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A drive-by robbery and its bloody aftermath kick-start this punchy Brazilian drama, which has just had its world premiere in competition at the Rio Film Festival. The highly assured feature debut of writer-director Juliana Reis, a former casting director for Luc Besson in Paris, AE-Autoexposure is slick and polished in all aspects besides its oddly clumsy English title. The more elegant direct translation from Portuguese would be “shots.”
Thanks largely to City of God, recent Brazilian cinema currently enjoys a reputation for brutally graphic crime dramas that expose the fault-lines between rich and poor in this massive Latin American nation. The genre now borders on cliché, but AE-Autoexposure strikes a more playful and absurd tone than most. It begins as an urban thriller, then unfolds in non-linear fragments into a dark comedy of social manners, verbal wordplay and unexpected sexual chemistry. Opening domestically next month, it has more than enough stylistic swagger and technical gloss to appeal to discerning audiences beyond Brazil’s borders.
Gustavo Machado plays Henrique, an arrogant hotshot photographer in Rio de Janeiro. One eventful night, following a photo shoot at a gay club in the city’s suburbs, his camera is stolen in an attempted carjacking that escalates into a shocking traffic accident, leaving one of the would-be thieves with life-threatening injuries. A crowd gathers and a traumatized Henrique speeds away, but returns soon afterwards to retrieve his camera memory card, only to be arrested for leaving the scene of the crime.
At the police station, Henrique’s hot temper earns him an extended battle of wits with sardonic detective Inspector Friere (Caco Ciocler) that centers on whether he is victim or villain. Meanwhile, one of the criminals lies at death’s door in hospital, and the driver responsible is at home agonized by guilt. Thriller turns to farce when Friere interrogates the wrong patient as a potential suspect. But the most unlikely consequence of the carjacking is in throwing together various odd couples whose meetings all lead, in a shamelessly contrived piece of dramatic symmetry, to a symphony of simultaneous sexual encounters.
Based on real events, AE-Autoexposure seems designed to purposely portray contemporary Rio with a certain self-consciousness distance from its recent screen reputation. The anonymous locations are mostly nocturnal streets and drab interiors, with cinematographer Gustavo Hadba sticking to muted browns and moody shadows. There is plenty of visual style here, but not much tropical color or poverty-porn slumdog spectacle. Reis even slips a knowing in-joke about the locally shot cop thriller franchise Elite Squad into her witty script.
But her policemen are not gun-toting fascist vigilantes, just word-weary cynics whose weapon of choice is withering sarcasm. And the criminals they pursue are not feral teenage gangsters from war-torn favelas but petty juvenile delinquents whose mothers still call the shots. Some of these side plots and minor characters are too underdeveloped, as if Reis is gesturing towards a multi-strand ensemble drama without feeling wholly committed to the notion.
But these are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent feature debut that balances gritty thrills with witty dialogue. Most impressively, AE-Autoexposure is far more interested in exploring the unexpected human consequences of violent crime than it is in depicting violence itself.
Venue: Rio film festival screening, October 1
Production companies: Diversid’Arte Producoes, Escrevendo & Filmes, Synapse, Estudios Quanta
Cast: Gustavo Machado, Caco Ciocler, Julio Adrião, Dedina Bernadelli, João Pedro Zappa
Director: Juliana Reis
Writer: Juliana Reis
Producers: Henrique Saladini, Juliana Reis
Cinematography: Gustavo Hadba
Editor: Pedro Bronz, Marilio Moraes
Music: Mariana Camargo
Sales company: H2O, Escrevendo & Filmes
Rating TBC, 82 minutes
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