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Following a newspaper ad, ordinary women tell part of their life stories to director Eduardo Coutinho, which are then re-enacted by actresses, blurring the barriers between truth, fiction and interpretation.
There are many concurrent plots in this film. The main one being the one in which a desperate guy kills his parents with an open razor and then goes to the movies. At the same time, other violent events happen when two girls realize they are in love with each other.Written by
Brazilian Underground film is, of course, unconventional and experimental -- and so you've been warned
On an ordinary day, a man in his 30s (Antero de Oliveira), living with his elderly parents in a low middle-class apartment in Rio de Janeiro, coldly stabs them both to death in the living room for no apparent reason. Unstirred, he goes to a movie theater and watches a film called "As Amantes" ("Women in Love") about two young women (Márcia Rodrigues and Renata Sorrah) who spend a weekend in a country house and find their friendship turning into love. Other parallel narratives "invade" the film, including a man being tortured by the police, played by the same Antero de Oliveira (is he the same or another character? Is he a political prisoner or is he undergoing a police "interrogation" for his crime?) and flashbacks of the young women's lives, leading up to a tragic finale.
Julio Bressane -- barely 23 at the time and already in his 2nd feature film -- shot this indie film in just 12 days and his individual style is already recognizable: unconventional, fragmented story-telling, long scenes, acting and dialog improvisation, experimental language, abrupt editing, a musical sense of structure, and a contrasting visual treatment that alternates static vs. hand-held shots, high impact vs. "nothing happens" scenes, carefully composed vs. home-movie-like cinematography. "Matou a Família..." established Bressane as one of the top names of Brazilian Underground Cinema ("Cinema Marginal"), along with Rogério Sganzerla, Ozualdo Candeias and Luiz Rosemberg.
"Cinema Marginal" ou "Udigrudi" was a "counterwave" in the late 60s/early 70s that sought to "mess up" with the heavy socio-political commitment and grim nature of the Brazilian New Wave ("Cinema Novo"), by adding mockery to auteurism and allegoric symbolism, aiming at the "carnivalization" of culture with total artistic and financial independence (hence the one-buck budgets). Paradoxically, "Cinema Marginal" -- the opposite of mainstream cinema -- was in fact massively influenced by pop culture (comic strips, pop art, Brazilian popular music especially the Tropicália movement, junk-TV, the Chanchadas, the Cangaço movies, and trash Hollywood and Mexican movies). In other words, metalinguistic cinema with iconoclast spirit, "pop flavor" and sarcastic sense of humor that combined wit, mockery and kitsch.
As often happens with experimental movies, "Matou a Família..." is irregular -- it's alternately interesting and boring, intelligent and silly, impacting and frustrating. But it's a landmark of cinematic artistic independence in Brazil and, 35 years later, still has definite assets: the initial murder sequence; the structural rupture of the "film within the film"; the anarchic spirit that pervades the movie; the beautiful female stars (Márcia Rodrigues, 20, fresh from her star-turn as the "Girl from Ipanema" from Leon Hirszman's 1967 movie, and talented Renata Sorrah, 21, already impressive in her 2nd film); fine support from veteran Rodolfo Arena (who, in 60 seconds and practically with his voice alone, builds a complete character as the murdered father) and Vanda Lacerda (as Sorrah's shrewish mother); VERY bold scenes depicting police torture (remember this was filmed during the black years of Brazilian military regime) and the daring lubric scenes between Rodrigues and Sorrah, in a time when even the mention of the "L-word" was frowned upon. And, as usual with Bressane, his choice of soundtrack is fabulous -- great songs performed by Roberto Carlos, Mário Reis, Francisco Alves, Carmen Miranda and Ray Charles. But fragmentation takes its toll, and it's inevitable that the good parts are better than the whole.
Do watch this if you're into unconventional film-making or if you want to know more about Júlio Bressane's very personal style and Brazilian "Cinema Marginal" movement. Don't watch it if you're allergic to experimentalism and non-sequitur story-telling. My vote: 7 out of 10 (this rating is for the unrestored, scratched copy of the VHS release with TERRIBLE sound mix; it surely will go up when someone decides this historically important Brazilian film deserves a restored and remastered DVD release).
PS: There is a sexploitative, hysterical 1991 remake directed by Neville d'Almeida, which is interesting for completely different reasons, very different in atmosphere, style and objectives, but which carries the same spirit of artistic freedom, Brazilian flavor and mocking iconoclasm that inspired the Cinema Marginal movement (that d'Almeida was originally part of).
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