chronically unfeasible

Elyeser Szturm, We series


Comment on Sérgio Bianchi's film

At the beginning, the film Chronically Unfeasible, directed by Sérgio Bianchi (2000), reveals its construction principle. In the director's intervention, when two scenes are remade, to make them “more adapted to reality”, the poetic law that will govern the different frames of this episodic structure gains body and voice. Before redoing them, adapting them more to reality, in an allusion probably that reality — is more perverse than fiction, or that fiction does not manage to reach its cruelty, before showing, finally, more realistic scenes, with the beggars being forbidden to eat leftover food and shrugging the madam off when she forgets to pay the cleaning lady, a vehicle crashing noise announces the fictional reworking, anticipating a frequent resolution of the film, by violence, which we will examine later .

This principle of construction erupts in two more moments, when a new intervention in off declares — after showing her in her “true childhood”, subjected to slave labor in coal production in the Midwest — that “inventing another past for Amanda would not even be a lie”, and soon we see her, the “ sophisticated manager of Luís' restaurant”, in full idyll with nature, in the enchanted world of virgin forest and our most beloved legends, lovingly combed by her mother, picking and eating cashews, bathing in a waterfall…

In another moment, the same voice in off adds, in the same sense, that “inventing another profession for Amanda is not even a lie, in the same way that it was not a lie to invent her bucolic past”, and we move on — after appreciating her lovingly taking care of her business, that is , literally fattening them up in the children's ward of some hospital, — we started to accompany her in an interview, entering a new branch, a “Professional Center for Indians”. Instead of selling tender meat, this time we caught her acting as an agent for natives in an NGO financed by a Dutch bank…

However, if we pay attention to the fictional alternatives that this poetic law proposes to us (to prohibit or not to prohibit beggars from eating leftover food; to feel or not to feel remorse for forgetting the maid's money; to be a coal child or to be a happy child; to traffic children's organs or to act as an ), we will note that they are not exactly alternatives. Sometimes improving, sometimes worsening the first fictional reality, but not substantially changing it, therefore altering it more or less, the alternatives integrate a kind of system of general equivalence, in which things are more or less equal, if they are equivalent to some extent. , like this or like that, — a system in which everything is more or less worth everything and nothing radically changes anything, and which puts it on the same plane, in a variation of scale that only repeats the invariability of results, both the most and the least criminal.

This principle of poetic construction, which regulates the fictional universe of the film, can be called the law of general equivalence, — a law that profoundly organizes the various planes of the world that he creates. It is the same law, by the way, that makes it possible to understand the unstable “psychology”, shall we say, of a character like Maria Alice, exasperatedly oscillating between cynicism, charity and cruelty, in the same continuum sometimes as his first intervention, which opens the film.

But would there really be a difference between such disparate feelings? In another sequence, when showing her having macabre fun with children killing each other for toys, which she herself had given to two of the baits, we learn that philanthropy can be a form of cruelty.

Isn't it yet another law that justifies admitting, without a crisis of verisimilitude, that a left-wing intellectual, concerned with “forms of authoritarian domination”, author of a combat book, Brazil illegal, and repercussions, discussed on a TV program, that this same militant intellectual traffics in children's organs to supplement the domestic budget. So it doesn't matter whether books are written or little children are torn apart, because, deep down, they are forms of violence, of the body or reality, physical or intellectual, it doesn't matter.

But why doesn't it matter? why so much? Why is everything more or less the same? Exactly why. Because violence emerges as a common denominator, as a kind of general equivalent, able to solve all the equations that the film sets up. In other words, the law of general equivalence also has its currency, which regulates all social exchanges: violence.

In violence, many frames of the film are resolved, directly or indirectly. Thus, farmers and the landless are equivalent in terms of violence; as the violence is equivalent to a mother being beaten by her son and a teenage assailant beaten by the public and paramilitaries. The violence of the boss, who eats and spits, is equivalent to that of robbers, who make him shit with fear. Assault is not fun, the fun is humiliation... If you don't hit the boss, you hit the closest, the maid, and girlfriend. If you don't hit the “civilized” passenger, who claims safety, you hit the taxi. When street children don't kill themselves over toys, directly resolving a painting, they are killed by being run over, which indirectly resolve two scenes of tension in the posh restaurant (a discussion involving the waiter, the black woman and the Jewish woman, and another, almost at the end of the film, between Maria Alice and Luís, about fleeing or not fleeing the country; at the time of the toast to New York, instead of clinking windows, we hear the noise of shattering car windows, in another hit-and-run).

In the “spoken portrait” of Brazil, carried out by the progressive intellectual in his wanderings in the service, we often see scenes of violence: there are Indians, revelers, street teenagers, all duly beaten by the police. This, when nature itself is not violated, and violence then gains the status of an essential attribute of Man, and no longer just of the Brazilian and his “known spirit of extermination”, reaching the borders of Ontology (Man, your name is destruction! ), such as following the burning and ecological devastation in the Amazon.

