102 minutes

Some films are just too singular to fit neatly into well-defined shelves, and Brazilian director Esmir Filho's feature debut is striking enough to stand on its own two feet outside any and all sort of genre categorisations. A sensory, atmospheric take on the teenage movie that transplants late-period Gus van Sant's free-floating high-school anomie and Antonio Campos' formalist aesthetics into the sparse rural territories of Lucrecia Martel, Os Famosos e os Duendes da Morte can be infuriatingly solipsistic and tends to take refuge far too often in navel-gazing (there are a couple of family scenes straight out of Canadian whizkid Xavier Dolan's petulant tantrums). But all is redeemed through Mr. Filho's heart-on-sleeve sincerity and, especially, his outstanding formal control in widescreen lensing and editing, creating an otherworldly feel for this small town tale of moody adolescence set in rural Brazil.

     Although based in the loosely autobiographical book by Ismael Caneppele (whom Mr. Filho actually cast in one of the lead roles, all of them filled by locals with no previous acting experience), there's little to no plot in the wanderings of lonely high-schooler Henrique Larré through his Rio Grande do Sul small town, obsessed with both the music of Bob Dylan and the online photos and videos left behind by a morbid local girl. The film touches at the same time on the obsessive desire to leave your small town for the big city and the need to feel accepted and belong somewhere, and on the deceiving sense of proximity that the internet has brought: most everyone in this film is connected by modern technologies that leave them as lonely as ever, if not more so.

     Mr. Filho's dazzling visual talents, however, aren't yet extended to narrative, and are not enough to sustain interest in a wispy plot for a feature film length. But this is most definitely an unusual debut for a filmmaker clearly attuned to the leading edge of contemporary arthouse cinema from Latin America and the USA; and the sense of a director in control of his material is all there.

Starring Henrique Larré, Ismael Caneppele, Tuane Eggers, Samuel Reginatto, Áurea Baptista.
     Directed by Esmir Filho; produced by Sara Silveira and Maria Ionescu; screenplay by mr. Filho and mr. Caneppele, based on the novel by mr. Caneppele, Os Famosos e os Duendes da Morte; music by Nelo Johann; director of photography (colour, widescreen), Mauro Pinheiro Jr.; art director, Marcelo Escañuela; costume designer, Andrea Simonetti; film editor, Carolina Leone.
     A Petrobrás Cultural Programme presentation of a Dezenove Som e Imagens/Sara Silveira—Maria Ionescu production in co-production with Umedia, with financing from the Brazilian National Cinema Agency; with support from the Cultural Action Programme of the State Government of São Paulo Culture Secretariat; with the participation of Fonds Sud Cinéma, French National Centre for Cinema, French Ministries of Culture and Communication and Foreign and European Affairs. (Brazilian distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures Brazil. World sales, Umedia.)
     Screened: distributor advance DVD screener (Lisbon), September 11th 2011. 


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