a soulless film with no purpose or ambition, resulting in a pointless disaster. These facts may be disguised as a “foreign slow art film”, but it doesn’t take too long to realize the story, the pace, and the direction simply don’t make any sense. Not mentioning it has probably one of the worst female characters ever written for a film. In short, try to avoid The Waiter at all costs. ★½

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The Report (2019) by Scott Z. Burns

There have always been movies about journalism and the uncover of government secrets, which are always great material to create exciting thrillers. However, I always end up wondering if it’s the movie that is actually good or is it just the satisfaction we get as spectators to watch the truth come out or the ethical morale that tends to comfort us at the end of the movie.

By telling the story of a man who is given the order by the Supreme Court of the United States to investigate CIA missing tapes from the Detention and Interrogation Program, The Report works as an engaging thriller that exposes the absurds the U.S government committed against suspects of the 9/11 attacks – such as murder, physical and psychological torture, to name a few. Not only that, but the film also shows the difficulty that this document went through to become public, by having not only the CIA denying everything but the implications that would arise within the government at the time. With that, The Report works great as a political drama. But what’s the line that divides a good story from a good film?

I believe the director is responsible for that, but I must admit Scott Z. Burns did nothing extraordinary here. Actually, the film has so much information to give in only 120 minutes of duration that it is almost impossible to do anything more than showing the actors delivering their lines. With that, Scott Z. Burns plays in a very safe zone which works pretty well for the movie, but I believe it’s also my biggest problem with The Report. The person who really deserves some credit here, despite the scriptwriter, is Adam Driver, who delivers a pretty good performance by embracing Daniel Jones’ emotion into bringing this unsettling material to light. In a nutshell, The Report is a good and important movie. But how long will it last? ★★★½

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Frankie (2019) by Ira Sach

I haven’t been following Ira Sach’s career since Keep the Lights On but I must admit I was pretty impressed with what he did in Frankie. By telling the story of a famous actress who reunites her family during a trip in Portugal, Ira Sach creates a very minimalistic and Eric Rohmer-like tale about interpersonal relationships through three different generations, each of them facing some kind of loss in their lives. It’s a film very focused on its characters and especially their surroundings, which is a very Rohmer trait. Ira Sach, however, gives us a more melancholic tone by dealing with themes such as death, divorce, loneliness, and rejection, which creates an amazing contrast when we realize how colorful the color palette of the film is, from the beautiful cinematography to the elegant costume design. Not mentioning the astonishing scenery of the city of Sintra, which is practically a character in the film itself. More than that, the ensemble cast formed by Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, and Carloto Cotta makes Frankie a movie at least hypnotizing to watch. ★★★★

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Spell (2018) by Brendan Walter

It’s impossible not to think about Midsommar when you are watching Spell, even though they are completely different films. Here we follow the story of a hipster man named Benny who has OCD and goes to Iceland after his fiancée is found dead on a swimming pool. Trying to overcome her death, Benny ends up going through different and hilarious situations where we start to wonder if he is suffering the side effects of both his loss and the lack of his OCD medication or if he is in fact, getting involved with a prophetic old Icelandic ritual.

Being extremely fun to watch, what stops Spells from being an amazing movie is his lack of consistency throughout the short 87 minutes of duration. What starts as a dark comedy about grief with some folk horror elements, the movie changes from the middle to end where the character starts to take everything a little too serious and some major twists are thrown in the script. Sometimes a little too self-explanatory, I would have loved to see more ambiguity and craziness in the film, which doesn’t make Spells bad. For a first feature film, Brendan Walter – who directed, wrote and acted on the film – does a pretty good and creative job by bringing this indie film to life. Not mentioning the beautiful cinematography and outstanding Icelandic scenery. ★★★½

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Young Ahmed (2019) by the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

The Dardenne brothers have always focused on themes such as youth and personal identity to address questions about social problems, such as immigration, work laws, and education. More than interesting stories, their films are made with an outstanding mise en scene with a fist of social realism, which has given them several awards at Cannes Film Festival such as the Palm d’Or, the Grand Prix, Best Screenplay, and this year’s Best Director for Young Ahmed.

