7 prisoners

Dalton Paula, Skin Color, 2012


Comment on the film directed by Alexandre Moratto

Is there a wound more painful, iniquity more cruel than slavery? With its brutal realism, a film like 7 prisoners, showing on Netflix, shows that this wound has not healed, it is not reminiscent of a remote past, but is still alive and open, infecting not only those who suffer it directly but the entire society that tolerates it, if not encourages it.

Second fiction feature film by Alexandre Moratto (director of the great Socrates, 2018), the film narrates the drama of a group of poor boys from the interior who go to São Paulo in search of a better life and end up prisoners of the owner of a junkyard who forces them to work for free and live in a dorm. fetid not unlike a slave quarters.

That said, it can give the idea of ​​a sensationalist and Manichean work, with well-defined villains and victims and, preferably, an edifying catharsis at the end. But this is not quite the reality constructed by the film.

There are, from the outset, two central characters: the young black Mateus (the great Christian Malheiros), who leaves the small family farm to work in the metropolis, and Luca (Rodrigo Santoro), the owner of the junkyard where Mateus and his companions go to work. The film's narrative acumen consists in initially opposing the two and, little by little, bringing them together, almost as if the whole story were the process of transforming Mateus into Luca, or from oppressed to oppressor. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

From the first scene, everything is narrated from Mateus' point of view, but this does not happen ostensibly, through a predominantly subjective camera or resorting to the crutch of off-screen narration, so common in our social-didactic cinema. He is simply present in every scene, even if sometimes at a certain distance, seeing, hearing or sensing everything that is going on. The film is, in a sense, his “educational novel”, or rather deformation.

Viewed retrospectively, the first images are significant. With a hammer, nails and boards, Mateus builds a fence or wall on the family farm. The camera is “on this side” of the fence, and we see the boy and the farm in the space that still remains, and that decreases throughout the scene. In a sense, it's us, the spectators, who are trapped. And Mateus is the one who arrests. This inversion of perspective will make perfect sense in the course of the narrative.

Slavery, the film seems to tell us, is not the result of the perversity of a few individuals, but of a whole system of deformations: social, political, economic and, of course, moral. In other words, perversity exists, but it is produced in series. Luca's lucrative business relies on the help of corrupt police, lenient supervision, and the complicity of merchants and customers. More than that: it is part of a broader network of exploitation of slave labor, one of whose leaders is a friendly politician seeking re-election, a family man concerned about “the country he will leave for his children”.

Just as the politician is a dedicated father, Luca is an exemplary son, who bought a bakery for his mother to run, no longer suffering under the exploitation of others. The terrible thing is this: monsters are human, all too human.

It is in this situation, in which the room for maneuver decreases like the landscape seen in the first images of the fence, that young Mateus moves. He is the great moral character, the one who finds himself faced with ethical dilemmas at all times and who, at the limit, when performing the most sordid of actions, justifies himself by saying: “If I don't do it, someone else will do it”. The film subtly presents these moments, these crossroads of conduct, without excessive emphasis, only through the slightly longer duration of a shot, or a hesitation in the actor's gaze.

It is, in short, a substantive realism, without didacticism and without militant discourse, which moves 7 prisoners. Its dramatic and political effectiveness lies in its lean character, in its implacable dynamics. It is one of the most violent films of recent times. Not so much for the physical violence, which boils down to a couple of blows with the butt and two or three punches, but for the psychological, spiritual and moral brutality that he reveals.

In time: Alexandre Moratto, son of a Brazilian mother and an American father, studied cinema in the USA and was assistant to Ramin Bahrani, director of the white tiger. It is said that it was Bahrani who advised him to return to Brazil and make films that were part of the country's social reality. Socrates e 7 prisoners (produced by Bahrani) are fruits of this wise advice.

*Jose Geraldo Couto is a film critic. Author, among other books, of André Breton (Brazilian).

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG


7 prisoners

Brazil, 2021, 94 minutes

Direction and script: Alexandre Moratto

Cast: Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro, Bruno Rocha, Vitor Julian, Lucas Oranmian, Cecília Homem de Mello, Dirce Thomaz.

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