Monday, October 08, 2007

Literature into Film

Yesterday I went along to see two films set in nineteenth century Rio; both part of the Barbican's season of Brazilian movies which have scripts adapted from literature.

The first of these was Memórias Póstumas (2001) taken from The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, the classic novel by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, which most Brazilians get to read at school.

The second was O Xangô de Baker Street (also made in 2001 and translated as A Samba for Sherlock), a rather silly caper that originated as a novel by Brazilian talk-show host Jô Soares. In it a rather bumbling Sherlock Holmes, played by Joaquim de Almeida is invited to Rio to help solve a crime that involves a missing Stradivarius and an increasing number of carved-up females. He may not uncover the murderer's identity but he does appear to start a fashion for light linen suits and along the way invents the caipirinha.

The scenes involving substances that are banned today and Dr Watson being possessed by a female orixa are very drôle. "Is he effeminate?" the shaman asks Holmes. "No, he's English," the detective responds. ("And you thought Swimming Pool was a piss-take of the English," TC chuckled afterwards.)

Memórias Póstumas begins with a dead man proposing to take his audience back through the significant moments of his 'full' life. We then see how Bras Cubas has pursued rogueish mediocrity as a lifestyle choice, but was obsessing about finally making a contribution to mankind when an unfortunate gust of wind laid him low with terminal pneumonia at the age of 65.

He has lived and died in a country which has many of the forms, but hardly any of the substance of elite European culture. In this context we see that Bras Cubas' approach to life is as good as any of the others we see around him. "At least I didn't have children," is his bleak final observation.

Afterwards the director André Klotzel fielded questions from the audience. One man, a rather obvious Latin America groupie, couldn't quite understand why such a notoriously hedonistic nation would include a work of such bitter irony in its standard formation. TC reminded me afterwards however. that an appreciation of the essential crapness of life is of course a necessary component of Latin joie-de-vivre.

She told Klotzel that she was impressed with the way he used nineteenth century artworks as an alternative to expensive period-scenes in the streets of Rio. Personally, I enjoyed the way the sex scene (above) was handled, with the couple cavorting out of focus with the embarrassed-looking ghost of Bras Cubas loitering in the foreground. Klotzel says his next movie will be about the secret life of a food blender.

I'm pretty fond of the Barbican nowadays. I always used to jest that I could only find it when I wasn't trying, but for the past couple of years I have only ever lost my bearings on the inside. TC says that the architecture evokes urban desolation for her. Maybe I was in a good mood yesterday, but instead I perceive the drama of romantic ruin within its brute early 70s, futuristic forms.

The Conservatory, with its two giant bourgainvillea, bizarre Brazilian ficuses and florifundia (plus the carp that appear too fat to even swim) takes me straight back to Silent Running. All that's missing are the rings of Saturn.

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