A spectacular achievement, morally and aesthetically, this starkly poetic study in black-and-white—in both senses—takes us back to the heyday of Brazilian slavery, which lasted until 1888 and was responsible for bringing a little less than half of African slaves to the Western Hemisphere.
Writer-director Daniela Thomas, who devised the most political part of the opening to Rio’s Olympic Games last year, takes us back to 1821 for a fever dream of a tale in which shackled Africans who speak no Portuguese must figure out how to survive, especially when “working” for a brooding colonizer (Portugal’s Adriano Carvalho) who has almost as little interest in farming as he has in them. When the man marries the preteen daughter of some distant relatives, the tale finds parallels between gender and race—but in a manner that’s compellingly trancelike, not didactic.
PARIS — Continuing its select acquisition of sometimes strikingly singular Latin American films, Films Boutique has acquired international sales rights to Daniela Thomas’ “Vazante,” which world premieres at the Berlinale next week, opening its Panorama Specials section.
The first solo feature from Thomas, co-director of the TV broadcast of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony and who directed three movies with Walter Salles, “Vazante” is set in a Brazilian backland in 1821, its making marking an act of compassion for the solitude and suffering of the people there as it charts, in a thought-through manner, the makings of modern Brazil.
Long in its crafting, “Vazante” is produced by Sara Silveira at Dezenove Som e Imagem, a producer of edgier established names and multiple first features, and Beto Amaral, at (Cisma Produções, in co-production with Ukbar Filmes in Portugal.
Written by Thomas and Amaral, who also produced the Thomas co-directed “Sunstroke,” “Vazante” unspools at an imposing but crumbling farmhouse in Brazil’s imposing north-east Diamantina Mountains. Its owner, Antonio, returns to discover his wife has died in childbirth, and marries her niece, a child of 12. Restless, he departs once more, to trade slaves and cattle, leaving his child wife behind with the slaves. The loneliness of the house in the rugged landscape mirrors hat of its inhabitants.
The undercurrents of violence and prejudice fuel the impending tragedy which, in turn, is an ambiguous announcement of the winds of change,” the synopsis reads.
Inspired by family lore, “Vazante” “unfolds around the difficulty of culture to contain the force of desire,” Thomas stated.
She added: “It shows miscegenation, the driving force in the development of society in Brazil, sprouting on one side from the usual spurious relationships and on the other from true emotion, with tragic results.”
At “Vazante’s” core, Thomas said, lies “Brazil’s shameful violent sins: “Slavery,” and “forced marriages, which have for centuries destroyed the childhood of girls.”
Lensed in black and white and an attempt to capture what Thomas termed an “anthropological map” of modern-day Brazilians; origins, “Vazante” was shot in the original locations, with actors and non-actors, including descendants of the original slaves, or “quilombolas,” as the runaways are known. “Quilombolas” built the slave huts the same way their great-grandfathers did, and helped create their Candombe music, a mix of ancient chanting and drumming. Dresses were made as at the historical time; cinematographer Into Briones shot by real candlelight.
“‘Vazante’ is an epic film which tells the story of the first farmers and their African slaves in the Brazilian jungle in the nineteenth century,” said Jean-Christophe Simon, at Films Boutique.
“But the film is in first place a very touching character-driven drama telling the first love stories that will later lead to the creation of what is now Brazil,” he added.
For Films Boutique, “Vazante” acquisition follows-on its representation of another black-and-white film set in the wilds of Latin America: Colombian Ciro Guerra’s Oscar-nominated “Embrace of the Serpent.”
Thomas directed with Salles “Foreign Land” (1995), “Midnight (1998) and “Linha de Passe,” (2008) which won Sandra Corveloni, a “Vazante” co-star, a best actress award at Cannes.
Dezenove produced Marcelo Gomes’ 2012 “Once Upon A Time Veronica,” a pioneering take on Brazil’s middle classes, and Cannes Un Certain Regard screening “Hard Labor,” an early Brazilian arthouse genre movie, directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas.