Fábio Porchat’s Tragi-Comedic Journey into the Double Dynamics of Seeing
Because the film is so devastatingly good, and because there is also an element of bravery in the desire of Porchat especially to break new ground, this comedy, which has a philosophical depth which can catch you out, absolutely deserves a review in English despite the fact that it probably is not yet on international release (as far as I know).
This will be a slightly quirky film review therefore. While I obviously do have an extremely large proportions of Brazilians read my blog, I will be writing this review mainly for those who are outside of Brazil, and so a little context will be needed first to help explain the impact and context of the film. Porchat is one of Brazil’s biggest comedians by far – versatile, manic, high-octante, often camp, omnipresent and very very funny.
In a previous article I took a look at Porchat’s incredibly successful internet-based comedy show Porta dos Fundos (see A British Look at the Brazilian Absurdist Comedy of Porta dos Fundos), and while sometimes his comedy can be pretty low-common-denominator in nature, such as Tudo Pela Audiencia (a late-night adult-comedy light-entertainment show which Portchat hosts) his work-rate is phenomenal, and consistent.
While Porchat has also starred in many successful Brazilian film comedies, Entre Abelhas, marks an ambitious break for Porchat, pushing his acting into that area which could be described as continental European art house (more of this later as this is an inadequate description) and playing a downcast and troubled character while still delivering a performance which causes the audience to laugh out loud.
This is a brave direction, especially as it would be easy to offer another commercially-driven Brazilian comedy farce, not only by Porchat but also Ian SBF, who also is one of the stars and writers of Porta dos Fundos, and one that needs to be applauded because I truly believe they have pushed the envelope of Brazilian cinema.
Before seeing the film all I knew was that this was a new direction for Porchat and that his character is divorced.I do follow Porchat on twitter and although he had been tweeting some great on-the-set photos, I had not watched or read any reviews prior to seeing the film, so while having no expectations, I was full of hope and curiosity. I had not expected him to deliver a film which one person on Twitter described as Brazil’s Donnie Darko (a great line I wish I had thought of). So we start the film with Bruno (Porchat) getting drunk in a strip club with his friends as he “celebrates” his divorce. While downing many a shot, and while approached by many ladies in the club, Porchat is depressed and is not interested in their advances. Ian SBF’s assured direction immediately makes its mark – intimate, focused, angular – capturing the drunkenly melancholic messiness of the situation.
If I have focused on Porchat until now, it is because this is very much his film, and he appears in every single scene. This could potentially have been a recipe for disaster had the writing and acting been driven from ego, but it really works especially since Porchat is joined by an absolutely excellent supporting cast, including Giovanna Lancellotti playing his ex-wife Regina, Marcos Veras playing his best mate Davi, Irene Ravache, excellent in the role of Bruno’s mother, and Luis Lobianco, playing the small but deliciously funny Nildo, a waiter.
Quite soon into the film things take a somewhat strange turn. In a taxi ride home, the taxi driver disappears and Bruno panics, grabbing the handbrake and scrambling out, only to see the taxi drive off into the night. A day or two later, walking along a pavement he sees more cars without drivers, and on a bus he panics as he discovers no passengers and again is desperate to get off. As he almost pukes on the pavement, he is watched by the bemused passengers on the bus.
Bruno works in a media company, editing documentary and news reports, along with Davi, who shows him a photo from the drunken night out. One minute a girl in a red dress is posing with the gang, and as Davi leaves and Bruno looks at the photo again, the girl has disappeared from the photo.
Bruno is back with his mother, and like the other actors in this film, manages to deliver a constrained performance which does not descend into the absurd, as she comforts Bruno and aims to understand exactly what the condition is that he is suffering from. They discuss his problem in a caff, and it is here we are introduced to the slightly hapless Nildo, a waiter who Bruno cannot see, and who his mother hires in order to carry out a number of extremely funny experiments to test this strange affliction, seeing whether or not Bruno can feel the touch (he can) or can hear (he cannot). I do not want to give away too many spoilers here, but Porchat is really in his element, together with Ravache and Lobianco connecting with each other from some brilliant slapstick and verbal comedy throughout the film. There are many other excellent scenes, such as when Bruno goes to see a football game with Davi, he worries will be sold out, but in fact has just a few supporters in the stands, and no one on the pitch, and when he is at a bar getting drunk, and gets into a kerfuffle after thinking that a woman is chatting to him but in fact to her partner who he can’t see.
