The filmmaking is nearly as breathtaking as the subject matter in Amir Escandari’s “Pixadores,” a portrait of Sao Paolo’s revolutionary graffiti artists, who tag the tallest buildings in the dark of night, drive more finicky aesthetes insane and are certainly dropping a little equatorial rain on Brazil’s makeover parade: Just as the country is trying to buff up its image in anticipation of this summer’s World Cup and the ’16 Olympics, director Escandari present a portrait of favela life that is alternately hopeless, and exhilarating, but in the end examines an art movement born of anger, want and desperation. If the movie needs a tagline (no pun intended) it could be that Oppression is the Mother of Recklessness. It’s said there’s such thing as bad publicity. Brazil may beg to differ.
And that’s because, given its currency – and the bracing cinematography of Peter Flinckenberg, and Escandari’s amazing access to a world ordinarily cloistered in crime and poverty — “Pixadores” could break out into a global phenom. Escandari captures his subjects in all their unhinged escapades, drug-snorting, in-fighting and family intrigues; he gets them surfing public transportation, scaling the tallest structures in Sao Paolo and slapping a tag, the way Hillary must have conquered Everest. It’s an adventure, a thriller and an in-your-face affront to artistic proprieties: When the movie’s principal quartet of pixadores (their particular brand of tagging is known as pixacao) are invited to the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2012, they immediately start tagging landmark buildings — to the collective outrage of their German hosts.
“What did you expect?” is their response. “Why did you invite us? This is what we do!!” When a petulant paint fight breaks out between curator Artur Żmijewski and the lead pixadore, it constitutes an essay-in-motion about First World posturing and Third World defiance. It’s also slightly hilarious.
The world premiere of “Pixadores,” (Finnish title: “Tuulensieppaajat”), a pan-Nordic co-production with enough co-sponsors to sink an iceberg, took place Saturday, the penultimate day of the Helsinki–based Docpoint festival. On Sunday, the Jussis — a.k.a. the Finnish Oscars – were handed out, six of them going to Pirjo Honkasalo’s “Concrete Night,” including one to DP Flinckenberg, for an effort that may have had its struggles, but didn’t involve scaling unfinished Sao Paolo skyscrapers, or hanging out the windows of speeding Brazilian rail cars.