Brazil’s Karim Aïnouz Moves Forward on Five Feature Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

A seminal figure in contemporary Brazilian cinema, Aïnouz shoots ‘THF,’ prepares ‘The Invisible Life,’ ‘Algerian By Accident,’ ‘Clandestinos,’ ‘Neon River’

Karim Aïnouz
Courtesy of Karim Aïnouz

Berlin-based director Karim Aïnouz, a driving force in Brazil’s cinema build, has set a slate of projects to be produced, among others, by director Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Brazil’s two most prominent producers, Rodrigo Teixeira (“Call Me By Your Name,” “Patti Cake$”) and Fabiano Gullane (“The Second Mother”).

Director of 2014 Berlin competition player “Futuro Beach,” Aïnouz is also planning also to co-direct a movie with Marcelo Gomes, whose “Joaquim” world premiered in Berlin competition last week. Aïnouz is already in production on a documentary for Arte.

Though totally disparate in film type, the five movies show a common preoccupation: To map out the revolutionary forces, for good and bad, shaping Aïnouz and forging the contemporary world.

Reuniting Aïnouz and Gomes, “Clandestinos” underscores a sense of urgency running through most of Aïnouz’s projects. The directors’ prior film together, 2009’s “I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You,” described by Variety as “beautifully structured and ultimately transcendent,” was a road movie record of loss, set in Brazil’s barren Sertão.

Developed over these past three years, “Clandestinos” was supposed to take place in the future.

“But then reality caught up with us. With the rise of evangelical religion in Brazil and fear-based politics in the world, we started to think it would be important to make this project sooner than later,” Ainouz commented. Originally taking place in 2038, it is now set in 2022.

A “cautionary tale about where we’re going,” but also “an equatorial thriller by the sea,” said Aïnouz, set in a Brazil now ruled by fundamentalist leaders who hunt down minorities.

In its earlier stretch, Cid, a soldier of the regime, falls in love with Miguel, and in return for a pass for them to leave the country, agrees to a mission to kill the regime’s rising leader. Wounded, on the run, he meets Neuma, “a woman silenced by a belief that divides her between love and fear,” a synopsis runs.

But “Clandestinos” will “not just point to a state of things, which is sad, but try to think of possibilities for dialog,” Aïnouz said, citing Ettore Scola’s 1977 “A Special Day,” with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, “a beautiful way of looking at how difference can be negotiated and celebrated,” Aïnouz said.

“Clandestinos” is produced by João Junior, based out of Recife’s REC Produtores Associados.

‘THF’ is “about understanding what’s happening in the world today through the history of an airport,” Aïnouz said of the documentary, commissioned by upscale European broadcaster Arte, which he has been shooting since June. Opened in 1923 and imagined by Adolf Hitler as the central transportation node of world capital Germania, Berlin’s Templehof Airport’s air traffic operations ceased in 2008. It now operates as an emergency shelter for over 1,500 refugees and a leisure park for Berliners.

Shot over a year, “THF” is “not a film about refugees, but about antipodes” in a “city within a city,” tracking characters from both “inside and outside” to show their “frictions and affinities,” said Aïnouz. The result will “manufacture a snapshot of contemporary Berlin, a relevant and necessary portrait of its present” showing “how the city will inhabit its future.

Produced by Felix Von Boehm for Arte, “THF” should be ready for delivery by October when he is scheduled to shoot “The Invisible Life” for Rodrigo Teixeira’s high-flying RT Features. Already announced, and set from the early 1940s to late 1960s, it turns on two sisters who grow up to suffer two opposite but suffocating realities: a loveliness marriage, the shame of single motherhood in a still paternalist world.

One key of the story is “access to the labor market,” denied to both sisters; another, how “women’s voices are constantly being challenged” “not only in the public arena but also the private space of the home,” according to Aïnouz.

Produced by Walter Salles and Maria Carlota Bruno at Brazil’s Videoflimes, as well as Marie-Pierre Macia at Paris’-based MPM Films, “Algerian By Accident” is scheduled to shoot this summer and next winter in Algeria and Brazil. A “road documentary,” in Aïnouz’s words, it begins in Caera, Brazil, where Aïnouz was born, travels to Alger, the capital of Algeria, and then up to Taguemont Azouz in the Atlas mountains, the birthplace of his father. Weaving macro history and personal narrative, it charts two revolutions: Algeria’s war of independence, the meeting and marriage of Aïnouz’s parents, adding up to a film which is “personal and political, intimate and poetic.”

Japan-set romantic thriller “Neon River,” Aïnouz’s English-language debut, is currently being financed.

“I’m from a generation where film is about entertainment but also a critical standpoint and an open way of looking at the world, of re-imagining the world,” Aïnouz said.

He added: “These are projects that try to understand, make sense, or dive into the state of things we’ve living in now and that point to possible ways for the future.”

That is significant. Other top Brazilian filmmakers are also mapping out the contemporary landscape: Billed as a tropical Western and world premiering Thursday at Berlin, though set in the late eighteenth century Marcelo Gomes’ “Joaquim” asks why a former foot soldier for the Portuguese crown ends up rebelling against the establishment. Set in 1821, Daniela Thomas’ “Vazante” portrays the miscegenation that has been “the driving force in the development of society in Brazil.”

With 10 films selected in different sections, the 2017 Berlinale provided a world stage for the riches of new Brazilian cinema . It has also suggested the reach of their contemporary and international resonance as audiences outside Brazil question the very same forces driving tumultuous change.