Saturday, May 09, 2020

Tribeca ’20: Pacified

The views from Rio’s favelas are worth millions of Reais, but no developer would think of venturing inside. Periodically, the BOPE (the cops from Elite Squad) launch incursions, but they never stay long. Instead, the local gang leader functions as the law. In Tati’s favela, her semi-estranged father Jaca was known for arbitrating neighborhood disputes fairly. His young, punky successor—not so much. That is why everyone is looking forward to him reclaiming the leadership role he no longer wants in Gringo filmmaker Paxton Winters’ Portuguese language film, Pacified, produced by Darren Aronofsky, which would have screened at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, had it not been canceled due to the CCP’s deceit and disregard for human life, along with the WHO’s complicity.

Tati is even moodier and more alienated than most teenagers, but her mother keeps telling her things will get better with the impending release of her “father,” real name Jose Ferreira. The Olympics Games are over and everyone is getting back to normal. However, the big bosses are content with the ruthless Nelson running the favela and Jaca is also perfectly okay with it. Nevertheless, residents keep coming to him with their problems.

Frankly, Jaca has plenty of his own troubles. His brother Dudu has badly mismanaged one of Nelson’s bocas, while also struggling with drug abuse and depression. Tati’s mother Andrea is probably even more addicted. However, he is starting to appreciate Tati’s intelligence and resilience, despite the rumors regarding her true parentage.

Even though Winters is a Yank, Pacified definitely follows in the tradition of realistic favela dramas, best exemplified for international audiences with City of God and City of Men. Yet, it also shares a kinship with many 1940s and 1950s Hollywood gangster movies, in which stars like George Raft always learned going home is a tricky proposition for reformed racketeers.

Bukassa Kabengele has the right sort of speak-softly-while-shooting-laser-beams-from-his-eyes intensity as Jaca. Even though Winters frames the film as Tati’s story, Kabengele just completely commandeers the film, like his character hijacking trucks in Rio’s tunnels. Cassia Gil is fine as Tati, but the character’s constant sullenness gets a bit tiresome. On the other hand, both Debora Nascimento (she was in the Edward Norton Hulk movie) and Raphael Logan are spectacular train-wreck messes, as Andrea and Dudu, respectively. Plus, Jefferson Brasil adds all kinds of intriguing ambiguity as Jaca’s former lieutenant, Juninho.

There is way more to Brazil than what you see in Pacified, but Winters’ outsider’s eye still captures plenty of telling details of favela life, (including an absolutely shocking scene of BOPE brutality). He and cinematographer Laura Merians Goncalves immerse us in the hillside neighborhood. As a result, viewers might feel like they could navigate its streets and back alleys by themselves, but we would advise against trying it in real life. Highly recommended, Pacified is sure to screen widely at international festivals (thanks to its quality and Aronofsky’s name attached), as it was supposed to at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.