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Friendship at the community

Cervejas no Escuro (Tiago A. Neves, 2023, PB)

by Pedro Henrique Ferreira

             After the death of her husband, Edna (Edna Maria) goes out for beer with a group of friends. The light in the bar goes out, and they continue sitting there, pouring. When everything lights up again, the widow decides that she needs to make a film to participate in a film festival in the region. Deeply moved, her friends and family decide to mobilize the district of Princesa Isabel, in Pernambuco, to help her. This is the premise of Cervejas no Escuro [Beers in the Dark]. The plot of Edna's film would be a portrait of her relationship with the deceased and a way to release her grief to transform it into an image. Everything goes wrong. And so, the team decides to stage the episode of Princesa Revolt in 1930, a landmark event in the city's history, when it declared independence from the state.

              From the formal point of view, it is immediately evident that Tiago A. Neves' feature film emulates a style that is somewhat lacking – the shaky and faltering camera, the framing with an excess or lack of ceiling, the somewhat loose script, based on metalinguistic artifice, the sound poorly captured and without a rigorous mix, the dramaturgy a bit rigid. The recrudescence serves to approach the universe it portrays, a community ethos in the city of Princesa, somewhat ordinary people going after distant dreams and doing their best to conquer them. In short, the rhythm and spirit of collective life in a suburban neighborhood, with poorer characters, somewhat comical and affable scenes about them and their relationships. A distant cousin of Long Way Home (André Novais Oliveira, 2018) or Island (Ary Rosa and Glenda Nicácio, 2018), less inventive than both, but another film whose added value is found in these daily intervals, gaps in ordinary life, which also leave the narrative loose, test its elasticity, propose sudden turns and unexpected directions in the unfolding of the plot. The interest of the feature film lies precisely in these aspects.

              Vermelho Bruto (Amanda Devulsky, 2023) and Cervejas no Escuro could not be more antipodal (one, a serious chord, experimental documentary with domestic archive material, the other, a well stripped down metalinguistic comedy) and yet there is a not very obvious similarity that, seeing them side by side in the same session of the Tiradentes Film Festival, becomes remarkable: they are both efforts to articulate individual experience/memory and episodes of a macro-history. Here the game is to bring together a landmark date in the history of the town – the Princesa Revolt – with the personal past of the character who makes a film to tell his own micro-history. The interesting thing is that this 'approximation' does not generate confluence, but deviation – she gives up one film to make another, and ends up making both in one. But they don't stick together, they don't 'converge' – you have to leave one to enter the other. They fight; and there is no better metaphor for this situation than the occasion when one of Edna's friends interrupts the filming to criticize the historian in front of the cameras who, in a polite tone, describes an objective history of the city. This effect of divergence emphasizes the fact that by encapsulating a non-hegemonic experience of life, Cervejas no Escuro does not want to dispute the narrative of macro-history, but rather to affirm the autonomy of personal experience, the whole as a kaleidoscopic multiplicity of personal and collective experiences. This extreme singularity of individual experience generates some comic gags, as, for example, when Edna asks two actors to make a passion scene between her and her husband with the customs of her time, and as it happened in her memory, and the two only manage to make the catch in their own way.

              This same dynamic also generates another kind of joke upon which the feature film is sustained and which seems to me to be perhaps the film's most significant proposition: the dynamic between cinematic art as an individual and collective achievement (a theme that is somehow in tune with the cracked organization between the whole of the municipality and Edna's dream). How can cinema be a fundamentally collective art (one lends the camera, the other organizes the set) at the same time as the meager illustration of someone's individual grief? It's less about the burden of economic difficulties (they arise, but they are not paralyzing; they can be dribbled out with a phone call or two) and more about the obstacles and setbacks that 'intimacy is fuck' generates, the vicissitudes of an art that demands, primarily, from the ensemble that always distorts (redirects, molds?) the initial purpose. So, a disguised praise of isolation and group recrudescence? Not quite.


                Cervejas no Escuro is more like the answer gave by Howard Hawks to Fred Zinnemann in the opening scene of Rio Bravo (1959): friends are trouble, but you can't do it all by yourself. When Edna lets go of the film, gives up, and goes to watch her soap opera, it is up to the others to finish it, to enter it in the festival, to complete someone else's dream of giving shape to her grief. It is not that the mambembe aesthetic serves the purpose of a discourse on the difficulties of making a film, nor that it gives the film an air of grace about 'going wrong' in the making of a film, as much as adding the seminal work of concluding it to the meddling of the collective that generates the comic gags, (she will present the award to another contestant who defends an extra-cinematographic cause, then receive the keys to her new house from someone else), and the dynamics of barter, solidarity, and mutual help that, here and there, get things rolling in a haphazard way. An ethic of 'if nobody does it for us, we do it'. Now, but then, wouldn't community life as a form of mutual help, distant from the State, have something to do with the independence of the 1930s, wouldn't the theme of the two different things have some kind of common elective affinity? Maybe so, but also maybe not. And Cervejas no Escuro could be a proposition of a collective film after all? Maybe yes, maybe no. Rather than asking this kind of question, the best thing in front of the screen is to enjoy this simple, sometimes strange and unexpected, but quite contented, a frankenstein as much as possible.

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