Review: ‘1.99 – A Supermarket That Sells Words’

Packaging "speaks" in "1.99 -- A Supermarket That Sells Words," a very curious experimental work by Brazilian maverick Marcelo Masagao. Set almost entirely in a fantasy supermarket where everything is white, neat and uniformly boxed, film inventively inveighs against mindless modern consumerism.

Packaging “speaks” in “1.99 — A Supermarket That Sells Words,” a very curious experimental work by Brazilian maverick Marcelo Masagao. Set almost entirely in a fantasy supermarket where everything is white, neat and uniformly boxed, film inventively inveighs against mindless modern consumerism. The idea that companies turn their products into brand fetishes to sell them is straight out of Naomi Klein’s book “No Logo,” and Masagao does a splendid job visually illustrating and even expanding its concepts. This curiosity item should win hearts at edgy fests, but it would take an advertising Einstein to turn it into a commercial property.

In the film, characters never speak, the products do, with catchy phrases written on their smooth white boxes: “soft,” “unique,” “no limits,” “I’m worth it.” Contrasting with the lab-like sterility of the sets are the colored shoppers, whose robotic expressions show they’ve been totally co-opted by marketing. Even people are reduced to pithy come-on phrases written on the screen that read like personal ads: “shy man likes wine and French kissing,” or the classic “I have no prejudice against race or color, mornings free.”

Masagao’s fertile imagination varies the basic shopping scenario with cutaways to a large group of people milling around stacks of rubber tires, apparently the masses who provide not only the workforce (two men are chosen for supermarket surveillance) but also the body of consumers, slavishly following every new trend. Amusing interludes lampoon physical exercise fads, cell phones and the smokers’ room, while one beautifully staged gag shows a man encouraged to insert his Bancomat card in the slot by the interactive image of a sexually aroused woman.

Nevertheless, the film has a terrible consistency, and for some viewers the fun will go on a little too long. Helcio Alemao Naganine’s lensing is literally quite dazzling to watch, very much in tune with the abstract soundtrack by Wim Mertens and Andre Abujamra which runs from mall music to church bells.

1.99 - A Supermarket That Sells Words

Brazil

Production

Executive producer, Gustavo Steinberg. Directed, edited by Marcelo Masagao. Screenplay, Masagao, Gustavo Steinberg.

Crew

Camera (color), Helcio Alemao Naganine; music, Wim Mertens, Andre Abujamra;production designer, Masagao. Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (competing), Oct. 3, 2003. Running time: 72 MIN.
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