Life in Rio’s favelas is explored from the inside out in “5X Favela — Now by Ourselves.” Surprisingly upbeat omnibus pic was initiated by Cinema Novo royalty Carlos Diegues and producer Renata Almeida Magalhaes, and showcases the rough-and-tumble talents of a handful of local directorial rookies. Thankfully, the result is miles from the rat-a-tat aesthetics and relentlessly dark tone of the shantytown-chic “City of God,” though that film’s director, Fernando Meirelles, was one of several high-profile Brazilian filmmakers involved in preproduction workshops. Fests and pubcasters will want a piece of the action.
Pic’s origins date back to 2007, when screenplay workshops were organized in several Rio favelas, taught by high-profile filmmakers including Meirelles, Walter Salles, Nelson Pereira dos Santos and Ruy Guerra. Project was intended to give local budding filmmakers a chance to talk about their daily lives and be part of a medium-budget project, shot on 16mm.
In the first seg, “Source of Income,” a hard-working youth, Maicon (Silvio Guindane, appealing), manages to get accepted by a university to study law (“where I come from, it’s hard to tell right from wrong,” he explains). Though treated as an outsider, Maicon has no problem keeping up with his peers intellectually. Insightful screenplay by Vilson Almeida de Oliveira then quietly signals a divide that’s almost impossible to overcome, and the solution to the problem, directly suggested by his prejudiced fellow students, is both ironic and frighteningly real.
The best (and also the most atypical) segment is “Rice and Beans,” a sweetly comic diversion that sees 12-year-old moppet Wesley (Juan Paiva) act on the desire of his father (Flavio Bauraqui) to eat something other than the eponymous daily dish. (Wesley’s dad does get some compensation for the monotonous meals from his wife, who provides some spicy variety between the sheets.) The pint-sized protag’s picaresque mini-journey through the shantytowns is playfully captured, strongly acted and capped by a poignant scene that ushers in the feel-good finale. Workshop teacher Guerra has a delicious supporting turn as a grumpy chicken seller.
“The Violin Concert” contrasts classical music with extreme gang violence and corruption, and is closest to what Westerners will — unfortunately — associate with the favelas. Though it clearly draws inspiration directly from life, there is little here auds haven’t seen before, from the maudlin childhood flashbacks to the broad more-badass-than-thou school of acting for the gang leaders.
A subtler entry is “Let It Fly,” which explores the problem of gang-controlled territories through the story of a lost kite and a teenage infatuation. Like “Source of Income” and “Rice and Beans,” it approaches the more unusual aspects of favela existence as simple facts of life.
Rooted in a more boisterous vision of daily life is the final short, “Let There Be Light,” about an electricity engineer (Marcio Vito) sent into the favelas just before Christmas. Writer-director Luciana Bezerra goes for a broad approach that threatens to turn the curvaceous women and beer-bellied men of the ‘hood into cartoon characters (though with heart), and the seg, the longest of the bunch, is the one entry most in need of some pruning, though it does gradually find its footing.
Overall, pic works as a sort of extended demo reel for some promising new names who need further guidance, though the initiators’ main idea — to simply showcase the mostly ordinary lives of millions of favela dwellers — does come through loud and clear.Because all technical contributions were handled by the same crew, the omnibus looks and sounds coherent. Transfer from 16mm is decent but not entirely spotless.