Practically all the central figures pass through violence, the fundamental experience of the film: Alice is beaten by her son; Josilene, from her lover (Osvaldo); Carlos is the victim of the taxi driver; Adam, from the boss; this, in turn, is attacked by the robbers.

As if its presence in the strict sense was not enough, the film still teems with its most varied forms, such as verbal violence, in traffic discussions, on the street; virtual violence, on the hungry under the (police?) sexual violence (the whore class taught by Jair to Adam); class violence (the button-sewing class, taught by Carlos to the maid; the table-setting class, taught by Amanda to the waiter; the terrorism class... "without violence", psychological? taught by Adam to stunned workers; the class of legalism, taught to an astonished audience by the second madam of the hit-and-run; not to mention the theory of the national scam, defended by Carlos, and that of Luís, to reduce the “social contradiction” by two thirds, lowering the number of cases from three to one. meals per day).

What results from this law of general equivalence, and from this generalized violence? It results, in addition to an episodic, fragmented structure, to which we could subtract or add frames indefinitely, a paralytic structure, so to speak. And this for several reasons: paralyzed because there is no actual dramaturgical progression (in situations experienced, of little development, and resolved quickly, almost brutally, in episodes of violence, it is as if everything happened but did not happen); paralyzed because we, spectators drawn on average from the same social strata, are systematically subjected to shock paralysis; still paralyzed because the feeling of dead end prevails, of impotence in the face of a closed and suffocated world, ordered by crime and for crime.

It goes without saying how gloomy the country's portrait is, tinged with total, radical, absolute negativism. Without invalidating his diagnosis, and prognosis, which thus does not hold up, we are now interested in trying to specify a little the social position of the legislator (legal expert?) of this fictional universe – understanding by this, it is important to make it clear, nor that of its collaborators, but that narrative instance that structures a certain look of the film.

Happily ambitious, wanting to account for our state, to portray it impartially from north to south, from east to west, Chronically Unfeasible it mobilizes, for this purpose, a multiplicity of discourses, approaches, which fiercely confront each other, forming a veritable square of war: the landless discourse; the proprietary discourse; the indigenous discourse; the civilized or civilizing discourse (by the left-wing intellectual); the multiculturalist discourse; the regionalist or separatist discourse; the neoliberal discourse (executive of the Central Bank); the discourse of minorities or political correctness; the discourse of NGOs; the legalist discourse (of the second madam of the trampling); the “alienated-religious” discourse (of the homeless) etc. The motto of all of them — the notorious Brazilian social inequality, or the country in a socially tragic situation.

As the film, however, brings a core of central figures (fewer characters and more social types perhaps, recognizable by speech), predominates, because it is recurrent, a certain hegemonic speech, uttered — with the traditional coarseness of our fine people,[1]in an already evidently critical staging — at the table of an elegant restaurant in São Paulo, “Luís' restaurant”. What to do? anything? something?

Inside the club, made up of small businessmen, Luís and Carlos, cynical and indifferent, reproduce, pardoning vulgar sociologism, the discourse of our “globalized” middle strata, which, in turn, reproduce the vision of our deterritorialized elites , sees no way out except through the airport, heading to New York, where “violence is more civilized”. This “globalized” point of view, rehashing the thesis of national unfeasibility for racial and/or cultural reasons, is as if illustrated by Alfredo’s journey through the illegal country, whose “spoken portrait” only accentuates his vicious circle (face?) misery and violence.

In opposition to the victorious speech, only Adam's stands out, given that Amanda is always silent, Valdir and Ceará sneak out (when the boss manager suddenly appears in the employees' changing room to scold Adam, always late and relapsed) and Josilene, like a good “slave”, offends but defends her mistress continuously, when she sees her threatened by her boyfriend. As for the discourse of the “terrorist” waiter, how can a discourse that preaches revolution at a time of death be considered as an alternative? rush, on an overcrowded bus, and at the first opportunity, off guard… let’s say, to the boss’s charms? or who preaches terror… without violence?

Since there is no consistent opposition to the hegemonic point of view, perhaps a slight difference within it allows us to glimpse the point of view that organizes the film, its social position.

Thanks to her oscillations, her exasperation, her spasms, her hysteria, Maria Alice functions as a kind of nervous pendulum, threatening to go from one pole to the other of the ideological spectrum of our middle classes, now approaching, now moving away from the dominant, now adhering to it, now denying it. Since the character's “doing something” betrays itself, by not going beyond charity with street children or kindness with her motoboys, Maria Alice does not advance to the opposite, more critical pole.

