The forces of pattern and hazard do a dance in Philippe Barcinski’s promising and ambitious first feature, “Not by Chance.” Although pic indulges in a tired cinematic conceit — characters destined to cross paths and alter lives — there’s enough freshness in the conception and execution to tip Barcinski as a Brazilian writer-director to monitor closely. Buyers will be drawn by a serious urban drama without drugs or guns, and fests on every continent are natural destinations.
Another fine role for extra-busy thesp Leonardo Medeiros (“Drained,” “Corpo”) has the typically taciturn actor playing Enio, a Sao Paolo engineer operating a big board that regulates street signals and traffic flow (viewed in stunning Google Earth-style overhead shots). Enio’s emotional life is a quiet disaster, as he meets with ex-wife Monica (Graziela Moretto), who informs him that his long-distant daughter Bia (Rita Batata) wants to see him.
Soon after, a bad road accident nearby (which Enio monitors back at work) confirms Monica and her current hubby have been killed, along with a pedestrian. At the 19-minute mark, the shift in action to commodities trader Lucia (Leticia Sabatella) renting a spacious apartment from rich student Teresa (Branca Messina) seems to segue into an entirely different film. Barcinski doesn’t overplay the disjuncture, instead suggesting that these are the everyday patterns of modern city life.
Studying for her anthropology degree, Teresa rooms with b.f. Pedro (Rodrigo Santoro), who, like Enio, has a visually interesting job: He builds pool tables, and, just as Enio describes traffic as a form of fluid dynamics, he explains in v.o. asides the strange mechanics and random patterns and combinations generated on the table.
The script (by Barcinski, Fabiana Werneck Barcinski and Eugenio Puppo) can’t avoid the clammy feeling that another paired tragedy is coming down the road — which it literally does. But the film does manage to skirt if not entirely overcome this and other schematic problems, dwelling in the final stretch on the possibilities of human connections.
In a kind of anti-“Eclipse,” the city brings characters together, and even for those to whom Sao Paolo reps a vast urban nightmare — which Barcinski views clinically as a technological wonder — the place acts convincingly like a magnet for human contact.
Santoro emits more movie panache than depth, while Medeiros easily evokes the feelings of a man who’s run up some emotional mileage. Batata comes on in latter stretches as a real tonic.
Pic benefits from by Pedro Farkas’ superb lensing and ace production designer Vera Hamburger’s fine work, but Ed Cortes’ music reps an odd flaw.So dominant are the brilliantly staged city locales that, pace Ozu, pic could have been titled “Sao Paolo Stories.”