American audiences will soon have the chance to know the work of filmmaker Aluizio Abranches, one of the most innovative directors making movies in Brazil today. Here he talks to Brazzil about the public reaction to his work, his love of film and the state of filmmaking in Brazil.
by: Felipe Castaneda
Filmmaker Aluizio Abranches has been recognized at home, in Europe, and on the international film festival circuit as one of the most innovative artists in today’s Brazilian cinema, yet recognition in the United States is late in coming. Although his 1999 debut feature Um Copo de Cólera (A Fit of Rage, available in VHS) won the Panorama Award at the Berlin Film Festival and enjoyed commercial success in European release, the film was never shown to American audiences.
Abranches’ second feature, As Três Marias (The Three Marias), also played in major international film festivals and was shown in European features, but unlike Um Copo de Cólera this film has been picked up for American theatrical release. Empire Pictures, an influential U.S. distributor of European and Asian productions, has chosen As Três Marias as its first Latin American offering. The film will have its American theatrical première on May 30 at Cinema Village in New York (www.cinemavillage.com) and is scheduled to play in other major cities across the United States throughout the spring and summer.
As Três Marias is a violent, disturbing drama about the consequences of being obsessed by revenge. The story focuses on Filomena Capadócio, the matriarch of a family who is abruptly visited by tragedy. Filomena’s husband and two sons are brutally murdered by the sons of Firmino Santos Guerra. Thirty years earlier, Filomena had been engaged to Santos Guerra but left him before their wedding to marry his rival Borges Capadócio. The result of this union filled Santos Guerra with rage and he promised to someday exact revenge on the newly married couple.
Filomena buries her husband and sons and begins to set plans to have revenge against the Santos Guerra family. She brings together her three daughters (Maria Francisca, Maria Rosa and Maria Pia) and sends them off into the backlands of Brazil to locate and hire three ruthless killers. Maria Francisca has to find the gunman known as Zé das Cobras, who has not spoken to a woman since the death of his mother. Maria Rosa looks for Chief Tenório, a backwoods cop who is also a knife specialist, and persuade him to break the laws he defends. Maria Pia goes off in search of Jesulino Cruz, also known as “The Devil’s Horse,” but there is a slight obstacle in her path: this killer is locked up in prison.
Abranches, who was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1961, recently previewed As Três Marias at the local Havana Film Festival in New York, an annual presentation of contemporary Latin American cinema. Brazzil spoke with him following the film’s screening at the festival.
Brazzil—American audiences got their first chance to see the film in early April at the Havana Film Festival in New York. How did the audiences at the festival respond to the film?
Aluizio Abranches—Actually better than I had expected. Apparently they liked the film very much and they stayed for the Q&A that lasted more than a half-hour. I was not even planning to do that, but as the audience stayed then so did I. They found it very different, especially the narration, but I had the impression they were taken by it. Someone in the audience said it was a very delicate film. That can sound weird for As Três Marias, but I liked it somehow agreed with them.
Brazzil—How did audiences in Brazil and Europe react to the film?
Aluizio Abranches—Very well. It was shown in many festivals, including Berlin in 2002. In Italy, it actually went over better than in Brazil. The distributors there, Teodora Films, did a much better job releasing it in Italy then they did in Brazil. My first picture was also very successful in Italy. Teodora Films actually began their distribution work in Italy with Um Copo de Cólera and since then the company has now released about 30 films and became very successful. They got some money out of Um Copo de Cólera and they decided to invest in As Três Marias, which they are now releasing in Italy. I think they are going to be part of my next project.
Brazzil—We didn’t get to see Um Copo de Cólera in the United States. What happened?
Aluizio Abranches—No, my first feature film was not released in the U.S. I don’t know if it is because of the language. American audiences are not used to watching films with subtitles. In Brazil, 90 percent of our films are American and we watch them with subtitles. But now in the U.S. there is a growing Latin population in Miami, California and New York, so maybe there is a growing market for these films. That’s why I am glad As Três Marias will be released here by Empire Pictures, because unless you have a blockbuster picture like City of God it is very difficult for a Brazilian film to get an American release.
Brazzil—But in any event, not many Brazilian films play in the U.S. For those of us who do not have access to today’s Brazilian films, what is the state of filmmaking in Brazil?
Aluizio Abranches—I would say Brazil produces around 40 films a year, that’s increasing from the last two-to-four years. There was a period end of 1980s to mid 1990s that Brazilians made one or two films a year, including one children’s film. Film production began to increase in 1995, during the government of Itamar Franco, when he created a new law that subsidized companies investing in a film with tax deductions. It worked, but for a company to invest $3 million the film would have to pay back $30 million to make a profit. It’s not the solution for the Brazilian cinema, but is has worked for the past few years.
Brazzil—How did you get into the film business? Was this always your career goal?
Aluizio Abranches—No, I originally studied economics. I finished my university studies at the Faculdade Cândido Mendes in 1982 when I was 20 and then I went to London to do a Masters in economics. I was always interested in film, growing up watching Buñuel, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, and some of the American classics like Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (I watched it 25 times), Hitchcock, Woody Allen. Although I was very much interested in films, I didn’t know I could make them. But when I went to London I kept passing the London International Film School. One day I went in and asked what I could do to get into the school and they gave me an application to prepare. And a month later I got started in the film school.
Brazzil—After you graduated from the school in 1984, you worked in an associate level on several American productions based in Latin America, including Moon Over Parador and Where the River Runs Black. How can you compare the focus of an American film production to a Brazilian film production?
Aluizio Abranches—They were very different films from the ones I am now making, mainly because they were made by major U.S. film companies with a commercial focus. I have nothing against that, as I want to make a big commercial success (it’s my fantasy). In Brazil there are films made with that purpose, and that is fine since it is what makes the industry go on. And there are American films with the filmmaker’s distinct signature as well. The ideal, of course, is when you can make a film the way you want and it’s successful not only with the critics but with public attendance as well.
Brazzil—What do you want audiences to take away from As Três Marias?
Aluizio Abranches—After I finish and release a film, I feel it is not mine any more. Everyone can have their own feelings and interpretations. However, there are some issues that interested me, especially what do you do when destiny interferes with your plans. Also, the code of violence and revenge, which is usually associated with men; but in the case of As Três Marias, women take revenge.
There is, however, one aspect that is very clear and that is violence and revenge doesn’t take you anywhere. It doesn’t matter what reason is behind it, even in the film’s case where revenge comes after great pain. We should remember one thing about an eye for an eye: Gandhi once said that if everybody did that the whole world would be blind.
For more information on the U.S. release of As Três Marias, go online to http://www.empirepicturesusa.com/ep/show_movie.asp?title=10017
Felipe Castaneda is an Argentine writer currently based in New York. You may contact the author writing to firstname.lastname@example.org