So although I mentioned that Entre Abelhas has an arthouse quality about it, it still retains its Brazilianness in the comedy, while never collapsing into cheesy sentimentality, and in fact Porchat potentially surpasses all previous performances I would suggest. There is one incredible scene in which the drunk Bruno drives home from the bar after the kerfuffle, only to struggle to see as a rainstorm hits, and he looks down to switch on the radio.
While we could easily see the inevitable accident happening, Porchat is outstanding in this scene, as we see a crying, disorientated and soaking wet Bruno scramble around on his knees looking for either a body or an injured pedestrian around his car on the lonely and deserted street.
I mentioned in the title of this review a concept which came to me last night as Maria and I discussed Entre Abelhas – the double dynamics of seeing. This film is philosophical, but not in a pretentious manner, self-aware and trying too hard. The philosophy lies in the wonderful intelligence of a film which is well paced for those who do not seek to be spoon-fed plots where predictable twists are signalled far in advance. This is a psychological film which aided by the psychiatrist played by Marcelo Valle, demands that we look to answer the question why Bruno has started to fail to see people. Bruno himself in his bedroom starts to collect photos, marking the outlines of people who he can still see, cutting them out and placing them on a wall, trying to see if he can detect patterns – celebrities, friends, colleagues? – and seeing the number of people he can still see reduce each day.
And so this is the dynamics of seeing. This is a film which does not depend on special effects, but really enters into us as we grapple with these emotional questions which while philosophical, are deeply personal, since who has not struggled with the break-up or loss of someone we have loved? Is Bruno suffering from a physical ailment, or is the lack of seeing in his unconscious desire to escape from reality.
As he walks through a crowded market bumping into people, is he disengaging with a world he no longer wants to live in? As for the title (translated as Amongst Bees), Bruno discovers that bees are disappearing mysteriously. He takes this discovery to the psychiatrist, who asks if they really are disappearing, or is it that we are no longer seeing them?
I do not want to go off on a philosophical tangent here, but from a personal perspective our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter is dedicated to the dynamics of seeing, and I have also written about the different functional and dysfunctional archetypal ways of seeing other people in my recent article The Journey to Authentic Dialogue. When you learn to enter into the dynamic way of seeing, life becomes alive again, and you recover the ability to see what is right in front of you. Literally.
So those of you who know both Maria and I will of course now have realised why this film resonated so much with both of us. But what does the double dynamics of seeing refer to? I looked on Twitter, and it is clear that Entre Abelhas is a Marmite film (you either love it or hate it), especially since Porchat is a popular entertainer who is successful in Brazil, at times a country which can seem like the land which political correctness forgot.
Many Brazilians appeared extremely confused about the film, not getting the layered intelligence at all, and becoming mystified by the abrupt and “inconclusive” ending. The comment about Donnie Darko was quite apt in many ways, since it does appears that many people did leave the film not quite making sense of it. Hence there is a double dynamics of seeing, whereby people in real life are failing to see the dynamics of seeing as portrayed in film.
If there is one aspect of the film I could look to critique (note not criticise), it is that Donnie Darko really hits home due to the sublime pathos of the piano-driven song Mad World, interpreted by Gary Jules. This for me really lifted it into another dimension. Entre Abelhas does itself have a strong piano-driven motif running through, and so in the climax, which I won’t reveal, there was the potential for the ending to really wow the audience.
While the soundtrack is absolutely fine, Entre Abelhas stands out for having the twist at the end come in the first line of the song for the closing credits. This song is an extremely well-known song very much related to seeing, and I just wonder if the wonderful impact and twist was slightly lost on an audience who on the whole may not have understood the key lyric? This song does appear in the trailer, which you can see below and which I had not seen before going last night.
Overall, Entre Abelhas is an exceptional film which absolutely appealed to my own British sense of comedy and pathos, kind of the way in which The Smiths managed to combine jangly and catchy riffs with at the depressing poetical lyrics of Morrissey. While European arthouse in style, it is at one and the same time emotionally and intellectually engaging, and while I do not know if it will have international distribution, it absolutely should have.
As I said, Porchat appears to have managed to transcended his ego and reached a new level and style of performance, allowing a truly excellent ensemble piece of cinema to emerge, under the creative direction of Ian SBF. Brilliant comedy and I have to thank Maria for her skilled and Ninja-like (silent) translating during the faster sections of dialogue.
I hope that those of you outside Brazil do have a chance to see it, and that Brazilians themselves come to appreciate the excellence and depth of this world-class tragi-comedy. Parabéns para tudos os involvidos. Nota dez. Abraços. Related Articles
Guest Article: Fábio Porchat reflects on his new film Entre Abelhas (Amongst Bees)