Eye For Film >> Movies >> Jardim Ângela (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: Chris
Once an audience expresses interest in terms of money they will pay, it is a big temptation to make films that pander to any prejudices. And at the expense of what? City Of God was very successful. At home, in the export market, and in putting Brazillian filmmaking more squarely ‘on the map’ again. And as most audiences outside of South America have little knowledge of the country, the use of ‘realism’ techniques soon persuades us that Brazil is all about poverty, drugs and violence, which appals many other filmmakers. Since City Of God was released, the quality of violent films from Brazil has maybe decreased, and the quality and quantity of arthouse improved. Rather than just be another part of the debate, Jardim Ângela grasps the ‘violence’ by the wrist, documenting the turbulent passions on either side of the question by letting 18-year-old filmmakers from a troubled region make a short film of their own choice.
If the film is at times less than enthralling, the overall questions it raises are crucial and rarely tackled. That it does so at all, both sets it apart from the mainstream and provides a foundation from which to approach a broader spectrum of modern Brasilian cinema. The agreed short film is about an alcoholic father. The ending is where the disagreement starts. (In a clever twist, Mocarzel opens with a TV showing part of the finished film, before we are aware of what is happening.) Named after a particularly violent Sao Paulo suburb, the film shows a sharp contrast of attitudes from within the community.
From City Of God genre sprang Elite Squad, Onibus 174, Última Parada 174, and a host of films like Lower City that pull the viewer in with realistic depictions of Brazil’s violent underbelly. Movies such as Casa De Alice or Not By Chance inhabit a world of mainstream ‘normality’ much like any western melodrama. Yet within the ‘underbelly’ are also great films such as Only When I Dance or Imperatriz Do Carnival - films of hope and achievement, films that portray the favelas not as solely inhabited by dealers and pimps, but by ordinary, honest people who just want to improve their lot.
The youngsters in Jardim Ângela argue passionately the reasons why they want to make a movie. Some, like young Washington, identify with City Of God style movies and see themselves as potentially glamorised gangster/actors. Others, particularly the girls, want to tell a story of how things can be different, how making or not making something of yourself is a choice, not a hand dealt by fate. “In City Of God, they only tried to show the guy who doesn’t have a job, who can’t get a job, and the only way he can survive is by dealing drugs and stealing, but his ending is always tragic.”
Washington, a bright young man, has nevertheless fallen into the trap of glorifying his turbulent childhood, knowing that stories of police torture and brutality, of crime and murder, will get attention. He proudly displays his scars – a bullet that entered his back and came out of his chest, made all the more dramatic by massive scars from near-botched medical treatment. Viewers who have seen how the kids in Última Parada 174 polish their stories, will be pushed to the limit in separating fact from heavily embroidered truth.
Although he easily dominates the group at first, another girl is very articulate, remonstrating: “This ends up being an excuse most times.” The boys say they have nothing and it drives them to crime. She is wise to the hard-luck stories and well-crafted pathos of these lads that worship guns and cocaine. Another girl becomes passionate with tears, saying she will not have her name on a film that sensationalises violence. At times, I felt the filmmakers (and NGOs running the project) were succumbing to Washington’s argument. But they are simply letting the kids argue it out themselves – probably a more constructive route.
An almost philosophical touch is added by one young would-be filmmaker for whom cinema itself has given him the impetus to break out of the slum-world cycle. Cinema makes him think of what happens as if he is an observer viewing a scene, and being able to make choices. It enables him to be more distanced from his surroundings and empowers him to make aesthetic decisions about his own life.
A United Nations report on the area said: “Actions of the community together with the police, the state government and municipal authorities have caused a drastic reduction in crime in the region.” Having visited Brasilian favelas, I wonder about the superficiality of such conclusions. Many NGOs do some small-scale work in the slums (The ‘Kinoforum’ of this film being one of them.) The government has had mixed credit and blame. And police rather more blame than credit. One of the biggest generators of improved conditions in the favelas is the samba school system. The samba schools almost always come from impoverished areas and the community resources they provide is well-known. But the strongest treasure must be the people themselves. Including youngsters in this film that are passionate about getting an education and not blaming the ‘system.’Reviewed on: 03 Sep 2009