RIO DE JANEIRO — Stephen Daldry’s Rio-set, young-adult thriller “Trash” — a groundbreaking movie in concept, financing and distribution — world premiered Tuesday night at the swish Cinepolis Lagoon in Rio de Janeiro to large applause.
There was also gleeful local appreciation of Daldry’s swings, from a Richard Curtis screenplay, at Brazil’s corruption-sodden elite, the police, its religious powers, even a Brazilian soccer association.
Such appreciation matters. Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and Kris Thykier at Peapie Productions produced “Trash,” in association with Fernando Meirelles’ Sao Paulo-based O2 Filmes in Brazil. Distributed by Universal Pictures Intl., it adapts a novel by Brit Andy Mulligan. Martin Sheen – as the tippling world-weary Father Julliard – and Rooney Mara – Olivia, a learning-the-ropes NGO worker – co-star.
All that said, “Trash” weighs in as maybe the first film from a major U.K. director – helmer of “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours,” “The Reader,” “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close” and “Billy Elliot the Musical,” which has just topped U.K. charts — who is based out of Europe’s most valuable theatrical market, which nevertheless posits an emerging market, Brazil, as its home territory — and the hoped-for source of one of its biggest B.O. trawls.
Mulligan’s novel is set on a dumpsite in an unnamed emerging country, where three 14-year-old waste-pickers stumble across a wallet with a key that the police desperately want back.
“We wanted to make a fantastic film. There were other countries that we thought about but we knew that in Brazil we would get the support that the film needed.” Curtis said at a “Trash” press conference Tuesday.
02 Filmes produced “City of God,” with Meirelles directing.
“We also knew that that O2 Filmes had a system to source Brazilian actors who could play the parts in the film,” Daldry added.
Crucially, given its realist thrust, and waste-picker heroes, “Trash’s” dialogues are largely in Portuguese.
“As a writer who is very, very particular about every word that I’ve written being said exactly right, I changed my method of working and worked very closely with Felipe Braga, who’s a Brazilian writer, to make sure that everything I wrote made sense to him. We worked together of scenes,” Curtis said.
He added: “When Stephen shot the film, it was often a case of taking what we’d written, trying different things, seeing how the boys and other actors reacted, so that what came through was a movie with integrity.”
“The story of the boy actors isn’t in the film. It’s a made-up fable. But we worked closely with Christian Duurvoort [“Trash’s” casting director], to make the story, the boys’ hopes, dreams, visions of justice and fame, to come through through their eyes,” said Daldry.
“We didn’t want a translated movie. We wanted something that had the colors and flavors of Brazil but was also understandable for audiences around the world,” commented Duurvoort.
“The way we worked with the kids was to look at the way we approached themes, the drama in the movie and how they had an opinion about the issues in the film, process that, send it back to the writers, generate discussion, so that we could get something more original, rooted here,” he continued.
Daldry also cast Bruno Wagner and Selton Mello, Brazil’s biggest stars (and also notable character actors). Maura plays Jose Angel, the nephew of Clemente, an unjustly imprisoned political activist. After years devilling for Rio big cheese, Santos, who’s running for mayor, Jose Angel steals Santos’ millions and a notebook detailing Santos’ bribes to grease his way to power.
Mello’s takes a turn as a bent police inspector Frederico, on Santos’ payroll, who balefully tortures one of the kids, seemingly more concerned about what this is doing to his conscience than to the kid.
With a campaign poster headlining Mello and Moura, UPI releases “Trash” Thursday in Brazil on over 250 screens, a high-ish spread: Sony put out Denzel Washington starrer “The Equalizer” on 335 on Sept.26.
UPI will do so without the marketing might of Brazil TV giant Globo, an increasingly less frequent co-producer of Brazilian films. Just how essential Globo promotion – beyond commercials, in newsreel plugs, chat show appearances – is to a Brazilian movie, however big, may now be seen. Released on general election weekend, “An Honest Candidate,” a broad Brazilian political farce with Leandro Hassum (“Till Luck Do Us Part”), punched R$5.9 million ($2.4 million), Oct. 2-5, again without Globo co-production.
UPI has, however, bought advertising on Globo and has large marketing hooks in Mello and Moura, never seen together on the big screen.
“Trash” will then Euro preem at this month’s Rome Festival, before rolling out via UPI across continental Europe, a region more conducive to foreign-language movies.
The jury is out on audience and critical reaction in Brazil at large, though Variety, in a first international critical reaction, largely praised “Stephen Daldry’s Brazilian answer to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’” featuring “charismatic slum-dwelling kids.”
At least three things seem clear, however.
Brazilians at the Closing Gala, as local journos at a press screening one week ago, chortled with relish at a big film – by Brazilian standards – that dares to cock a snoop at very real Brazilian corruption. State-financed, local films are often far softer hitting.
One example: After Olivia bribes a prison guard to talk to the incommunicado Clemente, Frederico threatens her with deportation or worse: “I don’t know what it is like in your country, but in Brazil, bribery is regarded as a very, very serious offence,” Frederico says, with brazen hypocrisy, raising laughter at his affrontery from Brazilian journos.
If “Trash” is not a Brazilian movie, it is not non-Brazilian in the best sense, several Brazilian argued.
“’Trash’ is fresh. It’s far more agile, entertaining. Latin American favela movies are often much slower, much more downbeat,” Mediapro’s Helena Perli said at the world premiere.
“When we came out here, we fell in love with the people, their bravery, good-humor,” Curtis commented.
That optimism shines through in a movie where it is the kids – Raphael, Gardo and Rat, played by Rickson Tevis, Eduardo Luis and Gabriel Weinstein – who steal the show, on and off screen.
Mobbed at Tuesday’s press conference, on screen, “Trash’ works in large part thanks to the infectious energy and sheer pleasure in comradeship exuded by the three young teen boys,” reviewer Jay Weissberg wrote.
In the film, rather than turning in the wallet, the trio do the right thing and determine to find out why a shady cop is willing to pay R$1,000 for its content, a mysterious locker key. With the police hot on their heels, the film then lifts off into thriller/chase terrain, with a centerpiece pursuit over Rio favela rooftops.
“The police treat poor people like trash,’” Raphael complains at one moment in the film. Turning the tables on the architects of Brazil’s ills, “Trash” left Brazilian’s coming out of its world premiere smiling.