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It's been a while since a film captured an actor's world with the intelligence, creativity and insight of "Craft."

With: Karine Teles, Camilo Pellegrini, Dany Roland, Otavio Muller, Lucas Gouvea, Gisele Froes, Patricia Pinho, Cecilia Hoeltz, Otto Jr, Cris Larin, Danilo Watanabe, Camila Nhary, Sergio Mediros, Mariana Quintao, Marcia Otto, Leticia Novaes, Clara Lessa.

It’s been a while since a film captured an actor’s world with the intelligence, creativity and insight of “Craft.” A writing collaboration between talented tyro helmer Gustavo Pizzi and his wife, thesp Karine Teles (largely unknown, but not anymore), their nuanced script deftly captures the frustrations of trying to break into the biz at an age when breaks become increasingly rare. Thanks to smart writing, thoughtful lensing and a truly standout perf, “Craft” should receive callbacks from major fests and buyers willing to carefully guide this sleeper toward deserved arthouse exploitation.

Pizzi has certainly honed his “Craft,” which for Brazil reps a long-overdue non-favela tale with sky-high crossover potential. Teles mined her own history of small jobs and major frustrations, but she and Pizzi are clever enough to avoid a biopic feel; this is fictionalized reality, filtered through the kind of lens that brings out all the counterpoints without projecting a slavish drive for verisimilitude.

While between acting gigs, Bianca (Teles) works for an event agency that sends her out to do birthday parties dressed as Marilyn Monroe, or busk for a beauty salon robed like Carmen Miranda. These almost hallucinatory scenes remain in the mind’s eye long after the final credits: Bianca dressed in a 1950s orange dress with matching hat, or frolicking as Bettie Page in front of a projection of the real Page. And then there’s Bianca again a la Marilyn, having to tell a nervous wife, “I’m not a whore.”

Her world is full of these little humiliations, whether from clients who treat her as merely a disposable entertainer or from her landlady, Efigenia (Gisele Froes), who excels at making her feel very small. Then the big break comes: French helmer Thomas (Dany Roland) raves about Bianca’s audition and wants to star her in a new French-Brazilian co-production that will incorporate her backstory into the screenplay. It’s exactly what she’s been waiting for, but there’s a wide gulf between a promise and a contract.

Early on, an existentially tired Bianca stares at length directly at the camera, leveling an almost accusatory gaze not so much at the viewer, but at the apparatus itself. It’s the only time a character directly engages with the camera, but it acts as a clearly stated announcement of Pizzi’s desire to play with concepts of looking, offering a tangible filmic commentary on what it means to be a screen performer. Pizzi and d.p. Paulo F. Camacho incorporate multiple formats (HD, 16mm, digital video) to reflect not just mood but who’s looking at whom and why, in an inspired fashion. Unlike so many debut helmers who fool around with lensing styles just because they can, Pizzi knows exactly why he chooses one over the other, demonstrating a clear understanding of their textural and textual nature.

Driving it all is Teles’ terrific performance as a woman who excels at her craft and has the drive and determination to make the camera love her, not in a needy or melodramatic way (this is no Liza Minnelli-type construct), but because Bianca yearns for opportunities to develop her artistry. Teles has a highly expressive face, one that’s not traditionally beautiful but has the character of so many stars of yesteryear (think Jean Arthur). She doesn’t look like Monroe, Miranda or Page, but resemblance isn’t necessary when transformation comes from within. And when she gets a call about the movie role, you can practically see a bright future in her eyes.

The inventive lensing, handsomely transferred to 35mm, picks out bright colors and makes them memorable. Sound, too, is used in sophisticated ways, furthering the sense of layered worlds.

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Production: A Cavideo Producoes, Canal Brasil, Link Digital production. Produced by Cavi Borges, Gustavo Pizzi. Executive producers, Daniela Santos, Pizzi. Directed by Gustavo Pizzi. Screenplay, Pizzi, Karine Teles.

Crew: Camera (color, HD, 16mm, DV, Super 16-to-35mm), Paulo F. Camacho; editors, Pizzi, Camacho; music, Lucas Vasconcellos, Leticia Novaes, Iky Castilho; production designer, Fernanda Teixeira; costume designer, Fabiola Trinca; sound, Felippe Mussel, Ives Rosenfeld, Ricardo Cutz, Francisco Slade; associate producers, Bia Lessa, Camilo Pellegrini, Daniela Santos, Denise Miller, Jal Guerreiro; assistant director, Ivan Cruz. Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (Premiere Brazil, competing), Sept. 25, 2010. Running time: 83 MIN.

With: With: Karine Teles, Camilo Pellegrini, Dany Roland, Otavio Muller, Lucas Gouvea, Gisele Froes, Patricia Pinho, Cecilia Hoeltz, Otto Jr, Cris Larin, Danilo Watanabe, Camila Nhary, Sergio Mediros, Mariana Quintao, Marcia Otto, Leticia Novaes, Clara Lessa.

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