It does not advance but opens the way. Who does it, who advances through this gap, is the film, condemning the internally hegemonic, cynical or compassionate discourse of our “globalized” middle class, — admirably exposed in fact in its nauseating entrails, — the one that is connected (a key word ) to the high consumption standard of the First World; the one, well-traveled and enlightened, ridiculed by Marxisms, which knows firsthand the ills of the periphery and recognizes in the body the benefits of the center, and which includes so many of our artists and intellectuals; that middle class, finally, that learned to appreciate the delights of Capital Civilization, with its shelves crammed with goods, material, cultural, whatever, and whose dream, deep down, is to consume in peace.

Like the other mobilized points of view, all staged critically, when not satirised, the slight fracture inside the clubinho, half split between the cynical and the compassionate, who mutually destroy each other at the restaurant table, is equally disqualified. That is to say, the film exposes but does not espouse the internally hegemonic point of view.

Even remaining within the field of view of the middle classes, in their extreme distrust of “extremist” points of view, whether positive, via “globalized”, or negative, via popular and/or socialist organizations, such as the MST (Movimento dos Landless Rural Workers), the focus of the film shifts from the winning pole, also disqualifying it in its philanthropic version, to the opposite pole, as if making a chorus with urban and radicalized middle fractions, although averse to radicalism, of those who did so much (and are) lacking in our history, and whose deepest yearning, almost unconscious, echoes a certain change within the democratic, social-democratic order, capable of sweeping national, authentically social-democratic misery off the streets, towards Europe, always a reference obligatory – a not very dissonant social position, in a national framework, of a certain PTism (by the way, the hegemonic one).

For a counterproof, just continue the film a little. In the final frame, a sort of staged documentary, or documentary staging, with authentic types and speech, the homeless mother's speech envisions for her son a future of a “great man”. Sarcasm aside (future to the no-future?!), and disregarding the fact that we don't even know what that means in a mass society ("great man" without a valet!?), we can translate the maternal longing for "doctor", in national, or manorial terms, an obviously conservative term, but adjusted, in the film's view, to the passive, senzalesque mentality, typical of the lumpen and their affines, workers and servants, rural or urban, always gaping at instructions they barely understand, manipulated as they are by criminal and ignorant leaders, as the eventually legitimate ones can't stand it and drop out (let's remember the "companion" who argues with the " foreman” of the landless and storms off that “a worker is different from a slave”).

The conservative look directed at those below does not, however, imply absolute conservatism. From the perspective of the film, no more than lumpen seen by him, it is not the “doctor” who appears, this one also under suspicion (let us remember the legalism lesson given to the second madam in the hit-and-run, and the brief but blunt legalistic lesson given by another madam, certainly a doctor too, to the bus driver: “ If you lay a finger on me, I'll end your dumb northeastern life!”).

In its horizon of radicalized urban middle strata, which, as we have seen, disavows — without exception — one by one the social types activated (the “globalized”, cynical or compassionate; the workers, bocós, when not revolted and resentful; the intellectuals, impotent and sold out; the have-nothing, with no future, except as a rifle target, and so on), the “great man” would not be far from being sheltered from the most elementary needs, from the “common man”, so to speak. that is to say, with their basic rights safeguarded (until when, God knows, or Capital…), according to the basics of the social-democratic booklet, whose human justice, by the way, nobody, in their right mind, would disagree, not even even the owners of life... if it weren't for the damn constraints of the market! In a word, his conception of man would not be far from “citizen”, in a more progressive and universal (or western) language.

The feeling of impotence, of no way out, that comes from the nervous, exasperated, nonconformist, perhaps hopeless staging, and that the final scene threatens to melancholy, remembering the millions of wasted lives, practically stillborn, with no human future in sight, in the short term. term, at least, — derives from the realization that the Brazilian man is far below the “common citizen”, from the certainty perhaps that the urgency of our social tragedy, of our national drama, will not be solved (if that is the case) at the same pace .

To conclude, we can only salute this formidable film, the blinding endoscopy that is the ideological movements of our middle classes, struggling convulsively before the entourage of horrors that put our hateful social inequality on the scene. From the memorable staging of this hegemonic but fractured approach, Chronically Unfeasible it withdraws its explosive strength, in which resides its great novelty — its novelty and its limit.

*Airton Paschoa is a writer, author, among other books, of the life of penguins (Nankin, 2014)

Originally published on USP Magazine n.º 49, Mar/Apr/May/2001 under the title “The middle class goes to hell”



chronically unfeasible

Brazil, 2000, 101 minutes

Directed by: Sérgio Bianchi

Cast: Betty Gofman; Cecil Thiré; Daniel Dantas; Dira Paes; Umberto Magnani


[1] The mocking irony belongs to Antonio Candido.

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