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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.18.18] Brazil drama



This one I wanted to see one, mainly because the pitch about putting spirits to rest and the Amazonian setting were reminiscent of Embrace of the Serpent (review) which screened a few years back and was a truly incredible experience; I was hoping The Dead and the Others would be in the same ballpark.


Turns out I will never know. For the first time, despite the usual sense of duty pertaining to attending any Cannes screening to the very end, I actually walked out.


The story in itself is intellectually stimulating, exploring the twilight between tradition and modernity through the travails of the main character.


Suffering from fever and auditory hallucinations where his dead father asks him to stop postponing his grieving ritual, the protagonist goes for advice and relief to the village witch doctor. Instead of any reassurance, he is told that his ailment is sent by the macaw spirit as a punishment for refusing to become a shaman and that the only way out is to obey said parrot. A tad nonplussed at the perspective, our hero does what any sane being would do: fucks off to the nearby city to go consult a western doctor at the dispensary.



The diagnostic of modern occidental science falls like a bad joke: hypochondria. Get rest and take a paracetamol. At this point I was expecting a lot: science versus folklore, the old wisdom of jungle echoing the modern world in a distorted mirror, lots to wax lyrical about. I'm left with my unresolved conjectures since the moment I broke and scampered was not too long after that revelation.


Now, why did I leave? After all I've sat through countless hours of bad cinema during the years, and the story was interesting.


It's shot like a "Strip-tease" episode, the Belgian documentaries from the 90's. This means a really peculiar approach where the work of the cinematography is to actually disappear to the point the audience feels physically present with whatever is happening.


The show was incredibly voyeuristic, seeing people live their actual lives and hobbies as if there wasn't a crew around and the ever-present unblinking eye of the camera. And while it was a rather interesting proposal at the time, in the peri-urban settings of the show, that approach here had a pair of major downsides: direct sound and a mock documentary stance.


I'm pretty sure the driving idea behind having unfiltered direct sound was having us soak in the ambiance of the jungle to reinforce the sense of being there, but that mostly meant the ambient noise, left unchecked, formed a deafening wall of spears around any dialogue and relevant bits of narration.


The documentary stance expressed itself in lots and lots of slice of life sequences, people going to their daily chores and routines, in real time. Village gossips, communal things, you name it, the whole drawer of documentary trope were here.


Taken separately those aren't "let me out" problems. Their union, on the other hand, meant this: Ride to city. Exterior day. A scene extending for a good three and a half minutes. A single continuous medium-shot of the hero at the back of a pickup without dialogue, the wind howling as a banshee that just stubbed its toe on the nightstand, and every single piece of the truck rattling, grunting and creaking, like a throng of rhinos having un-lubricated sex in a military scrap yard.


My ears are still ringing.



Recommended Release: Embrace of the Serpent


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