“Bay of All Saints” covers the six years director Annie Eastman spent with residents of a Brazilian slum who live quite literally on the water in palifitas, ramshackle hovels precariously perched atop wooden stilts. Treating its subjects with respect and compassion, but offering few reasons to be optimistic about their future, this SXSW audience-award winner should find many other hospitable ports of call along the global fest circuit. Unfortunately, the well-crafted but heartrendingly grim pic probably will have to rely almost exclusively on ancillary tributes to reach a wider audience.
Norato Moraes Trindade, a gregarious refrigerator repairman, serves as the audience’s guide while he observes, and occasionally advises, strong-willed single mothers struggling to survive with their families and dignity intact. While a grandmother forages for recyclable bottles to support herself and her granddaughter, another woman frets over a very young, very pregnant daughter. The feisty unofficial mayor of the illegal shantytown tries to negotiate with government officials bent on dispersing the impoverished residents, with repeatedly frustrating results. As Norato sagely notes: “Life’s a fight, isn’t it?”