Amor, Plástico e Barulho could be construed as a tropical take on A Star Is Born about a star on the way up and another on the way down - only nobody in its tale could actually be called a proper star outside the reasonably small scene where everything happens. It could also be a less cruel version of King of Comedy, except these resolutely small-time rural singers never really make it to the big time.
Sort of a rags-to-rags story whose stars never really reach the riches they're aiming for, the feature debut from Brazilian director Renata Pinheiro is actually something else - That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks' tale of the meteoric rise and fall of an American pop band in the early sixties, reconfigured for the world of Northern Brazilian rural bands peddling cheap, bawdy, backing-tape titillation at local dances and daytime television. Success, here, isn't measured nationally or globally, but just at regional levels, with everyone working hard and struggling just to stand still.
Ms. Pinheiro's project never condescends, pities or makes fun of its two lead characters, competing singers in one such band who cross paths at different stages of their careers. Jaqueline (Maeve Jinkings) has reached "the top" and has a recognisable hit on her hands, but soon finds out there's really nowhere else to go, unable to parlay that small popularity into bigger, more solid gigs. Shelly (Nash Laila), on the other hand, is the new backing dancer whose big break comes at the expense of Jaqueline and seems all set to groom her to follow her up.
The director shows just how much work goes into making it even to a rickety, improvised stage at a derelict warehouse, and uses it to highlight both the allure and the disappointment of such ambitions. "Fame", here, is merely an endless treadmill of wannabes that replace each other in a never-ending assembly line, feeding on dreams that are seemingly bound to be dashed. Jaqueline and Shelly are working girls vying for the preferences of the small time DJ or band leader, aspiring to make it out of the circuit but in truth never realising that, if they do, they'll just get to a new level of the very same circuit.
Ms. Pinheiro's camera never loses sight of the big picture surrounding the two women, while playing it straight as a character study about people making do with the raw hand they've been dealt. And she does so with a bitter-sweet yet vibrant, colourful energy that is respectful of both characters and background. Amor, Plástico e Barulho finds the exact sweet spot between giving up and moving forward, critiquing and understanding, shedding light on a small microcosm that turns out to be very significative of the world that surrounds it. It's yet another stellar example of the vibrant new cinema coming out of Brazil.
AMOR, PLÁSTICO E BARULHO
Cast Nash Laila, Maeve Jinkings, Samuel Vieira, Leo Pyrata
Director Renata Pinheiro; screenwriters Ms. Pinheiro and Sérgio Oliveira, with collaboration from Ezequiel Peri and René Guerra; cinematographer Fernando Lockett (colour); composers DJ Dolores and Yuri Queiroga; art director Dani Vilela; costumes Joana Gatis; editor Eva Randolph; production company Aroma Filmes in co-production with Boulevard Filmes
Screened April 20th 2014, Lisbon (IndieLisboa 2014 official competition screener)