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Brazilian Directors: Films In & Outside Brazil

Walter Salles

Dark Water (Unrated Widescreen Edition)

Dark Water (Unrated Widescreen Edition)
directed by Walter Salles

In many ways Dark Water improves upon the memorable Japanese film it's based on. The earlier version was directed by Hideo Nakata (whose excellent shocker Ringu was remade in America as The Ring), but in the hands of director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, this psychological horror story gets an intelligent and more chillingly effective overhaul. The story is rooted in themes of love and loss that Yglesias similarly explored in his excellent screenplay for Peter Weir's Fearless, here focusing on young mother Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) as she endures difficult divorce proceedings and settles into a low-rent apartment in New York's cramped Roosevelt Island community, near Manhattan, with her young daughter Cecilia (Ariel Gade). Amidst seemingly endless rainfall, Dahlia's world slowly unravels, and Connelly is superb as a woman seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Or is she? Could it be that Cecilia's imaginary friend, and the apartment's persistent leaks of dark, dripping water, are the ghostly manifestations of a young girl who had been abandoned by the previous tenant? Creepy atmosphere and high anxiety are expertly maintained by Salles, and supporting roles for Tim Roth, John C. Reilly and especially Pete Postlethwaite give the film an added edge of mystery. The tension builds slowly (gore-mongers and action fans may be disappointed), but the cumulative effect is palpably unnerving, inviting favorable comparison to Rosemary's Baby. Unlike some other remakes of Japanese horror hits, Dark Water doesn't feel redundant; it stands on its own thanks to the impressive work of everyone involved. --Jeff Shannon
 

The Motorcycle Diaries (Widescreen Edition)

The Motorcycle Diaries (Widescreen Edition)
directed by Walter Salles
(2004)

The beauty of the South American landscape and of Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Bad Education) gives The Motorcycle Diaries a charisma that is decidedly apolitical. But this portrait of the young Che Guevara (later to become a militant revolutionary) is half buddy-movie, half social commentary--and while that may seem an unholy hybrid, under the guidance of Brazilian director Walter Salles (Central Station) the movie is quietly passionate. Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna, a lusty and engaging actor) set off from Buenos Aires, hoping to circumnavigate the continent on a leaky motorcycle. They end up travelling more by foot, hitchhiking, and raft, but their experience of the land and the people affects them profoundly. No movie could affect an audience the same way, but The Motorcycle Diaries gives a soulful glimpse of an awakening social conscience, and that's worth experiencing. --Bret Fetzer


Central Station

Central Station (DVD)
directed by Walter Salles
(1998)

In the opening scenes of Central Station, colorful crowds of Brazilians stream into and out of a Rio de Janeiro train, pushing through doors and windows. You're immediately pulled into the brutal vitality of a nation in motion, setting the tone for a picturesque road movie that charts Brazil's renaissance in a little boy's search for his father and an old woman's emotional reawakening. Central Station is primarily fueled by the tough/tender performances of Montenegro, Brazil's Judy Dench, and de Oliveira, an airport shoeshine boy Salles cast over 1,500 other hopefuls. (Montenegro was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and Central Station was in the running for Best Foreign Language Film.) No cloyingly cute child-star, de Oliveira plays Josue as a bracingly idiosyncratic brat. And watching Dora's face and soul slowly, unwillingly unclench as she gets back in motion--and emotion--is potent pleasure, even if Salles's trip does dead-end in soap opera as his Brazilian pilgrim's progress winds down. --Kathleen Murphy
 

Behind the Sun

Behind the Sun (DVD)
directed by Walter Salles
(2001)
 

Midnight

Midnight (DVD)
Midnight (VHS)
directed by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas
(1998)

Refusing to spend the last day of the 20th century in prison, Joao (Luis Carlos Vasconcellos) agrees to murder his best friend in return for his freedom. Out of desperation, Maria (Fernanda Torres), a beautiful young speech thereapist looks to end her life after being abandoned by the man she loves. Thw two meet on the rooftop of a building overlooking Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach. As the new millennium approaches and fireworks ignite around them, Joao and Maria make a commitment to reclaim their hope and begin a new life.
 

Foreign Land

Foreign Land (DVD)
Foreign Land (VHS)
directed by Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas
(1995)

A simple but superb little thriller. Aspiring actor Paco (Fernando Alves Pinto) lives in a poor area of São Paolo, Brazil, with his mother, who yearns to go back to her native Spain. When she dies abruptly, Paco finds himself without direction and falls in with a man named Igor, who asks him to carry an antique violin to Lisbon. There he finds himself caught up in a black-market scam, from which his only hope of escape is a woman named Alex (Fernanda Torres)--only Alex has an agenda of her own. Foreign Land resembles a lean, low-budget film noir like Detour or The Asphalt Jungle, only filmed with the spare yet beautiful visual aesthetic of a director like Antonioni. The gritty black and white images are astoundingly gorgeous, yet visual style never gets in the way of an engrossing, emotionally compelling crime story. As Paco and Alex drive to the border of Spain, hoping to escape the dangerous mess their lives have become, Foreign Land becomes downright heartbreaking. Sexy, suspenseful, poetic, and shot through with dark, ironic humor--basically, this is the movie just about every American director wants to make but doesn't know how. A knockout. --Bret Fetzer
 

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