After debuting at Busan and winning the Audience Award at Malaga’s Zonazine sidebar this August, Haroldo Borges and Ernesto Molinero’s “Son of Ox” has played at Malaga’s Spanish Screenings and will screen in competition at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival, which kicked off Nov. 20.
The film follows a 13-year-old boy, João (João Pedro Dias), who lives in the Sertão outback in the northeast of Brazil where he cares for cattle under the repressive watch of his father (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos). A broken relationship between father and son casts a feeling of isolation over João, who finds refuge under the tent of the arriving circus and the tender friendship he forms with one of the clowns (Vinicius Bustani).
Produced and co-written by Paula Gomes, it’s the first fiction feature by the collective Plano 3 Filmes, who distributes and handles international sales. The group, based out of Salvador de Bahía, was founded by Borges, Molinero, Paula Gomes and Marcos Bautista.
It’s through a long shared history of collaboration that this tender coming of age comes to life, as Paula explains, “Being a collective is a political gesture, it is the way we choose to experience cinema and life.” She added: “We also believe that making films should be the result of more debate than of a certain introspection. It seems interesting to us to build the film from the confrontation of different viewpoints. That plurality of points of view and this exchange of ideas fuels the creative work in a beautiful and profound way.”
Variety spoke with Borges during the Spanish Screenings.
One aspect that immediately draws attention is the use of a very expressive handheld camera. It gives the feeling of documentary without losing a distinct narrative design in its movement. Could you comment?
I began working as a camera assistant in Rio de Janeiro for a cinematographer who luckily worked a lot, so when we founded our collective amongst friends, photography was always one of the most important issues for me. When you begin in photography, aesthetics come first, a kind search for the classical way, giving the image a pictorial structure. Slowly I realized that the film went beyond aesthetics and the pictorial aspect, so by deconstructing that composition the image became increasingly lighter, more dynamic and at hand. In this film, everything was planned in drawing. The result came from an experimental, investigative laboratory that we did with all the actors. Our idea was to put improvisation at the core of the film. Everything around it, all the departments, the photography, the art direction, the soundtrack, everything came out of those improvisations.
How did you work with the actors as they improvised?
All the departments were invited to watch the improvisations and to ground their work in that. The process was long because we spent a lot of time looking for the child. We looked at about 1500 children before finding Joâo, who by chance was the last candidate we saw. We began to collaborate with him and with many clowns traveling circuses. We invited the clowns to play key characters and then we mixed them with the father who is a well-known actor here in Brazil (Luis Carlos). The clown Salsicha, who is from Bahia, has a deep relationship with theater. Finally the two actors, the father and the clown, developed a way of speaking with Joâo and realized that it was not a matter of transforming Joâo into a professional actor, but that they could create a way to dialogue with him.
Your film follows a growing trend of Brazilian cinema that faces reality with a profoundly observational intention, maintaining a narrative clarity through a very documentary approach. How did you mould the script and its themes to the final film?
An important point with the actors is that they never read the script, none of them, neither professionals nor natural actors knew how the story ended and they discovered it little by little. We had a script with a simple structure which was the story of a child with a severed relationship with his father who wants to escape and move away. We discovered the scenes during our improvisations. We brought with us things we had found in our previous documentary “Jonas and the Backyard Circus,” a film about a boy who builds his own circus in the backyard of his house. We put many elements of fiction in that documentary, and now that we were working on ‘Son of Ox,’ which is a fiction, we wanted to do it the other way around. From documentary, the film is observational about what we found in the natural relationships between the actors. We let the whole team, every department, be quite flexible with open eyes to see how to make the film. A film that we created without other references.