While Brazilian soap operas have a definite place in the Brazilian economy, Brazilian cinema is finding its way into the international market. Brazil went from releasing an average of four movies a year in the 90’s, to about 40 movies in the year of 2007. It is still not even close to how many movies are released in the United States – that can be approximately 40 movies released every month! However, it is proof of the growing power of the Brazilian Film Industry.
Brazilian director Luis Antonio Pereira, who wrote and directed “Amelio, O Homem de Verdade” and “O Segredo” says, “Brazilian cinema is on the rise because of the industry professionals, but if we relied on government funding and its incentives we would be doomed.” Sometime ago Brazilian cinema did not attract a massive audience. The movie theaters played more American and European movies than the work of Brazilian directors. That has not changed much; however, Brazilian cinema has gained international attention and is drawing more audiences to the movie theaters.
Even in the United States – where years ago, if you asked, people would have no clue of what Brazilian cinema is. Now you can hear people talk about “City of God” (Cidade de Deus) as one of their favorite movies. More recently, another Brazilian movie “Elite Squad” (Tropa de Elite) took the critics by surprise all over the world after it won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival. The movie is about the Military Police in Rio de Janeiro and their struggle to fight the drug dealers in the slums.
Central Station also received international acclaim when it was nominated for the Oscar of Best Foreign Film and Fernanda Montenegro was nominated for the Oscar of Best Actress. The movie did not win, however, and Gwyneth Paltrow took the honor for Best Actress. City of God has been the Brazilian movie with the most Oscar nominations so far. It was nominated for four Oscars in 2004: Best Cinematography, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Best Director (Fernando Meirelles), and Best Editing (Daniel Rezende). The film did not take any statuettes home, but it was enough to mark Brazil’s place in the international film scene. The movie focused on the life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, more specifically, the social conflicts in the favela of “Cidade de Deus”.
These movies have something in common: the underlying poverty theme. What most people don’t know is that just 20 minutes away from the chaos in the slums lies a Beverly-Hillslike neighborhood where actors, singers and wealthy investors live – called Barra da Tijuca. This fact is not an exception as most slums in Rio de Janeiro are nearby the richest areas in the city, where million-dollar mansions stand side-by-side with unfinished shacks owned by drug dealers.
Brazilian movies are now known for portraying poverty and the slums of Brazil – which many people think is the only Brazilian reality. It is true that there are slums in Brazil and yes, there is poverty and many social discrepancies. It is important to talk about social and political issues. However, Brazil has a middle class and a high society that are very rarely portrayed in movies. This sells a distorted image of Brazil that does not translate into reality – which is bad not only for cinema but also for tourism.
The image of the slums portrayed in movies is enough to scare away anybody that could possibly be interested in taking a trip to Rio or Sao Paulo. The Brazilian films are slowly replacing the cliché image of Samba and Soccer with a much worse stereotype of civil war. Pereira says, “We don’t have good screenwriters and we end up relying on the daily news to make a screenplay.” He says Brazil has good writers, but lacks on the technical knowledge necessary for developing a good screenplay. Pereira says Brazil does not have good film schools and has not been able to beat the originality of Spanish filmmakers.
Sometimes I wish Brazilian cinema would follow the steps of the French cinema of Jean-Luc Godard or the Spanish cinema of Luis Bunuel – and invest in character driven plots that question the rules of society… and make fun of the middle class. So far, Brazilian filmmakers have done a great job in showing that Brazil has something to offer and this opens doors to the next generations to come. Once they have earned respect in the international market, they will be able to show Brazil has a lot more to offer.
* Julia Melim is a Brazilian actress, TV host/reporter and writer. She lives between Rio, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. She is a long-time Soul Brasil contributor writer – www.juliamelim.com