It is a fundamental law of cinema that any attempt to disturb the rest of the dead will lead to bad karma. It is also a fundamental real-life law of urban living that real estate is scarce, so any under-utilized plots should be scooped up and exploited. The conflict between these two laws leads to serious trouble for an apprentice grave-digger in Juliana Rojas’s Necropolis Symphony, which screens during the new film series, Veredas: a Generation of Brazilian Filmmakers.
Thanks to fleeting mortality, grave-digging is steady work, but poor Deodato probably isn’t cut out for it. His elevated capacity for empathy constantly overwhelms him at grave sites, causing him to pass out. The director hired him as a favor to his Uncle Jaca, a longtime cemetery employee, but he is losing patience. Fortunately for Deodato, the boss has a job requiring the full-time services of an employee, whose day-to-day productivity won’t be missed.
Deodato will assist Jaqueline, a hot-shot trouble-shooter from the Funerary Board, who will be re-organizing the layout of the storied old graveyard. They need more spaces to put bodies—bodies with funeral-paying survivors. Families behind on the upkeep of their plots will be encouraged to move their loved ones to a drawer in the prospective new mausoleum. Jaqueline does not want to say it in so many words, but remains that are forgotten and abandoned will probably just end up in a bag. Despite his hopeless schoolboy crush, this just doesn’t seem right to Deodato. He’s not the only one who feels that way.
By the way, Necropolis Symphony is also a musical, with supernatural elements. In fact, many of the musical-numbers are laugh-out loud funny for those who are somewhat familiar with Brazilian popular song of the last twenty-years or so. For the unhip, the blend of music, bittersweet romance, and the undead is still ridiculously charming (and the songs are still pretty catchy). Compared to Anna and the Apocalypse, Necropolis is much more low-key, but the two films would still make an appealing double feature.
Eduardo Gomes portrays Deodato as a painfully nebbish loser, but he also conveys his sensitive soulfulness. Luciana Paes is wildly entertaining vamping it up as Jaqueline, the leather-clad Emma Peel of funerary bureaucrats. Their chemistry is quite engaging, while Paulo Jordao really brings the tart humor and tunefulness as sly old Jaca. He also gives the film real heart.
Necropolis is a thoroughly appealing film that has been woefully under-screened in the U.S. It also firmly establishes Rojas as a budding genre auteur (Hard Labor, her first film with Marco Dutra was just okay, but their werewolf movie, Good Manners is terrific). This one is still her best and one of the finest representatives of recent Brazilian supernatural cinema. Very highly recommended, Necropolis Symphony screens this Sunday (12/8) as part of Veredas (and it also available on the Spamflix streaming platform).