The most cinematically rewarding film seen so far at the International Film Festival Rotterdam is the Tiger nominated 'Sudoeste' ('Southwest'), directed by Eduardo Nunes. Shot in extreme widescreen (cinemascope) and gorgeous black and white, this poetic and magical-realist film from Brazil might be imagined as Andrei Tarkovsky filming a story by Gabriel García Márquez.
A fairytale for grownups, 'Sudoeste' takes place in a sleepy, tropical village on the shores of an inland sea, where salt is the local industry. Its slow-moving story revolves around a young girl, Clarice, who in the course of one day grows into a woman, grows old and dies. She spends time with a family who have lost a daughter, also named Clarice, and there are hints that what we are witnessing is history repeating itself.
Further interpreting the enigmatic and dreamlike narrative, there appears to be a dark and horrific secret at the heart of this film. But this is wisely left implicit - something to be felt rather than spelled out - and draped in the beautifully composed cinematography and sound design. For instance, the scene when the little girl dozes off in the midday heat, with the local band's hypnotic rhythm playing in the background, and wakes up a woman is a stunning piece of filmmaking.
In a Q&A after the screening on Wednesday, Nunes explained how the initial idea for his film was to have two different paces of time coexist in one story. This became Clarice's time and the 'normal' time of the village. "Or actually," he added, "there are three forms of time. The third is the projection time."
Indeed, the film repeatedly draws attention to itself as a sensual object, made of sight and sound as well as vividly evoking the textures and smells of its magical world. In another scene, Clarice is heard in voice-over saying, "Close your eyes. Listen to the sound of rain." As the screen turns dark to let the audience experience the sound of the first drops of a tropical downpour, one of the most memorable moments of this film is made purely of sound.
'Sudoeste' might well win a Tiger Award later this week. If you have a chance, see this widescreen gem in the cinema. As the director commented in a Daily Tiger interview, "It's so difficult to show it on DVD. I joke that when you show it on a laptop you have to use two and put them together to watch the film!"
Update: If you're wondering about the title, 'Southwest', this in-depth review (mind the spoilers) offers an interesting interpretation:
Brazil, as a country, is generally divided into five regions: the North, the Northeast, the Central-West, the Southeast, and the South. So when director Eduardo Nunes names his first feature Southwest, it must be assumed that we are entering a place more of the imagination than of representation.
Update: Unfortunately no Tiger Award for 'Sudoeste'. These are the three winners, including the daring and disturbing 'Klip' from Serbia.