By Robert Koehler
From the traces of suicidal young in Listorti’s debut to the presence of suicidal young who won’t go away in Esmir Filho’s The Famous and the Dead/Os Famosos e os Duendes da Morte (another debut, in the Ibero American competition)—death is in the air in Guadalajara. Slippery as a fish and defying any brief description, Filho’s work at first appears to be just another tale of dissolute youth whose lives are in flux and meaning seems uncertain. The familiar concoction of weed, wandering, crazy moms and the rest. (Filho flirts with profound cliché early on when depicting a pot scene in woozy slow motion.) Yet what emerges is a more complex web than first appearances suggest, a web of alternating tenses, interior and exterior states of mind and a growing dread that we are witnessing something taking place in a condition neither quite alive nor exactly dead.
I haven’t seen Filho’s previous shorts, including Saliva, but Brazilian critic colleague (and FIPRESCI jury president in Guadalajara) Jose Avellar observes that The Famous and the Dead continues the short films’ concerns with the hopes and fears of adolescents, shot in a mode that conveys a state somewhere between sleep and full consciousness. The tone here is darker; the web-savvy teen boy at the center has taken the moniker “Mr. Tambourine Man” after Bob Dylan, and the suicide of a girl off a bridge hangs like a cloud over a town in southern Brazil, originally founded by Prussians (who are sometimes heard speaking in an Old German dialect). Filho displays considerable control over sequences that lead to the boy facing his own mortality, with the unresolved suggestion that the bridge may be his own passage to death: The extraordinary final shot in short depth-of-field captures him in clear focus, until he moves further away and becomes a blur and invisible. Such is the nature of The Famous and the Dead—the materiality of this world slips away in a moment, video fragments take on the nature of a dream, and the division between the living and the dead dissolves.