Monday, June 19, 2006

O Branco, Brazil

O Branco (The Color White)
Directed by: Angela Pires, Liliana Sulzbach, Brazil, 2000, 22 mins.

The film opens with a shot of a burning sun. The shadowed figures of a man and boy walk through a field while a guitar plays in the background.The son asks, “Daddy, what color is the sun?” to which the father replies, “It depends on the hour.” He takes Fredi’s hand and traces a big circle in the air, explaining that the sun changes color during the day. Fredi says, “I prefer it white,” before adding, “I don’t like it when it gets dark” as his father places a stone in his hand. As they throw rocks towards the sun, his father says he understands this fear and replies, “It’s symbolic.” He then describes symbolism. They hug as Fredi’s father explains,“When I hug you really tight, which means I will be with you forever.”

Suddenly the sky darkens and we cut to an older Fredi getting dressed in a white bathroom. A narrator’s voice informs us that it is Saturday and that Fredi, who lives with his seamstress mother, always knows the days by “color.” Fredi is blind and spends almost all of his time inside, with the exception of trips to the market and Saturday afternoons at a park.

This Saturday, his mother leaves him on a park bench while she makes a phone call to “Alice.” She warns Fredi,Don’t talk to anyone, they’ll steal everything, even your glasses.” A girl asks him to hold her ice cream cone while she ties her shoe. He drops it; she gets mad, wondering aloud, “there are some really bad people in this world.” Fredi stares straight ahead and mumbles, “sorry.” Claudia suddenly realizes he’s blind (signaled by the background sound of a few individual piano notes) and apologizes, but is soon called away. Fredi is left alone, swallowing away his nervousness.

Back at home, life is the same. Fredi continues his lonely routine and somber music plays as scenes virtually identical to the earlier weekday scenes fade into one another.

The next Saturday Caludia brings Fredi to swings on the river-side of the park and asks, “If you could see, what would you want to see the most?” He replies, “Branco” and explains, “It’s symbolic.” Fredi’s mother is angry when she finds him and drags him away.

On the following Saturday, Fredi adds a spray of cologne to his dressing routine, but is dismayed when his mother informs him, “No park for some time.” It is unclear whether this is because of some falling out with “Alice” or if she wants to shield him from Claudia and the outside world. Fredi leaves the house by himself, for presumably the first time ever. With his cane ,he makes his way to the bus, but he gets off at the wrong stop. Fredi gets lost and bumps into people. He is overwhelmed by cars beeping at him and visibly frustrated when he walks into side of building. He even walks down a thin road island that divides a very high-traffic urban road. Suddenly, he begins to take the arms of strangers and they help him cross streets until he finally reaches the park and meets Claudia. They spend the afternoon together and while they sit on a bench at sunset and cast stones into the air, Fredi reveals, “I feel as if I could see it.” He then asks what color the sun is and Claudia echoes his father’s words from the opening scene, describing the changing sun. The last image is a shot from behind. They sit with their backs to the cameras, in shadows under a red sun.

I was interested in this movie because it won a slew of awards including: Best Short Film, Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2000; Best Latin American and Caribbean Film - Divercine, Uruguay, 2001; Best Short Film, Biarritz Latin American Film Festival, France, 2001. This film works on a universal level because it explores the cyclical nature of life (implied loss of father), literal and figurative blindness and reliance on other people. The opening and ending scenes are both artistically beautiful and offer simple, but sweet insights, such as the idea of feeling (emotions like love in the present/love in the past) vs. seeing. There is great use of light vs. dark motifs throughout and the music relfects the emotional changes throughout the film well. One of the best understated moments was watching Fredi let strangers help him walk through the city.The actor who plays Fredi really does an excellent job.


Rhead said...
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Rhead said...

“O Branco” feels like a long film. I ascribe this sensation to the repetition of scenes that depict Fredi’s daily routine and the montage of scenes that expresses in a short time period Fredi’s hours of blind wander and search for the park bench. In the context of this short film I consider the phenomenon an achievement of filmmaking. It’s not that the film dragged on but rather that it piled day upon day with such economy that hours and weeks (and maybe years) still felt like hours and weeks despite the actual passage of only minutes. In other words, through repetition and editing, in a matter of minutes the audience feels the build-up and boredom of years. Successful depiction of this feeling is integral to the drama of Fredi’s search and the significance of his eventual victory, the minutes, the hours spent outside the routine.

Jay said...

Agreed, with respect to the matter of compression . . . with one arguable drawback of that compression being the instantaneousness of Fredi's move to defy his mother in venturing out of the household on his own, which felt a tad forced and rushed to me. I thought more tension could have been built around this crucial moment of decision (the "turning point" of the story), but nonetheless, was glad when Fredi ventured out, because this is where I felt the film really came alive.

One other observation I had about the film is how Fredi's blindness becomes something of an OCD metaphor, with the emphasis on routinized daily behavior ("Mother, how do I look?" ad infinitum, for instance); on obsessions with, and avoidances of, certain colors (i.e. Fredi's obsession with white, and his avoidance of non-white foods); and on other OCD-esque behaviors like counting steps.

ltpalm said...

"Is it true that the blind hear better?"
"I think we pay better attention"
This sentiment is wonderfully captured in this short as the filmmaker allows us to "see" life through this blind boy's eyes. The boy's other heightened senses are not only talked about, but are shown to us. I love the way the boy's hand is constantly shown in CU or ECU. By seeing his hand clench the hole in the bench and grab onto the shoulders of people as he crosses the road we realize how important touch is to him. We also are privy to how important sound is to him as well. This is demonstrated through the over saturation of sound on the bus that he (and the audience) experience. The image of him with his fingers in his ears is priceless.

I agree with Jay that the scene of him defying his mother is important and could be given more attention. However, I think the film captures (rather nicely) his transition from dependence to independence as we witness him stand completely still, alone in the room after his mother fakes a headache and leaves. This too is symbolism! Similarly, the LS(?) of him at the bus stop is great. We are allowed to see him alone (which seems odd and eerie for some reason) standing still, waiting. Once he boards the bus, the camera stays on the shelter/umbrella as the bus leaves. The effect mirrors how alone yet independent the boy has become.

The symbolic color play does trouble me a bit. What does "white" really mean to him since he has never experienced it? And I must say I'm distress at possible interpretations of his avoidance of other colors. This seems like it is relying too heavily on established archetypes and not actually specific to story. However, this may just be my read. At any rate, overall, I'm a big fan of this work.

Jessica said...

I agree with much of what's already been said. Additionally, I would have liked to see (or rather, not see) more moments like on the bus when we are pushed into the darkness that fredi lives in and we must rely only on the sounds to track where we are. Perhaps one of the bus rides with the mother could have been in darkness and when we hear the music of the store, we come out of the dark. Then likewise, we experience the same familier music the second time with Fredi alone on the bus, except we then get the advantage of "opening our eyes" and seeing the ice cream truck, not the store. So much of this piece relieson senses--hearing, smelling, feeling, that I think that it could have played up our experience to those senses a bit more, or rather the lack of sight. Much like the French and Mexican selections from 11"09'01 stripped away our sight and hearing, this piece could have done the same to a greater degree.