Sao Paulo may not have the glittering beaches of rival Rio de Janeiro, but what it lacks in natural beauty in makes up for with a cosmopolitan culture that could only thrive in one of the world's largest metropolises. The crown jewel of the city's busy film scene is the annual Mostra BR de Cinema (Sao Paulo International Film Festival), which celebrated its 29th year with a program of over 350 films from October 21 to November 3. The oldest Brazilian festival of its kind and certainly one of the largest festivals in the region, the Mostra BR celebrated its latest edition by offering a veritable treasure of foreign and domestic films spread over Sao Paulo in 16 different locations.
Unlike many large film festivals, the Mostra BR's program is decidedly sparse when it comes to parties - at this event, audiences and organizers prefer to focus on the films and not the socializing. An exception to the rule was the glitzy, star-studded opening night, which was held in the iconic Memorial da America Latina with the Guy Maddin/Isabella Rossellini short "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" (an homage to Isabella's father Roberto Rossellini, who would be 100 years old if he were still alive) and the George Clooney feature "Good Night, and Good Luck." The Rossellinis, father and daugher, had a strong presence at this year's festival - in addition to her short, Isabella designed the official Mostra BR poster, and Roberto was given a retrospective of his celebrated forays into neo-realism with films like "Roma," "Open City" (1945). Silent film director and actor Victor Sjoestroem was also the recipient of a large retrospective, highlighting his extensive filmography with classics like "Love's Crucible" (1922) and "The Wind" (1928). Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira showed no signs of stopping at 95 years old and made the trip to Brazil to accompany his new film "Magic Mirror," rounding off an impressive program of 35 of his features that were shown in a retrospective of his work at this year's Mostra BR.
As for contemporary films, two Cannes features - Sergio Machado's Cidade Baixa ("Lower City"), referring to part of the Bahian capital of Salvador) and Marcelo Gomes' Cinema, Aspirinas e Urubus ("Cinema, Aspirin, and Vultures"), the first Brazilian film to win the festival's top prize) - were given a warm homecoming. The festival premiere of "Cidade Baixa" marked the opening of a lavishly refurbished Cine Bombril, the Mostra BR's new central theater and the site of daily discussions at the Clube da Mostra, in the heart of Sao Paulo at Avenida Paulista and Rua Augusta. The feature "Crime Delicado" ("Delicate Crime") also had its much anticipated premiere at Cine Bombril, drawing in a high profile audience curious about Beto Brant's new film, which proved to be a radical departure both in style and form from 2002's "O Invasor" (winner of the Latin America Cinema Award at Sundance).
An unlikely highlight of the 29th Mostra BR's lineup turned out to be Paulo Betti and Clovis Bueno's Cafundo for its startlingly eclectic portrayal of Brazilian mysticism. In the film, Lazaro Ramos ("Madame Sata," "O Homem Que Copiava") plays the legendary Joao de Camargo, a former slave who became famous by combining Brazil's African and Judeo-Christian roots to create a new spiritual language for his followers. Ramos recently won the award for best actor at the Festival de Gramado for his performance, and with a total of four films at the Mostra BR ("Cafundo," "Cidade Baixa," "A Maquina," and the short film "Desejo)" he was in many ways the star of the festival. Just how popular is Ramos with enthusiasts of Brazilian cinema? On opening night, he was called to stage amongst a chorus of cheers to participate in the ceremonies, a privilege reserved for no other actor.
A Mostra BR celebrity of a different sort was Fernando Meirelles ("City of God," "The Constant Gardener)," who sat on this year's jury and participated in a panel discussion with colleagues from his production company, O2 Filmes. Commenting on O2's growing influence in recent years, director Paulo Morelli told audiences that "Meirelles' international success is good for all of us. Through his success, he is able to assist in new projects by new filmmakers." Among these new projects is O2's "Ginga," directed by Hank Levine, Marcelo Machado, and Tocha Alves, which was part of this year's Mostra BR. As part of the eight member jury, Meirelles and his co-jurors were responsible for judging the films in competition that were most voted by the public, which among fiction films included "Adam's Apples," the Mexican submission for the 2006 Oscars "Al Otro Lado," A Maquina, Cafundo, "Cidade Baixa," "Cinema, Aspirinas e Urubus," the Berlinale prize-winner "Peacock," "Everything Is Illuminated," Danis Tanovic's "L'Enfer," and "Kontakt."
A bevy of international films that have been making waves worldwide arrived at the Mostra BR with marked anticipation. Wong Kar-Wai's newest work, 2046, received mixed reviews, leaving some audience members enamored while others felt baffled or disappointed. The latest Cannes darlings "L'Enfant" and "Cache" made their rounds, while the three screenings of Lars von Trier's "Manderlay" sold out almost instantly as did the two simultaneous screenings of Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" (the only film that did not have multiple screening times, causing many festival-goers to miss the movie, which has no set release date in Brazil). Two beloved Canadian directors, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan (the Canadian director most often included in the Mostra BR), made showings with "A History of Violence" and "Where the Truth Lies." One of the films that seemed to excite audiences the most was Hany Abu-Assad's engaging "Paradise Now," which gained steady word of mouth throughout the festival. Notable but decidedly less hyped films included Fruit Chan's "Dumplings" (with cinematography by the celebrated Christopher Doyle), Ning Hao's "Mongolian Ping Pong," Aron Gauder's "South Park"-style Nyocker!, and Joao Pedro Rodrigues' "Odete."
29th Mostra BR de Cinema Award Winners:
INTERNATIONAL JURY AWARD
Best Film: "Cinema, Aspirinas, e Urubus" - Marcelo Gomes, Brazil
Best Screenplay: "Everything Is Illuminated" - Liev Schreiber,
USA Special Direction and Illumination Prize: "Peacock" - Gu Chang-wei, China
Best Documentary: "Pro Dia Nascer Feliz" ("For a Better Day") - Joao Jardim, Brazil
Best Actor: Joao Miguel - "Cinema, Aspirinas, e Urubus"
Best Brazilian Film: "Cinema, Aspirinas, e Urubus" - Marcelo Gomes, Brazil
Best International Film: "The World" - Jia Zhang-ke, China
Honorable Mention: Jon Wengstrom, curator of the film archive of the Swedish Film Institute, responsible for the restoration and reunion of the work of Swedish filmmaker Victor Sjoestroem
Best Foreign Fiction: "Adam's Apples" -- Anders Thomas Jensen, Denmark
Best Brazilian Fiction: "Quarta B" -- Marcelo Galvao
Best Foreign Documentary: "Bergman Och Filmen, Bergman Och Teatern, Bergman Och Faroe" - Marie Nyreroed, Sweden
Best Brazilian Short: "O Caderno Rosa de Loy Lamby" - Sung Sfai
Best Foreign Short: "My Humanity" - Daniel Skaf, USA
Best Foreign Media: "Coup D'Etat Contre Hugo Chavez" - Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Brien, France Best Brazilian Media: "Tinta Fresca "- Paula Alzugaray and Ricardo van Steen
"Humanidade" Award: Eduardo Coutinho
[Michael Gibbons is filing occasional Dispatches from Brazil for indieWIRE. He is currently based in Sao Paulo.]