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‘To register the facts, nothing more’

May 14, 2009

I finally got to watch Sergio Bianchi’s Chronically Unfeasible (Cronicamente Inviável), years after a Brazilian friend told me what a rare damning critique it was (too bad it is not common on video store shelves here; more on film access in another post). The film features a narrative and a set of characters only in the loosest sense: its territory is the society of inequality based on the wiping out of indigenous Amerindians and centuries of enslavement. It is spliced by well-executed vignettes about workers and their bosses, from landless peasants to waiters at ritzy urban restaurants, and on and off scene monologues by intellectual figures (ex-finance minister of Brazil: ‘The freedom to consume is the only God-given right’). But there is nothing overwrought or academese about it: the tone is both politically hypercritical and accessible, with icy monologues about the economic and hypocrasies of Latin America with the weight of both fury and funny.

One of the most enduring images are the aerial shots of Rondônia, a northwestern Brazilian state covered 70% by the Amazon rainforest. The camera glides over pristine river trees until it gradually arrives at the acres and acres of charred, destroyed forests; the voiceover narrator comments, ‘Man destroys because it’s all he knows how to do.’ Yet Bianchi/the narrator never lets ‘man’ off the hook for run-of-the-mill planetary destruction, but the total eradication of the native population. Chris Rock once joked, ‘Everybody wanna save the environment. Shit, l see trees every fucking day! l don’t never see no lndians.’

I spent last weekend in Rio’s Costa Verda (Green Coast) as a recuperative attempt to escape the auditory chaos of the city. This little Portuguese stone-covered town – used as a major slave port in the 17th century – is the only place I have ever seen families of indigenous Amerindians (individuals are visible at Copacabana beach sometimes, selling jewelry and beads). The families would be awake at dawn, with even the very smallest children struggling to drag bushels of beads and other wares, sometimes bigger than them, behind them. Their faces looked sullen and hard, and impervious to the flashes of tourists’ cameras. ‘Misery captivates,’ says the manager of a group of street kids entertaining tourists in the film.

The film is unusual for its vision of history is anti-linear and anti-progressive, one that refuses to deny the memory of past genocide. It is equally unusual for its smooth, un-clunky and satirical piecing of fiction and documentary; Bianchi makes the public particular and the particular public, narrativizing the traumas of Brazil’s violent history and giving documentary force to the sketches of workers getting humiliated or losing their jobs. The naked greed of power punctuates every scene. ‘Violence always existed,’ the voiceover reasons, ‘But [the Amerindians] organized violence into ritual war. Today’s ritual is to sistematically beat on the weakest. We understand their violence; do they understand ours?’

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