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When our intake of Brazilian cinema tends to be dominated by guns, violence and exotica, it is refreshing to experience a more refined slice of top-notch art-house.
Interlinking lives, interlinking roads, channel emotions to avoid collisions and pile-ups. And in the face of heart-wrenching loss that allows little freedom from harsh realities of circumstance.
Within this modern, teeming city of São Paulo, the relaxed warmth so typical of Brazilian communication pervades even the high tech control centre from which traffic is directed. To Enio, the swirling traffic is poetry in motion. Poetry he controls. Keep everything flowing. A blocked road, an accident, can have repercussions for a long way. He visualises pathways. Brings them to life on control screen. Issues instructions to controllers and traffic police on the ground. Tenderly looks after it all.
Across town, another caring control-freak sees pathways on the snooker board. Angles of incidence, angles of reflection. Backspins and follow-throughs. Forcing strokes and winning hazards. Like Enio, Pedro mathematically plans pathways of action and reaction. Mental flow-diagrams to help him win. But there is always an unknown factor. "Why practice a series not knowing what the other guy will do?" asks his beautiful but down-to-earth young lover.
Enio comes to a similar conclusion when reunited with estranged daughter, Bia: "We try so hard to foresee things . . . then something happens and we don't know what the consequences will be." Enio and Pedro control everything in their life. It becomes a metaphor to express their emotional outlook. But, when they both have to deal with sudden loss, their abilities to cope with the collision of emotions need something new. The structure of Not by Chance resembles the award-winning film, Crash. Though with rather subtler displays of emotion. Strangers' lives are distantly inter-related but with a gentleness that is deeply touching. Enio and Pedro must both make choices about new opportunities that life brings them.
A sudden outburst by Pedro's girlfriend recalls the righteous temper tantrums of women on all-encompassing Brazilian soap operas. Latin fieriness is institutionalised and used with crushing effect. As soon as Pedro relents, she is all soft and feminine again. His 'helpless' soulmate that gives up her more organised lifestyle and relishes flattering his male ego.
A curious aspect of Brazilian life is strangely explained. Enio shows his daughter how certain main roads are barred to traffic on special days. It might be a festival. A day set aside for joggers or children. Or simply, when pedestrians can use the extra space afforded by a main road. It is a luxury they allow themselves in a country which already has probably more official holidays than any other in the world. Brasilians know how to relax. Even in this metropolis. And it quietly suggests the idea of emotional space, the ability to deliberately prioritise it. (Something we perhaps find hard in the West to do).
Not by Chance has already won awards in the highly competitive Latin American film market. It is a deeply meditative, if surprisingly fast-moving film that allows the thoughtful viewer to contemplate the existential choices which life brings and how we handle them. Acting is first-rate without being flashy. Cinematography is also very impressive. From the google-earth style opening camera-work to subtle use of ghost images that let us into the protagonists' thoughts. Snooker never looked so exciting. Transitions from boardroom to bedroom are cleverly handled. But the ending, and the degree of control Enio exerts, seems a little improbable. We can allow it once we pick up on the symbolic nature of his actions. Or maybe even find it humorous. But a casual viewer might be left wondering, 'So what?'
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