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To Sink your Feet in the Sand
with a Machine Gun in your Hand

Endless Passions (2022)

by Pedro Henrique Ferreira

          The beginning: a Portuguese man descending from a barge to a small boat, transported through the vastness of the sea, could be the image synthesis of Endless Passions (2022). It could also be the image synthesizing the wasteful South American heritage, the remnants of Western-European civilization that, for who knows why, came to run aground here. There is, in the transition between the boats, a whole delirium of grandiloquence transformed into improvised precariousness in the middle of beautiful nature. Raulino (Pedro Barreiro) crossed lands and seas looking for his love, and arrived only to find himself rejected. Now he has decided to stay, here in paradise, with another half dozen people who have nothing to do, in a bar set up on a beautiful beach for a few stumps of wood. What to do in this place then?


        The obsession with the figure of the foreigner who sets foot on national soil has haunted Ana Carolina's cinema since Amélia (2000) and Gregório de Mattos (2002), for example, but it is with her immediately preceding work that, in effect, Endless Passions constitutes a kind of diptych, a coin flip. While in Primeira Missa ou Tristes Trópicos, Enganos e Urucum (2014), the stage premise was to reconstitute the founding myth in a studio, in a forest of artificial undergrowth, disguised as Victor Meirelles' painting - and for this, opting for a metalinguistic film about a filmmaker's delusions of grandeur struggling less with the landscape of the country (since he controls it), and more with the unconscious and the cultural and ideological lines of force that cross it, to impose his ill-fated version of the national invention - in Endless Passions, Ana Carolina does the opposite path: she jumps from the studios to a wide, deserted, fatuous beach, where the tent-armed civilization that appears, here and there, is little more than an improvised little tent in the middle of a paradisiacal nature, where men lock themselves in and chat, drink and. .. fight.


         An addendum is needed to highlight something in this device. It is not merely a matter of decor. For, if in the Iberian culture, the symbol of the sea appears as a metaphor of seduction to the other side of its reach, a vision of an attraction to power, and at the same time, fear, because it takes courage and resilience to face the obstacles of great navigations (see Camões' 'everything is worthwhile if the soul is not small'); for us, Brazilians, the beach is our backyard - a place where we return almost daily to sink our feet in the sand and prostrate ourselves, with no expectation of leaving. 'Laziness', as the modernists said? A little, perhaps, but not only that. For the coexistence among those foreigners (a Portuguese, a French woman, an Argentinean, etc.) is anything but peaceful and relaxed. They spend the day fighting over their values and beliefs, unconscious remnants of the passions that motivated their migrations; perhaps of struggles that are not ours, but that cross us. And that, precisely because of their distance and ineffectiveness with a terrain of reality, become not much more than agitated Vasco-Flamengo supporters (in an excellent parallel with the political life of the country in the last decade).


         Endless Passions seems to indicate that the inertia of the characters here is also the result of a feeling of generalized impotence and non-participation in world affairs that crosses us (hence the portrayal of a Brazil at the dawn of a war that is not ours either), a continent made of extractive massacres, but also of another completely absurd premise - the leftovers of an atavistic and defeated Europe (and not only of it), left to itself in a paradisiacal soil. This is what the décor device also seems to tell us: the imaginary of the Americas as a tropical, virgin, and libidinal paradise is quickly transmuted into existential limbo when the initial objective has not been achieved. The 'conquistadores' here are simply left alone. Nothing gets done here, but it's not as if this is a simple eulogy of calmness and an anti-modern time and rhythm characteristic of the Latin American, for the impetus and call to action spills over into neuroses. This is it: the passions of yesterday that recur in today's bodies are neuroses. The people here, if they can't wield machine guns and do politics, what do they do? The answer is simple: they talk.


       The verbose dramaturgy of Endless Passions stems somewhat from this existential condition, less a psychoanalysis of its characters, and more a ventriloquist writing, the pure surrealistic psychic automatism. Or tropicalist, Artaud embellished through Glauber Rocha. Except that no one actually has a fever, nasal congestion, or anything of the sort. The beach is an empty stage for expression, and Ana Carolina's camera registers the movement, intonation, and micro-affectations of the actors as they sensitively recite their beliefs in this free space for creation. But the play with its own resources is evidently a way of perverting them: nobody hears anybody, everything that is said sounds out of place, far from the center from where it comes from, on that beach that is there, unaware of all the declamation. In the same way, among themselves, none of them can be heard. They roar alone, in the distance, about virtues and values. And if, initially, Ana Carolina's gaze nurtures some veneration for this dramaturgical form, quickly all the characters and their supposed ethics and values turn out to be scatterbrained things.


          A very important addendum: in the trilogy composed of Sea of Roses (1977), Hearts and Guts (1982) and Sonho de Valsa (1987), the verbiage and playful word games (which also composed the titles of the films) were faced with expiatory images, of confrontation with the most pudacious status quo through a complete liberation of libido and desire to the point of seemingly being vile; After them, in the feature films she directed in the early 2000s, the excess of the word became a poetic outflow, equally liberating, in a world that was too gray and harsh of the neoliberal Brazil of the nineties. Now, first in Primeira Missa, and then in Endless Passions, the words spin around themselves, they can be taken neither seriously nor literally. They reveal or confront very little. The same dramaturgical key as before seems empty in the face of the distance between word/feeling and the real/material condition from which it comes - there is no Trotskyism or Salazarism on the beach that justifies taking seriously what is said and why one fights - and for this reason, the swankiness gains the air of a farce. The disconnection between what is said and where it is alluded to creates a comic short-circuit in Endless Passions, which makes the dramaturgy become, full of cackets, practically a 'chanchada'. Even the supposedly serious things - by way of illustration, the scene in which Thérèse Cremiaux drops a rock on Danilo Grangheia's head and kills him - turn into satirical soap opera skits such as Uga Uga. Ana Carolina eventually started from Brecht or Artaud, to come to the conclusion that Brazil is more like José do Patrocínio Filho or Aluísio Azevedo.


        'Chanchada' was, however, a genre of social conciliation. Endless Passions is more about the impossibility of a common world. The allusion to actuality that makes that island in 1939 is less a direct mirror than a kind of genealogy of the Brazil that put us here, eternal stevedores of foreign ideologies, living the farce of a war that is not ours (and yet, as we know, kills), fighting among themselves on a quiet beach just before the times of horror. A bit like the bourgeois in The Rules of the Game (1939), playing hunting in an isolated mansion on vacation, just before the cataclysm that, unknowingly, was produced by this very same social class; the result of the ‘historical crises of lie’ that Paulo Arantes noticed in Renoir's film. The beach urges to be a space of open possibilities for the production of new social meanings [like, e.g., Jancso's pusztas in Red Psalm (1972)], but the agents in it are left to recycle the problems of the old world. To the point that it's a little hard not to root for everyone there to just kill themselves.


          The problem with Endless Passions is much less the scenic device or the somewhat anachronistic dramaturgical play of which the feature makes use; rather, the fact that these resources that build a film so singular (and for this reason grateful) to the standard of current national production sound - like the ideological theses of its characters - 'better on paper than on the beach'. The resources contribute enormously to such a singular reading of Brazil's political moment, but what counts a lot in cinema, the experience of fruition of the result of these strategies, leaves Endless Passions well below Ana Carolina's impressive previous works. Far from absolute boredom, but nowhere near the moments of rapture that one of our great directors has produced.

 October, 2022

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