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This Celebrated Brazilian Director Makes Architecture a Character in his Movies

Gregorio Graziosi discusses his unique and often experimental films that are being celebrated around the world.

"Monumento"

“Monumento”

courtesy of the filmmaker

This article was produced as part of the Locarno Critics Academy, a workshop for aspiring journalists at the Locarno Film Festival, a collaboration between the Locarno Film Festival, IndieWire and the Film Society of Lincoln Center with the support of Film Comment and the Swiss Alliance of Film Journalists. The following interview, conducted by a member of the Critics Academy, focuses on a participant in the affiliated Filmmakers Academy program at the festival.

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Gregorio Graziosi, a young Brazilian filmmaker from São Paulo, has unique cinematic approach: His films feature buildings and architectural elements that are as important to the story as his main characters.

His experimental and documentary short films have been celebrated around the world, having been featured at top festivals like TIFF, Cannes and Locarno. Despite his young age, he’s even received a retrospective at the esteemed French Cinématheque in Paris, where the audience could track the evolution of his work from his first documentary short, “Saba,” to his experimental short films “Saltos” and “Monumento,” to his black and white feature, “Obra,” to his most recent work, “Graziosi,” which captures the essence of his hometown.

IndieWire met him before the screening of “Monumento” at the Locarno Film Festival to talk about what influences and motivates his unique style.

Where are you from?

I’m a very urban guy. I was born and raised in São Paulo. The city is so huge you can easily get lost or spend hours in the car to travel from one place to another. For the past ten years I’ve been traveling the world with my movies, which I think completely changed my perspective of the city, as every time I come back, I notice there are lots of hidden narratives to be told.

How would you describe São Paulo?

The last films I made, all shot in that city, are black and white. It simply was the best way to express the city — São Paulo is pretty much black and white. To me, São Paulo is a pressure box. The atmosphere in my films tries to give a sense of that. São Paulo is, as many other cities, trying to sell another image, fitting the clichéd picture people might have of Brazil. The world thinks of Brazilians as partying at the beach all year long, but in fact the people that live in these buildings are rather introspective. Wim Wenders once said in a lecture that São Paulo is “the city of the future that aged.”  If you look at the templates of Metropolis and São Paulo, it seems pretty much the same.

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How and when did you start being interested in film?

I first applied to architecture school, [but] realized that it wasn’t my thing and then started studying cinema. My family was strongly against me going to film school, but I was lucky enough to have my first shorts screened in renowned festivals like Cannes or here in Locarno.

I remember watching old Italian movies with my whole family on a television so small that we all had to cram in front of it. My father used to make impersonations of the characters and imitate their accents. Additionally, the Cinématheque moved very close to my house. I could even go there by foot, which was another privilege in São Paulo.

"Orba"

“Orba”

courtesy of the filmmaker

Architecture obviously plays an essential role in your films, as we can see in your short film “Monumento” and your first feature “Obra.”

Yes, architecture really fascinates me. I’ve grown up in a small house in São Paulo — living in a house in São Paulo is very unique and a real privilege. The city is extremely dense and polluted, the sky is covered in smog, the buildings are high and as the city is not very safe, I spent a lot of time at home. That is probably why I frame like I do, between walls and windows. I am particularly interested in how light enters those closed spaces – when you are always surrounded by buildings without seeing the sky, that surely changes your perspective.

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I used to draw a lot before filming and I wanted to [capture] the relation between interior and exterior. In my movies, there are windows, but the characters are trapped, also by sound. I wanted to push the pressure to an extreme. In cubism, Mondrian and Picasso were painting without perspective and that reminds me of São Paulo’s skyline. I also put background and people on the same scale: To me, there is no hierarchy of images between buildings and characters.

We were wondering how you shoot, is it ever spontaneous? Because your images are often symmetrical and highly constructed.

In my films, a lot of emotions are expressed through the relationship of people to space, like in a painting. I rarely use close-ups, but try to convey a strong feeling of the city itself. Before shooting, I always draw the scenes, the feeling they evoke and only once I am on spot with the actors, I decide on the framing. I know that it looks like I do it the other way around.

Can you tell us something about the next film you are working on?

The next film will, again, be about a character in space, this time a girl who is a high diver. This sport demands a lot of equilibrium and courage. She has a terrible accident because of her tinnitus, a hard to be cured disease that affects her as much emotionally as physically. She stops sports and lives on tranquilizers before she suddenly gets attracted by a younger generation of athletes trying to seduce her to come back to what she loves. When she does, the tinnitus strikes hard, she has got this enemy inside her that she can not beat. These athletes always feel fear and they get addicted to it. After Locarno, I will go to Rio and watch the last high diving competitions. What you see on TV is just a short fragment of seconds, but most of the tension and anxiety happens before the dive itself – it’s just like making a movie. What is happening before is necessary, agitating and a lot of suspense but you don’t see that on screen.

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