Review of Silver Cliff

Inspired by the legendary Chico Buarque song “Eye to Eye” (“Olhos Nos Olhos”) and starring Brazilian soap actress Alessandra Negrini, Karim Ainouz’s moving, melancholy film Silver Cliff (O Abismo Prateado), was a worthy opener to the Cinema of Brazil’s new season of Travel Stories, which launched at the Curzon Soho last Thursday (3rd Nov).

Set in Rio and featuring such iconic places as Copacabana beach (including the cliff from which the film takes its title) Silver Cliff avoids the glamorous visual imagery often associated with one of Brazil’s most famous locations. Instead Ainouz’s fourth feature – which premiered in Cannes earlier this year – shows the mundane shadows and the dark corners, a public washroom late at night, the make-shift ice-cream hut on the beach, an airport empty and quiet in the hours before the first plane is due to leave; all of which make up a landscape that is unfamiliar, disorientating even, but not quite threatening to Violeta, the character at the film’s centre.

Following a answer phone message on her mobile from her husband, in which he tells her that he no longer loves her and so has decided to leave, Violeta impulsively walks out of her job and, leaving her teenage son home alone, embarks on a journey to find her husband and bring him back. The film follows her in the immediate aftermath of his unexpected announcement, as she transcends different states of shock, anguish and despair and gradually begins to approach the idea of a future without her partner.

From the moment she leaves the airport, after being told that the last flight to Porto Alegre – where she believes her husband to be – has already gone, until she encounters the little girl in the bathroom by the beach, the focus of the film is entirely upon her movements as she attempts to navigate this uncertain terrain: showering, trying to sleep, dancing frenetically in a bar, speechless, yet with her body in constant motion, while the camera stays on her face, capturing every gesture.

Alessandra Negrini gives a riveting performance as the woman caught unaware, and it is a testament to Ainouz’s significant filmmaking skills that he manages to retain the audience’s attention throughout, without every resorting to unnecessary drama or distractions from what is happening to the Violeta’s character.

The director was at the Curzon to attend the launch and took part in a discussion and Q&A with the audience. Here are some of Ainouz’s answers from that Q&A:

On setting the film in Rio
I wanted to make this film in Rio because the film is inspired by a songwriter who is somehow the soul and who embodies the city, and that is Chico Buaque. It didn’t make sense for me to make the film inspired by a song by him and not use that part of it.

It was very hard to shoot the film and not surrender to shots of the Sugarloaf or the beach. So we have a shot at the end when Violeta is walking on the Copacabana boardwalk. For me, I am absolutely in love with cities, it is where I feel at home and it is what I’m inspired by. But the moment we decided with the writer to write this film in Rio, what was interesting to us was not to write the typical picture postcard of Rio but the city that was caught between the nature and the rocks and the sea, and at the same time this urban environment, and the friction between them. And we asked ourselves how we could use this friction for the experience of the character.

The journey and the film as a road-movie
The film was intended to work with the road movie genre, to have the character drift through town as a character would drift to a different geography. But I wanted to do it within the scope of a specific place within Rio.

My favourite part of the film is when Violeta goes to the airport and is not able to leave. She misses her flight so is unable to go after her husband and she is trapped. For me, that’s when the film becomes interesting, interesting in the sense that that’s when we dive into her character, which is forced to confront this sensation of being left alone and of not knowing exactly where to go. She’s not allowed to travel, and so then she has to travel in a different way. it makes her emotional journey become more intense.

Narrative strategies
I come from a background in architecture and the visual arts, and the more I make films the more I am interested in categories like still life, portraits, landscape, visual genres. These are the things that brought me closer to filmmaking, not narrative. So every time I make a film there is this conflict: do I want to tell a story or do I not want to tell a story. But I always feel that to work in the format of feature films, where the audience is supposed to stay there until the end of the film, I have to bear the story in mind. So narrative for me then becomes more of a strategy to keep people interested in the film, in something I’ve invested in.
There are moments in the film that are experimental: the character is not interacting with other characters, she’s interacting with space. I wanted to see how I could represent that in a film, how I could use audio and images to translate an experience that is a turning point for the character.

Brazilian filmmaking
I feel that we (Brazilians) are finally comfortable experimenting with genre. 15 years ago Brazilian cinema was a genre on its own. But after a while we started to experiment and play with different things.

There is something about the amount of road movies that are coming out of Brazil, and the journey that we as filmmakers have gone through – trying to develop what we are doing, what we’re discovering – that is related to this genre, the road movie offers a place where you can experiment without being tightly constricted by plot. The road is an alibi through which it is possible to explore character and change and narrative, especially in a country where you can’t go from A to B without taking a road.

We as Brazilians are searching for an identity, for the different possible identifies that can occur in that country. So the road movie genre allows us to investigate what is our identity. I don’t think we know yet.

Written by Sofia Serbin de Skalon

The Cinema of Brazil: Travel Stories season runs from Thursday 3rd November to Friday 11th November at the Curzon Soho and Apollo Piccadilly. For full details visit cinemaofbrazil.org

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