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Toronto: Globo-Conspiraçao’s ‘Under Pressure’ Proves a TV Blockbuster

Screened at Toronto, the medical thriller punches around 40 million viewers per episode in Brazil

Globo and Conspiraçao, one of Brazil’s biggest independent production houses, have a huge hit on their hands which looks likely to vindicate and accelerate the Brazilian’s TV colossus’ push into high-end series and the Brazilian movie community’s disembarking in TV series creation.

Co-produced by Globo and Conpiraçao and show-run by screenwriter Jorge Furtado and movie director Andrucha Waddington (“House of Sands,” “Lope”), a Conspiraçao partner and co-creative director of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, “Under Pressure,” a social realist medical thriller, just screened in the Toronto Festival’s Primetime showcase. It has punched, after seven episodes, an average rating of 27.4% and audiences of around 40 million.

That makes “Under Pressure,” a one-hour drama screening in Tuesday primetime at 10.30 pm., one of Globo’s biggest hits in years and a flagship show for next month’s Mipcom where it will be sold by Globo International.

From an original idea by series co-director Mini Kerti, “Under Pressure” also builds on Waddington’s own feature film of the same name, which was inspired in turn by “Sob Pressao – A rotina de guerra de um médico brasileiro,” a book by Brazilian doctor Marcio Maranhao, who works as a consulting physician on the series.

Creating a good-humored but still searing indictment of Brazil’s public health system, “Under Pressure” plays to an captive audience. According to recent research, Waddington said, access to medical assistance is Brazilians’ number one preoccupation, (followed by security and education).

Set in the emergency ward of a hugely-underfunded public hospital in Rio de Janeiro, “Under Pressure” indeed sees its surgeon Evandro (Julio Andrade) and doctor Carolina (Marjorie Estiano) battle their chronic lack of resources with an mixture of ingenuity and desperation. At one point, Evandro takes part of the hospital’s garden hose to drain a pregnant woman’s stomach. At another, he and Carolina drop an iPhone in a glove into a young boy’s stomach to search for a bag of inadvertently swallowed cocaine.

In other ways, “Under Pressure” continues Brazil’s revolution in high-end social realist series as Globo and its top producers reach out to audiences with dramas revolving around hot-button issues. Unlike Globo telenovelas, which the TV network has no intention at all of abandoning, “Under Pressure” runs just nine episodes. It is also, in many ways, cinema.

Shot in darkened hues and featuring tubes, tracers, x-rays, hallways, gratings, a syringe and a hand wearing a bloodied surgical glove, the initial credit crawl seems drawn from a Nordic Noir, anticipating a series which takes in abuse, suicide and multiple deaths.

Operation scenes cut kinetically, varying angle, though in a near-documentary style, conveying a sense of urgency to emergency interventions. Waddington start to dvelop a cinematic grammar to film operations on his film;the directors further developed the film language for the series, he said.

The first scene of Evandro entering the hospital, a reconverted colonial mansion, and greeting its patients, some of whom live there, is an elegant sustained hand-held shot. “Some people asked me after the first episode who operated the Steadycam but it was not a hand-held shot,” Waddington recalled.

“We’ve got to a point where we’re shooting primetime series which are a marriage of film and TV, creating a new language and vision and enhancing production quality,” Waddington said.

A procedural – about four cases are resolved every week – “Under Pressure” is as focused on the medical staff as patients. And none more so than Evandro. In a first episode, he rushes his own wife, a car-crash victim, to the hospital and, bucking medical practice, attempts to operate on her. She dies under his hands.

“It was very important to open with this drama in order to understand that Evandro has a ghost in his sou, he can’t comprehend why his wife is dead,” Waddington said.

The series unspools one year later. “Nobody dies under my watch,” he tells the hospital’s director in “Under Pressure’s” first episode. Those are the words of a principled and brilliant surgeon. They are also the mark of a traumatized man. “Under Pressure” is an enthralling exposé of just what is wrong with Brazil’s public health system. In Evandro, Brazil, drained by endless corruption cases, has the makings of a national hero.

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