Capitu and the chapter

Gerald Wilde, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1971-2


Comment on the film by Julio Bressane, currently showing in theaters.

A film by Julio Bressane is always a challenge to the viewer's intelligence and sensitivity. With chapter and the chapter, which hits theaters this Thursday, is no different. Each of his shots puts on stage a set of signs (visual, rhythmic, sound) that interact in order to produce or suggest meanings.

Let's see the beginning of Chapter. The first image is of a darkened private library, where a lone violinist plays a poignant adagio. Cut to a vertical, high-camera shot showing two men, or rather their hats, one of them gesturing “yes” and the other “no”. Perhaps recklessly, we already think of a reference to the theme of ambivalence that surrounds the protagonist of the novel and the film: “after all, did Capitu betray Bentinho or not?”

The next scene begins with a close-up of a hat, from which the camera moves to show actor Enrique Diaz writing on a desk and saying in a loud voice: “They call me Casmurro, that's not my name”. Is it Dom Casmurro/Bentinho himself or Machado de Assis assuming the voice of his character-narrator in the first person? The ambiguity, installed in those first minutes, passes in the next shot to a close-up of the greenish and bloodshot eyes of Capitu herself (Mariana Ximenes), the famous “oblique and dissimulated gypsy eyes” (a phrase by José Dias never uttered in the film).

For Julio Bressane, Capitu is a sign to be combined with many others to raise ideas and perceptions on a handful of subjects: women in Brazilian society (especially at the end of the XNUMXth century, but not only), romanticism in literature and the arts , the relationship between national culture and European metropolises, the influence of tropical nature on thought and the arts, etc. etc.

It is not by chance that the film is presented as “extracted from the novel by Machado de Assis”. It is not “based”, or “adapted”, but “extracted”. It's as if the filmmaker took from the book what interests him and made the looted material what he wanted. There is no loyalty to a work that thematizes, among other things, a supposed infidelity.

Already in her first dialogue with Bentinho (Vladimir Brichta), filmed through a mirror, the Capitu composed by Julio Bressane and Mariana Ximenes emerges freed from the bonds of the character in the book. Defiant, impudent, she seems almost a figure out of Nelson Rodrigues when she asks her cornered husband: “If you had to choose between me and your mother, who would you choose?”, or “Are you afraid of being hit in the face?”

Shortly afterwards, in Casmurro/Machado's dark library, the pages he writes escape his trembling hands and he sinks into an armchair, while the pages scatter across the floor. His text no longer belongs to you?

The liberties taken by Julio Bressane are of all kinds, including ostensive anachronisms, as in the beautiful scene in which the two couples – Bentinho/Capitu and Escobar (Saulo Rodrigues)/Sancha (Djin Sganzerla) – dance without music. While the first pair dances a waltz, the latter simulates the steps of a twist ou rock and roll from the 1950 years.

In another passage, Enrique Diaz/Casmurro/Machado says that “the living suspect that a dismal star lugubrely illuminates the tomb of modern Brazilian poets”, a phrase that actually belongs to the Joyful songbook by Portuguese and Brazilian poets, by Camilo Castelo Branco. Everything is extracted from everywhere, in a dizzying overlapping of references.

When Bentinho and Sancha talk about a projected trip of the two couples to Europe, the next shots are of the exuberant frescoes of Palazzo Te, in Mantua, plastically reverberating the increasingly seductive and libidinous lines of the girl.

But, in my opinion, more interesting and stimulating than the mere intellectual game of citations and references (including to other films by the director), are the specifically cinematographic findings that reach the spectator's perception more immediately.

For example, when Bentinho is overcome with jealousy, the whole space shakes around him like a ship in rough seas, forcing him to cling to the furniture. Or in the anthological scene in which Bentinho's shadow, projected on the wall and ceiling, is transformed, by a mere displacement of light, into the shadow of a crow, while Enrique Diaz recites the verses “And the crow stays there; there he is climbed/ on the white carved marble/ of ancient Pallas”. It is the translation of the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe by Machado de Assis himself.

There is, moreover, an eroticization of all relationships, or perhaps an explanation of possibilities contained in a state of potency in Machado's text. In this field, Bressane does not hesitate to put in Capitu's mouth a strong insinuation of Bentinho's homoerotic passion for Escobar. “In bed, I would turn my back on you and become Escobar for you,” she says, sarcastically.

Instead of the age-old questioning – at heart, sexist – about Capitu's supposed betrayal, the film seems to call into question all the characters, especially the male ones (Bentinho, Escobar, the lover of superlatives José Dias), and the society in which they live. transit. Instead of interrogating Capitu, she interrogates us.

As always happens with the work of Julio Bressane, there will be those who feel irritated by the profusion of erudite references, or frustrated by the absence of the usual mechanisms of projection and identification with the characters, or even disoriented by the lack of moral of the story or “messages” explicit. Upon entering the cinema, one has to leave these inertial expectations aside to embark on another type of experience – more demanding, but also more enriching.

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


chapter and the chapter
Brazil, 2023, 75 minutes.
Directed by: Julio Bressane.
Screenplay: Rosa Dias.
Cast: Mariana Ximenes, Enrique Diaz, Vladimir Brichta, Djin Sganzerla, Saulo Rodrigues.

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG.

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