Directed by Caetano Gotardo and Marco Dutra, Brazilian Berlin competition entry “All the Dead Ones” kicks off in Belle Epoque 1899 São Paulo. Ana, the daughter of a plantation owner and her nun sister attempt persuade a reluctant Ina, a former slave, to perform an ancient African ritual to cure their mother. A time warp at the hour mark moves part of the drama to contemporary high-rise São Paulo, as Ana in 1899 becomes obsessed by ghosts of dead black slaves.
“‘All the Dead Ones’ talks about how Brazil is much richer than we maybe think. Although a period film, it talks in a very original way about something still happening today,” says Carlo Chatrian, Berlin artistic director. The directors talked to Variety about the film.
The film uses an arresting time warp to ask how much Brazil has really changed.
Gotardo: The way that Brazilian society was organized after the end of slavery and the way it’s organized today were at the center of our thoughts. We wanted to look at that historical moment with our eyes on the present. What interested us most was creating lively, strong and complex characters to create an overlap of time frames which discuss these subjects with words and sensations.
Ana believes she sees dead slaves visiting her as ghosts. It’s as if you’re using genre as social metaphor for white Brazil’s uneasy relationship with its black majority. Is that the case?
Dutra: As a child, Ana was taught to become a wife, a piano player and an heir to the family business. When her family went bankrupt, it was as if all expectations disappeared with the money. The future became uncertain, so her past on the family estate during the final years of slavery come back to haunt her. These are her own ghosts, not real ones. Ana ends up feeding on these images, oblivious to her own racist and violent behavior.
One beauty of the film is its portrayal of Brazil’s black communities. How strong is this culture now in Brazil?
Gotardo: Brazilian culture still has many elements from the African roots most of the population shares. It’s evident in our music, art, language and way of being that are influenced by African culture. In religion, African-Brazilian traditions, like Candomblé Angola, were prohibited for years. Many resisted this oppression, maintaining their traditions in secret so they have survived to today. Unfortunately, these religions are still disrespected and persecuted by certain people who hold other beliefs.
What were your major decisions regarding direction?
Dutra: Caetano and I have known each other since film school and have been close friends and collaborators since. Co-directing for the first time was easy. It was important that all our partners in this movie participated actively in building the story and the tone. Considering the film’s characters and thematic universe, we fought for a majority female crew and a diverse team and cast.
The film was made before the money from Brazil’s national production fund Ancine were frozen. Could it have been made now in Brazil?
Gotardo: It couldn’t be made the same way. That funding was fundamental for the budget. We have two wonderful Brazilian producers, Sara Silveira and Maria Ionescu, who’ve worked together for a long time and have survived many things to keep creating the cinema they love — mainly daring films. There are also a lot of younger producers, directors and crew members passionate about what they do. All of this makes Brazilian cinema more interesting, and we won’t stop. Our government is clearly trying to end public funds and censor certain subjects. This is what Brazilian artists face right now, in film and all other fields.