By focusing on a story of a young French boy who decides to embrace an extremist interpretation of the Quran, the Dardenne brothers return with their signature style to tell a story about religion, ignorance and the influence of elders towards young people. Even though the film is great to tackle such subjects, it’s impossible to deny that the directors could have done so much more with the material they had on their hands. Or at least, if the movie hadn’t ended with such an easy and positive conclusion instead of the heavy and negative narrative it was building up to, I would have been more surprised. Not that the movie is bad – quite the contrary. The Dardenne brothers still know how to make a powerful film. But comparing to what they have done in the past, I felt that Young Ahmed could have taken more chances, especially since it deals with such a heavy subject. ★★★½

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Oleg (2019) by Juris Kursietis

Oleg is one of these films I would have probably never known it existed if it wasn’t for the São Paulo International Film Festival. Being screened at the Director’s Fortnight at this year’s Cannes, Oleg is a movie about a Latvian man who travels to Brussels to work on a meat factory. After being betrayed by one of his colleagues, Oleg is fired and starts working for a Polish criminal, who ends up abusing and enslaving him.

More than a movie about the exploration of immigrant workers in Europe, Oleg is a beautiful odyssey about exile, identity, and sacrifice. Even though the movie feels a little melodramatic and absurd sometimes, Juris Kursietis creates a very raw and powerful movie with a fist of social realism by using an incredible camera work and a beautiful 4:3 aspect ratio. Not mentioning the lead performance of Valentin Novoposli. Movies about the exploration of immigrants in Europe may sound like a tiresome theme after so many other movies have explored this before. Oleg, however, will appear fresh and hypnotizing from beginning to end. ★★★★

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It Must Be Heaven (2019) by Elia Suleiman

I’ve never seen anything from Elia Suleiman before and I can tell by looking at his body of work that he tends to focus on his country and its identity. These themes, however, are my biggest problems with It Must Be Heaven.

With a mise en scene that reminds us of Roy Anderson, Elia Suleiman’s new film follows the director playing himself in a Monsieur Hulot persona by observing the daily lives of people in Nazareth, Paris and New York while he is trying to fund his new movie. The story isn’t the most important part here, but the situations the director witnesses throughout his journey are what give life to the film, exploring a surreal view of the daily lives of the society of Palestine, France, and America. With that, Elia Suleiman creates beautiful, interesting and unique moments like a bird interrupting the director while he writes and dream-like situations where war tanks cruise the empty streets of Paris and everybody carrying a gun on the streets of New York.

However, It Must Be Heaven can also be seen as a satyrical view about East vs. West, which doesn’t quite always work. By showing France and America as a military and proud society, Elia Suleiman tries to sneak in some politics which purpose never really surfaces, making the movie a little hollow and with a lack of content by not focusing on its main theme – a subject you never really understand what is about. Maybe I would have preferred if Elia Suleiman was a little less political, or at least show more about Palestine, a place that he seems to always make fun of the concept people have from there but never show us something different.  Either way, It Must Be Heaven works as a pretty peculiar silent film. ★★★½

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Echo (2019) by Rúnar Rúnarsson

Another director I was really excited to watch his new movie was Rúnar Rúnarsson, who made Sparrows. I really need to revisit this movie soon, but every time I think about it, I remember this film as being an extremely tender coming of age story about a young boy who goes to live with his dad on a tiny island of Iceland. Echo, unfortunately, doesn’t even come close to his latest film.

No better name could have been given to Rúnarsson’s new film because that’s exactly what Echo is: a repetition of sounds that reverberate after its original. These sounds, however, are portraited as different situations of an Icelandic city that translates the current social and political situation of the country. If you are wondering if Iceland has problems, Rúnar Rúnarsson proves it has the same ones as the rest of the world: an economy in crisis, corrupt politicians, low salaries, xenophobia, etc. However, the format Rúnarsson builds his film is extremely distant from the spectator, not focusing on anything or anyone. All the scenes are not connected and there is no story to be told.

The problems Rúnarsson addresses in Echo are problems that are no different in other parts of the world, and we are never sure if he is just mentioning them or actually wanting to say or criticize them. Also, the fact these scenes happen between Christmas and New Year’s Eve makes you wonder if this is a poetic movie about Iceland, or if it’s about religion, life, death or something else entirely, resulting in a film with no focus or depth. The indifference Rúnarsson shows his movie to the public is the biggest problem with Echo, resulting in a lifeless and dull film. ★★½

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Swallow (2019) by Carlo Mirabella-Davis

I’m really looking forward to the day Swallow hit the big screen on the commercial circuit since it’s a film that will definitely be talked about. Being Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ debut, Swallow tells the story of Hunter, a Barbie doll type of girl who seems to have had her luck made by marrying a handsome rich man. All she has to do is stay home, take care of things and cook. One day, she gets pregnant and starts to feel the compulsion for eating random objects like rocks, batteries, chess pieces and pins.

