Friday, June 01, 2012

Found Memories: Time Stands Still in Brazil

Existing in a state of near suspended animation, routine and religion are sufficient to sustain the old tradition-bound inhabitants of Jotuomba.  Brazil’s economic revival has passed them over, but it probably wasn’t welcome anyway.  However, one young backpacking photographer will find a reasonably warm reception there in Júlia Murat’s Found Memories (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Before first light, Madalena bakes the bread she does not particularly like.  She delivers it to Antonio’s customerless coffee shop, where they engage in ritualistic bickering before enjoying the simple pleasure of their morning java.  Then it is off to mass, followed by an early sit-down supper shared by the handful of remaining villagers.  This pattern repeats every day, until Rita’s arrival introduces a slight bit of variation.

Initially, Rita clashes with her headstrong host, but she soon begins to appreciate Madalena’s quiet dignity and grace.  Nostalgic for a past she never lived through, Rita is attracted to the decrepit buildings and weathered townsfolk.  Through their meeting, she might find her destiny, but it will be in no hurry to arrive.

While Murat drops the occasional suggestion of magical realism here and there, Found is very definitely grounded in the hardscrabble environment of Jotuomba.  It is so far removed from the passage of time, the priest has locked the cemetery, a detail dripping with significance.  Often filmed by the light of gas lamps, Lucio Bonelli’s cinematography has the warm chiaroscuro glow of the old masters.  Viewers can practically feel the heat, even at night, and smell the coffee beans in the morning.  It might move at a slow pace, but Murat’s film is very definitely headed someplace specific, with intent.

As Madalena, Sonia Guedes conveys a lifetime’s worth of hardship, with poise and subtlety.  It is a wonderfully earthy, unpretentious performance.  The same is true for Luiz Serra’s deeply compassionate and rather touching turn as the prickly Antonio.  While Lisa A. Fávero’s Rita is a bit of a pill at times, watching her and the villagers warm to each other is oddly engrossing.

Found is likely to frustrate casual viewers with its deliberate tempo and coy approach to potentially fantastical elements.  It looks great though and boasts several remarkably natural performances.  Given the eleventh hour decision of Brazilian state petroleum giant Petrobras (the potential recipient of controversial U.S. Export-Import Bank loans) to withdraw funding from the New York edition of the Brazilian film festival bearing its name has resulted in the cancellation of this year’s fest (save for the Central Park kick-off screening of rock doc Raul), the timely release of Found will still allow City cineastes to get a bit of their Brazilian fix.  Recommended with respect for hardcore art-house patrons, Found Memories opens today (6/1) at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, followed by a San Francisco Film Society engagement the week of 6/22-6/28, courtesy of Film Movement.