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Escape and Abstraction

Sofia Foi (Dir.: Pedro Geraldo, 2024, Brazil/SP)

by Pedro Henrique Ferreira

          The title of Sofia Foi (Sofia Left…) reveals two things that reverberate in the film. The first is that the protagonist's destiny is disappearance, fading away, plunging into nothingness, the 'left' of going away. This seems to be the desire of the young USP student right from the start, in the first scene that reveals the omen of a death. The girl takes her dog to a stream and leaves it tied to a tree. In principle, it looks like a walk or a picnic. The camera stays with the dog, and its suicide is relegated to the off-field, to the sound track, which is always filled with the sounds of the environment. There is a disappearance, a plunge with no return. This is somewhat the poetic strategy adopted by the feature film as a whole: Sofia's actions are those of a character in perpetual flight and movement, who jumps walls, crosses borders, leaves apartments, crosses the geographical barriers of the University, sleeps where she needs to, meets someone briefly and leaves. She keeps little or nothing, her wallet is stolen, perhaps her identity with it. A wanderer, at no point does she seem to know exactly where she is going or what she wants. It's just that the director's gaze focuses more on what remains rather than chasing after her - the anodyne spaces of a less urban São Paulo, confined to the USP campus and its woods, to the empty corridors and pilotiers shot during off-peak hours; a whole immobility recorded through a slow rhythmic cadence, full of dead times and silences that are filled by the natural ambience in the soundtrack. The static camera always allows her to disappear, and the reduced window at 1.33 contributes to giving her vanishing points. 

          The second thing that's clear from the title is that it's more about where she's going than where she comes from. We don't know much about her past, her family ties, what she's studying, her dreams and desires, etc. Strictly speaking, we don't even know that much about her feelings. The dramaturgy invests in a more opaque character who eschews any kind of peremptory definition, emphasizes little of her subjectivity, and ignores most of the material dimensions involved in her life. We don't know if she's rich or poor, if she gets tattoos out of necessity or desire, or what she needs or struggles with to survive, etc. All economic relations are immediately ignored to the detriment of the construction of a poetics of abstraction, the portrayal of an enormous anguish that is only justified in a few scenes - in the dialog that talks about her dead friend, or more importantly, in the flashback in which she is dating by the dam where she later kills herself. The dramatic edges are all implicitly built around lost love, because even though her character is on the run, Sofia Foi is at heart a film imbued with nostalgia and the impossibility of forgetting, a work about the memories that are inscribed in matter, carved into the body like the tattoos she makes, or the heart drawn on the stem of the tree. Although he operates on top of a formal languor, from a tone that is both melancholic and tender, it is from this somewhat traditional and bourgeois romantic situation that he draws his affability. That's why his plunge into the weir has nothing properly political about it, nothing about the return to nature against the vilification of civilization (Boudo or Mouchette) or the asceticism of the body transfigured into spirit (Van Sant's Kobain). In fact, what it has of emulation of Van Sant in his formal efforts, it has twice as much as Guadagnino in its worldview.

            Within this scope, Sofia Foi does well. There's something touching about the tableaux of dead times, the lacunar portraits of people and spaces, and the whole vibe of youthful melancholy. However, it's impossible not to notice that all the attention given to building this mood overlooks a certain effort to root the experience in the concrete world of interpersonal, genealogical, economic, etc. relationships. The result is a plunge into the abstract, into the non-world. Perhaps this is why the character runs away, disappears into limbo, because she has never really been anywhere; the only identity data provided is the relationship with the other girl who is also leaving. Of course, Sofia Foi is not alone in this. We've seen a lot of characters like this in recent contemporary Brazilian cinema (all the real neorealist lessons thrown away, the abstraction of the model of more traditional films perpetuating itself in the auteur field by somewhat unlikely means), and it's telling that it received one of the most enthusiastic and warm receptions at Aurora. This is perhaps, ironically, its greatest merit, its ability to condense in a unique way the very abstraction that condemns it. 

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