Brazilian filmmaking has bloomed in the last decade, ushering in a new wave of filmmakers, festivals and critics who tackle themes of culture and identity with contemporary nuance. The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, or BAMPFA, showcases a selection of these works in its new Streaming Spotlight series, “The New Brazilian Cinema.” The series arrives in conjunction with Film Quarterly’s recently published dossier on new Brazilian cinema, and the films in “The New Brazilian Cinema” are available to the public to rent for at-home viewing. The movies in this collection fuse documentary and fiction — an enduring convention since Italian neorealism — which invites viewers to personally and profoundly resonate with each film’s unique social ethos.
“She Comes Back on Thursday”
The blending of fact and fiction is most successfully achieved in director André Novais Oliveira’s “She Comes Back on Thursday,” a bittersweet film created with love for its subjects. Oliveira captures his family members in fictionalized vignettes with a primary focus on his parents, Maria José and Norberto. The couple has been married for 35 years but recently decided to go down their own separate paths. Maria José embarks on a humble journey of self-discovery while Norberto struggles in a feeble affair. Shadows and silhouettes are frequent visual motifs, emphasizing the film’s preoccupation with decay and dissolution. And yet, Oliveira’s direction elicits beauty from the stories of normal people and finds poetry in a dented refrigerator, slow dancing in the living room and heavy silence between brothers. It’s a film undaunted by a life unfinished, crafted with affectionate artistry that entwines the worlds of cinema and reality.
Indigenous Guardians: 2 documentary films
In the Indigenous Guardians package, two documentaries made by Indigenous filmmakers — “Guardians of the Forest” and “Bicycles of Nhanderu”— are available to rent as a double feature.
“Guardians of the Forest,” directed by Jocy Guajajara and Milson Silva Guajajara, surveys Indigenous lands of Caru, as well as the eponymous collective comprised of young Guajajara, Awá-Guajá and Ka’apor peoples who combat the constant invasion of their lands from predatory interlopers aiming to profit through illegal logging operations and livestock ranching. Armed with their unsteady camera, the Guajajaras run with the Guardians to catch illegal activity, and they slow the pace in sensitive episodes. A film dedicated to warriors of the past, “Guardians of the Forest” is clear in its allegiance; the camera acts as an evocative ally to the Guardians, wavering between its dual responsibilities to report and to intervene.
The appreciative knowledge of Indigenous land present in “Guardians of the Forest” takes a different form in the film “Bicycles of Nhanderu.” Directors Patricia Ferreira Pará Yxapy and Ariel Duarte Ortega explore spirituality and routine in lives of the Mbya-Guarani from the Koenju village in Southern Brazil. Spanning a mere 45 minutes, “Bicycles of Nhanderu” is an episodic account that puts humanity first: There’s one scene where the community builds a prayer hut, and one local is quick to clarify that it’s “not just for the film.” The people wear bright clothes, and the children bounce with energy, even when they deliver sobering statements (“We cannot set far away traps anymore otherwise the whites may shoot us”). The inhabitants of this community are familiar strangers with fascinating stories to share. While the film grapples with the bitter reality of colonization and white supremacy, its main focus is tradition and collective reliance.
“I Remember the Crows”
Julia Katharine is the remarkable raconteuse who brings heart and soul to “I Remember the Crows.” Gustavo Vinagre serves as the director, but it is Julia, honest as she is charismatic, who drives and sustains the film. She thrives as a deeply moving central figure who inhabits the living room in her socks with her cigarettes, elevating the occasional missteps in Vinagre’s direction and playfully challenging his prying attention. The film peers into Julia’s life as a resilient transgender actress and director and asks her to reflect on her relationships with other people, herself and cinema on her own terms.
“Streaming Spotlight: The New Brazilian Cinema” is available from Jan. 21 to March 31.