This isn’t exactly a movie about mental disorder but an interesting and twisted story about a woman who can’t deal with her own traumas and chooses to indulge herself in extreme behaviors to fight her oppression and the patriarchal household she lives in. There have been many movies like that, but Mirabella-Davis makes an outstanding and original job by choosing to direct his film with a minimalistic direction and a strong color palette to show the fragility and superficiality of that world that seems to have been taken out from a Disney movie. However, instead of the Sleeping Beauty touching the spindle to fall asleep, here she swallows it to wake up. I also think that the main character, played by an incredible performance by Haley Bennet, isn’t as innocent or delusional as many other characters from this type of film tend to be, creating the right amount of tension and mistery without seeming too unreal or absurd. As soon as Swallow hits your local theaters, try your best to go see it! ★★★★

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The Painted Bird (2019) by Václav Marhoul

There has been a lot of talk about this film because of its violence and the comparisons of Tarkovsky/Béla Tarr’s cinema and their influence. I couldn’t agree more with that but I still think it’s ridiculous to say The Painted Bird it’s a bad movie because of this. There is violence – a lot of it, almost in an absurd way. But what’s the difference between the portrait violence based on horrors committed against humanity and the violence used to entertain like the Tarantino and John Wick movies? It upsets me that are movies like The Painted Bird that make people walk out of the theater.

With an outstanding black and white cinematography, the movie follows the story of a young Jewish boy trying to survive in the countryside of Poland during World War II. After his grandmother dies, the young boy seeks refuge in other villages for food but always ends up on the hands of people as crazy or brutal as the Nazis who have taken over Poland. Divided into several segments, we follow stories of rape, murder, torture, and sexual violence. Not mentioning the killing of several animals. Sometimes it is so absurd what this young boy goes through that we indeed start to feel the director is exaggerating a little. However, this is all base on Jerzy Kosiński’s novel, which is trying to show that war makes us do horrible and inexplicable things. I hate when people say “the violence of the movie isn’t necessary” since violence it’s never necessary and never carries an explanation. Some things that are shown in the film still happen until today (child abuse, husbands that beat up women, hate against Jews). Not mentioning some scenes are not much different from what you get by watching Game of Thrones.

The way the movie is built, however, is not too different from Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev and Frantisek Vlácil’s Marketa Lazarova, making The Painted Bird, in my opinion, a modern classic about the atrocities that humans are capable of. It is indeed not a movie for everyone but also are Tarkovsky and Vlácil films. ★★★★

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Sibyl (2019) by Justine Triet

Virginie Elvira, Adéle Exarchopoulos, Gaspard Ulliel, Niels Schneider, Sandra Huller and Paul Hamy having sex and a breakdown. How not to love it? Even though Sibyl isn’t an outstanding film, is impossible not to have fun while watching all these handsome french people perform together. The movie tells the story of a psychiatrist who starts using one of her patients as a subject to her novel. Her patient is an actress who had a baby with a famous actor who is dating the director of a film the three of them are shooting. However, the more the psychiatrist treats her patient, the more engaged she becomes in the lives of these three people, making her remember about an ex-boyfriend that she still has a feeling for.

By building a movie full of flashbacks, Justine Triet struggles a little to control her film which survives basically with its strong characters and the amazingly talented actors who play them. The highlight of Sibyl happens in the last third of the movie, where all characters get together on a volcanic Island in Sapienza, who helps the movie a lot with its scenery and cinematography. This makes me wonder if the entire film shouldn’t have been shot there, especially if the director has been more worried about taking a little bit of an artistic outlook from the script. Either way, Sibyl still works as a light comedy with an amazing cast that is very fun to watch. ★★★

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Tremors (2019) by Jayro Bustamante

It’s 2019 and I really wonder why are we making movies about gay men not accepting themselves and letting society make them feel ashamed and return to their closet. Yes, this still happens in many places around the world, especially when religion is involved. But Jayro Bustamante’s film is so indifferent to what happens to his character that you start to wonder what’s the point of making a film like this.

This may sound a little contradictory since I love Michael Haneke’s movies and the effect of meaningless and passive violence towards the spectator. But Tremors isn’t a movie about violence. It’s a film about an entire family and community excluding one of their own because he had a relationship with another man. Is a man being accused of pedophilia just because of his sexual preference. Is a man being forced to submit himself to conversion therapy which is supported by the church. If you want to talk about that, we should study this man’s character but Jayro Bustamante doesn’t give us anything to work with. This man is useless and pointless. He doesn’t appear to know who he is and what he wants. His lover, who would be a trigger to embrace who he really is and a representation of the gay community, simply doesn’t seem to care about his companion and keeps spending his days in bars, not caring about what his lover is going through.

