WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD – LOTS OF ‘EM!!!
Since its inception in 1995, the Inffinito Festival Circuit has successfully increased the visibility of Brazilian cinema in the international market. There are currently ten Brazilian film festivals under the Inffinito brand, and from June 12 to 18, Tribeca Cinemas played host to the 9th Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil – NY. Fourteen feature films were screened, each accompanied by a critically acclaimed short. Together they gave New Yorkers a taste of Brazilian culture and talent.
On June 15, I hopped off the 1 train at Canal Street and made my way over to the cinema to check out the teen comedy Desenrola (Untangle) by Rosane Svartman. I flashed my festival pass and was ushered into a dimly lit lounge where a soothing samba beat and a couple drinks helped me pass the time till Theatre 1 was ready. I then grabbed some UNBEARABLY SALTY popcorn from the concession stand before taking my seat.
Desenrola was preceded by Sergio José de Andrade’s short film Cachoeira (Waterfall). This atmospheric portrait piece depicts the drunken, suicide rituals of a group of young “Indians” by Brazil’s Negro River. Though based on a true story, this short proved to be confusing and repetitive rather than compelling and hence it received halfhearted applause. Its themes of death and despair also clashed violently with the light-hearted Desenrola and I can’t see how the festival programmers considered them a good match.
I admit, after Cachoeira, I grew apprehensive. Would Desenrola be as big a disappointment? As it turns out… it wasn’t. It was charming, witty and just plain fun! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
On the surface, Desenrola is indistinguishable from any other traditional narrative. A three-act structure is accompanied by a protagonist with a clear goal and a series of obstacles in her way. The plot is also not what you could call original. Priscila (Olívia Torres), a painfully average 16 year old from Rio, gets her first taste of freedom when her mom leaves home on a 20 day business trip. She immediately hatches a scheme to shed her goody two-shoes reputation, win the respect of her peers and above all, lose her virginity to claim the affection of the hottest boy in town: Rafa (Kayky Brito).
Of course, NOTHING works out quite the way she planned, but she does learn the three essential truths of high school:
1) The prefect guy is not so perfect
2) The “it girl” is insecure
3) The clueless (albiet romantic) class clown is the right choice
N.B. You can take or leave #3.
That said, what Desenrola lacks in originality, it makes up for in craft and authenticity. Its well-written script, gorgeous cinematography and meticulous shot selection are second only to its first rate cast of REAL TEENAGERS!!! Torres and her co-stars glide through the witty dialogue with effortless naturalism, leaving the audience weak with laughter.
Though the film’s vibrant color palate and angel-faced cast are what you would expect from (shudder) Disney, Svartman provides a playful deviancy and gritty realism akin to Skins (the UK original not the MTV travesty). Priscila loses her virginity in a rusty row-boat while her lovable pervert white knight Boca (Lucas Salles) gets love advice from a helpful prostitute. “It girl” Tize (Juliana Paiva) realizes that she should have used a condom (D’OH!) and her brother Rafa turns out to be an apologetic, womanizing man-child. Oh, and Caco (Daniel Passi), Priscila’s best friend, he admits that he’s gay – AFTER trying to sleep with her!
But it’s not all fun and games. Desenrola is as deeply emotional as it is hilarious. Svartman and her co-writer Juliana Lins depict youth as painful, fast paced and fleeting with a tidal wave of consequences for every bad decision. Prescila is careless and finds herself in over her head, drowning (literally) in a sea of regret. It is then that Svartman injects a ray of hope. As Priscila learns from her mistakes, she overcomes her fear of water and is able to float peacefully towards maturity; a beautiful metaphor indeed.
Svartman also attempts to bridge the gap between parents and teens in her subtle articulation of their unending power struggle. Priscila’s mom (Claudia Ohana) is lovable yet overbearing and her “uber-cool” Dad (Marcello Novaes) is torn between the desire to be her friend AND her parent. Both stand in the way of Priscila’s desire to be treated as an adult. To resolve this conflict and achieve a sense of mutual understanding, Svartman makes great use of the film’s soundtrack. A mix of classic pop and eighties rock creates an inter-generational exchange prompting adults to reflect on their own madcap teen years. The best example of this occurs in the final scene when Mom returns to find Priscila sleeping peacefully (and naked) in the arms of her new beau. Her anger is subsequently quelled by a wave of nostalgia when she hears “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds. As she reflects on her own first love, she decides to let Priscila off the hook… for now!
Desenrola is youthful, refreshing and clever – truly a delightful experience. It is no surprise it received the Crystal Lens Award for Best Feature during the festival’s closing ceremony. Congrats to Svartman and her team on a first rate production and a BIG thank you to Inffinito for providing access to such an awesome film!
Unfortunately the film’s trailer is in Portuguese but here are some subtitled clips your viewing pleasure:
SOA (Film) ’14
Arts Initiative Student Associate