Aqua Movie

Candido Portinari, "Clown Boys"


Comment on the film directed by Lírio Ferreira

About the movie Aqua Movie – filmed in 2019 and released only in June of this year – we can underline the narrative scope that seeks to think about the archaic – sometimes an expression of an undeveloped past that challenges us in the present – ​​contained in the modern or, even, the enigma posed to time gift. This narrative basis is almost a commonplace in our cinema and can express the search for a historical understanding that usually occurs through a tension expressed in at least two temporalities and under a plot marked by conflicts and generational tensions and relations of power.

The film by Lírio Ferreira departs from this narrative and stands out for the exposure of another focus equally shared with so many other cinematographic narratives whose plots are found in a synthesis: like Brazil, the sertão of today is not the sertão of millenarian misery that became its synonym, but it is also an update of its archaic social formation transposed by the hands of conservatism. And the film is interested in exploring these contingencies in the expression of a certain deregionalism that is anchored in the homogeneous “Brazilianization” spread from north to south of the country in the last two decades, driven by the consumer market of the new “golden age” of our economy.

If, in this context, we moved from a cycle of the basic consumer economy represented by mass access to popular credit, we have been approaching the saturation of this model for some time now, which meant a certain social inclusion. Cinema made in Brazil has produced what are perhaps the most important records and attempts to understand changes in the daily lives of social groups affected by such transformations, from the political and economic dimensions, but also affective and psychic. If we allow ourselves some comparisons, we will find several narratives that sought to understand the social phenomena of the beginning of this century and their implications in cultural changes in the countryside and in the city, such as the domestic economy seen in Sue's Heaven and, also, the very particular textile and clothing industry in the rural region of Pernambuco in Neon Ox.

Em Aqua Movie, the new popular consumer market in the backlands of Pernambuco gains a small space in a short sequence of images that introduce us to the expressionist everyday life of shop windows and “walls” in the city of Salgueiro. These seemingly unpretentious everyday details carry a strong attempt to represent tensions arising from this new social scenario that we are still trying to understand. On the other hand, we also find in the film the saturation of this economic model, expressed by the shift in focus from capitalist accumulation to already established forms of land exploitation in Brazil. The deterritorialization and extermination of original communities, as we saw recently in Bacurau, is also depicted in a subplot of Aqua Movie. Thus, we reach a vision of the particular stage of our peripheral capitalism that updates our colonial formation: the programmed destruction of forms of community life and the dissolution of the relationships of belonging and living with the land.

in style road movie, connecting political problems that go through the indigenous issue and land ownership from a vertex punctuated by oligarchic conservatism, the film links to Arid Movie, the motion picture by the same director.

The question of transferring the waters of the São Francisco River permeates the film, carrying the contradictions that surround it, from the environmental problems arising from the project, the transformation of the relationship between traditional communities and the culture of coexistence with the semi-arid, but also the reach of the waters to the populations previously punished by the periods of seasonal droughts.

A transgenerational eternal return

Em Aqua Movie, Jonas (Guilherme Weber) is a renowned journalist who works and lives in São Paulo. Father of Cícero (Antônio Haddad), a 12-year-old boy, the journalist dies early. Of sertaneja origin and a member of an oligarchic family from the region in Pernambuco, Jonas had made the way to the south, a path taken by so many of his countrymen who were displaced by poverty not long ago. But he does so not for economic reasons, but as a liberation from another fate: from family life and from making himself a representation of his clan's coronelismo.

Jonas's death awakens a curious desire in Cícero, which camouflages it as the fulfillment of his father's wish: to deposit his ashes in Rocha, the city where he was born. Duda (Alessandra Negrini), Cícero's mother and Jonas' companion, appears after his death in the midst of a conflicting relationship with father and son due to her absence, motivated by her activities as an indigenous documentarian. After working with indigenous peoples in the Amazon, Duda arrives in São Paulo and leaves with Cícero towards the backlands of Pernambuco. And, little by little, we realize that it is not the father's ashes that are going to a tomb in the Sertão. This curious affection that mobilizes Cícero – perhaps the most sertanejo of names – marks the return of the many exiled Cíceros.

Although the father hated his family and denied this origin, the son not only assumes this task of returning but justifies it to the mother as the fulfillment of Jonas's wish, which, as we already know, is not true. In this way, Cicero imposes this desire on his father at the same time that he contradicts it... Or does he receive this urgency from the past from this father through an intuitive call to settle accounts? While introjecting this delirium of return in the form of an archaic cicero-sertaneja fate, the son can, today, bring out of these waters the father's dilemmas and traumas that could not remain unresolved.

However, this return cannot be effective because there is no Rock... If the Rock to which the Father denied does not exist, the New Rock would belong even less. The fictional city of Rocha was flooded by the waters of the São Francisco River in the context of works to transpose the river and construction of dams. There is no Rocha, but Nova Rocha updates the city and its dynamics. The city has been transposed as much as the river, but just like the waters, the city remains the same – or not. Command and halter relations, now mediated by new mechanisms of power, are transposed to this new place. Through these transpositions of power and affections, the Ciceros return and are able to recognize what is left of their exile. There is no longer a city and it would not even be necessary for it to be there.

Oligarchic violence is updated along with the new city. And here comes the conservative modernization of the last few decades and its developments in the region, which results in a curious and tacky neo-colonelismo, no longer the tragedy played out by the old colonels, but its current form as a violent, bovarist and financialized farce, portrayed in the violence suffered by Dudley and Cicero, drama that occupies almost the entire film and that updates the dilemmas that presumably Jonas had lived. In this context, the neo-oligarchic caricatures of the characters of Augusto Madeira, Marcélia Cartaxo and Zezita Matos stand out as personification of this contradictory modernization and from which another title for the film could emerge: “the kitsch, the transposition, the sertão and conservatism”.

And, finally, Cícero was able to put this cycle to an end, withdrawing from a transgenerational repetition, definitively effecting an uprooting: he throws those ashes into the waters of the river at the height of the banks inhabited by the indigenous community that gave him shelter and protection against the onslaughts of paternal family versus mother and child. Cicero revives the paternal conflict and closes the story by eternalizing his banishment. This event takes place in a beautiful sequence that contemplates a context in which the deposit of ashes in the river touches an experience of ancestry that takes place between the waters, indigenous spirituality and the liberating act performed by Cícero. Now, just like that geographic hinterland, this particular hinterland no longer exists – or it had been flooded by other waters.

* André Ricardo Dias is professor of philosophy at Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of the Sertão Pernambucano (IF Sertão PE).


Aqua Movie
Brazil, 2019, 105 minutes
Directed by: Lily Ferreira
Screenplay: Lírio Ferreira, Marcelo Gomes
Cast: Alessandra Negrini, Antonio Haddad Aguerre, Aury Porto


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