I understand that Jayro Bustamante is trying to criticize the church, but instead of feeling like a critique, Tremors feels like a movie in which the director doesn’t know what he is talking about. There isn’t even a kiss between these two men that are apparently in love and a shy and unnecessary sex scene that makes me wonder who was this film made for. And the shame of it all is that Tremors is actually not a bad film in terms of production. It could have been so much more if the director knew what to do with his story and its characters. Unfortunately, the movie is so passive that I felt there is even a gap for certain types of spectators to believe that gay conversation therapy might actually work. ★★

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The True Story of the Kelly Gang (2019) by Justin Kurzel

I’ve never watched any movie based on the life of Ned Kelly but I was pretty excited for The True Story of the Kelly Gang. Even though Justin Kurzel directed the mediocre Assassin’s Creed, we can’t forget the outstanding Macbeth and Kurzel’s beautiful style when it comes to direction. Despite being very stylish indeed, The True Story of the Kelly Gang has many problems in terms of script and pace, making me wonder if there was actually any problems in the shooting.

With an outstanding cast formed by George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, and Russel Crowe, the movie follows the upbringing of Ned Kelly, a gypsy young boy who grew up watching his mother being sexually abused by an officer. One day, her mother sells Ned to a thief to learn how to kill and steal, and when he grows up, he starts a relationship with a prostitute that will eventually start a war. Despite this being some sort of “origin story” of the myth of Ned Kelly, Justin Kurzel’s movie feels like a coming of age that went wrong. From the middle to the end, the movie changes pace completely and the story doesn’t seem clear of where it wants to go, making the origin story of the Kelly Gang messy, unclear and a little exaggerated. What Kurzel does to the film, however, is splendid, and the feeling that the story doesn’t match his direction is the biggest disappointment of the movie. Something definitely went wrong in the filmmaking process as it feels like the movie has scenes missing or even was edited wrongly.

Still, the movie survives because of Kurzel and especially George MacKay and Nicholas Hoult, who have probably given the performances of their careers so far. Not mentioning the outstanding soundtrack and cinematography, making The True Story of the Kelly Gang a nice choice if you are in the mood to watch something similar to Peaky Blinders. ★★★

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The Lighthouse (2019) by Robert Eggers

Being the movie I most wanted to watch at this film festival, The Lighthouse surpassed all the expectations I had, becoming one of my favorite movies of the year. The hype is indeed real and what Robert Eggers did in his latest film is everything that made me want to study and work with film. With a 1:1 aspect ratio and a beautifully sinister black and white cinematography, The Lighthouse tells the story of two men who go to spend four weeks working on a lighthouse. As the night approaches and the liquor flows, reality starts to fade away when one of them starts to experience hallucinations.

More than a film about two isolated men going crazy, The Lighthouse is a horror movie open to several interpretations. It plays with several tropes such as ghosts, doppelgangers and mythological creatures. It reminded me a lot of Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, not only in terms of format but also storytelling. However, instead of focusing on personal demons, Eggers embraces madness and old sailor stories to create a beautiful film about fear and chaos. William Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are superb, and more incredible than the direction and cinematography is probably the sound, which I believe is almost a character in the film. I don’t know if the volume of the theater I’ve watched was louder than it was supposed to be but the sound of the wind, the waves, and the lighthouse’s horn was so loud that made the seats vibrate, making the experience even more intimidating. All of that with the outstanding minimalistic soundtrack by Mark Korven. ★★★★★

Movies in order of preference so far:
01. “The Lighthouse” by Robert Eggers
02.
 “Parasite” by Bong Joon-ho
03. “Synonyms” by Nadav Lapid
04. “The Painted Bird” by Vaclav Marhoul
05. “Frankie” by Ira Sach
06. “Swallow” by Carlo Mirabella-Davis.
07. “Oleg” by Juris Kursietis
08. “Young Ahmed” by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
09. “The Spell” by Brendan Walter
10. “The Report” by Scott Z. Burns
11. “It Must Be Heaven” by Elia Suleiman
12. “A White, White Day” by Hylmur Pálmason
13. “Sibyl” by Justine Triet
14. “The True Story of the Kelly Gang” by Justin Kurzel
15. “Echo” by Rúnar Rúnarsson
16. “Tremors” by Jayro Bustamante
17. “The Waiter” by Steve Krikris