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Renata de Lélis,
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Cássia Kis Magro
'Not by Chance' ('Não Por acaso') is set in São Paolo, Brazil. Its crossed-paths ('Amores Perros,'''21 Grams, 'Babel, 'Crash') plot structure is getting pretty tired by now, but this is a sophisticated and polished and engaging enough work to have been bought an overseas branch of Twentieth Century Fox. It's already on a US-region DVD.
We begin with Enio (Leonardo Medeiros), a weary traffic controller who works in a large visually impressive control room. Shortly after a reunion with his ex-wife Monica (Graziela Moretto), who tells him his daughter Bia (Rita Batata), now grown, wants to meet him, he spies an accident and, rushing to it on foot, miraculously in a few minutes, sees Monica and her current husband lying dead. Meanwhile inter-cut with Enio's story is one of a university student, Teresa (Branca Messina), who rents out her large apartment to move in with her boyfriend Pedro (Rodrigo Santoro), an expert pool player who, like his deceased father, builds pool tables. Teresa's mother incidentally, like Enio and Pedro, is a kind of control freak. Teresa's old flat's new occupant is Lucia (Leticia Sabatella), a commodities trader particularly interested in coffee. In the course of the film relationships will be rearranged.
There's a parallelism between Pedro's diagrams of pool play (which he talks through mentally in voice-overs) and Enio's ideas about fluid dynamics, which his boss wants to utilize in some sort of unspecified more "humane" traffic system (rather than a German system of "smart" traffic signals he's not keen on adopting). Traffic controlling as seen here is fabulously technical and precise, while pool and cabinetry of course are art forms. The symbolism avoids seeming too forced because each area of expertise is presented interestingly.
The trouble with these schemes of interconnection, stressing the dire--people do interconnect under positive circumstances, after all--and the arbitrary is that they will seem, well, arbitrary, cooked up by the screenwriters (and there were three, Barcinski, Fabiana Werneck Barcinski and Eugenio Puppo) to give a story a sense of life's complexities that only a long novel, or better yet a series of novels like Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' or Anthony Powell's 'Dance to the Music of Time,' can really convey. Representing several clusters of characters in a film of just an hour or two runs the risk of feeling like a chopped-down TV miniseries.
Nonetheless this first feature shows Barcinski to be a fluent and accomplished filmmaker. He gives us a sense of urban anxieties with the focus on apartment-hunting and traffic snarls. It's cool the way he uses phantom images of the pool balls to show the player's control to contrast with the movements of a girl killed through a random error in traffic. Since this sort of story views life diagrammatically, Barcinski seems to feel, why not diagram it openly? And it works. What you can't diagram are joy and grief, and that's where the actors come in handy...
Compared to the Iñárritu, Haggis, or Haneke versions of this kind of s structure, Barcinski's has a gentle, laid-back Brazilian feel to it, especially as embodied in the character of Pedro. The finale is soothing. The trouble is that people are used to having their pulse rates raised much higher by just this kind of film. Barcinski's work will be worth watching, though.
Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2008.
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