Friday, May 30, 2014

BRAFF NY ’14: The Invisible Collection

It was hyperinflation that laid once noble Saxon families low in Stefan Zweig’s short story. In Bernard Attal’s Brazilian adaptation, it is a fungal pestilence known as the “Witches Broom” that has ravaged plantations in Bahia. Yet collectors still collect, obsessively. A young art dealer will seek the rare prints his father sold to an eccentric customer, but the old man’s family will have none of him in Attal’s The Invisible Collection (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Brazilian Film Festival in New York.

In a departure from Zweig, Beto is a former DJ, whose high flying party world came crashing down when an SUV full of his closest friends died in a traffic accident. As a strange attempt to rouse her deflated son, Dona Iolanda suddenly reveals the precarious state of their finances. Yet, it sort of works, especially when an old colleague drops by with word an American curator will pay top dollar for a formerly obscure artist’s work. It turns out his father sold several such pieces to Samir Loedy, an eccentric cocoa plantation owner in Itajuípe.

Having faith in his charm, Beto sets out to reacquire the prints and flip them to the American, but Loedy’s wife Dona Clara and daughter Saada are not taken in. A game of wits ensues, as Beto struggles to make contact with Don Samir, scrambling to evade the strong, forceful women of the plantation.

Considering the original source material is a brief O. Henryesque tale, Attal’s feature treatment (co-written with Sérgio Machado and Iziane Mascarenhas) nicely expands and Brazilianizes the story in ways that feel natural and logical. Even though it sounds like a cliché on paper, the halting attraction between the urban hipster and the earthy, gun-toting Saada is particularly well turned by Vladimir Brichta and Ludmila Rosa, respectively.

Frankly, Brichta is a bit of a bland playboy in his scenes without Rosa, but he is evidently quite the thing with teenage Brazilian girls, so here he is. As Dona Clara, Clarisse Abujamra brings real grace and dignity to the film, while Walmor Chagas deftly avoids overplaying the blind and somewhat muddled Loedy. Still, we really did not need the plucky shanty kid who appoints himself Beto’s personal tour guide (that is one overused convention Attal and company are not able to appreciably freshen up).

Attal, the French transplant, has documented the very real Witches Broom outbreak in a previous film, so he is highly attuned to its devastating effects. As a result, he strikingly captures the beauty and the blight of the Bahia region. Still, the vibe is not radically different from that of Zweig (who took his own life while living as a political émigré in Brazil).

Attal’s take also comes amid the blossoming of a mini-cinematic renaissance for Zweig’s work. In addition to Patrice Leconte’s faithful but bloodless adaptation of A Promise, Zweig’s oeuvre was an inspiration for the Grand Budapest Hotel. More than a footnote to this trend, Attal’s Collection is a rather thoughtful blend of old and new world sensibilities. Recommended for literate audiences, The Invisible Collection screens this coming Tuesday (6/2) and next Friday (6/6) as part of this year’s Brazilian Film Festival in New York.