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Some will swear and walk out of this movie. A stylistically daring meditation on the slow road out of rehab as traveled by the daughter of a Brazilian politico, I Swear I’ll Leave This Town is marked from first frame to last by its excess. Whether it’s the psychologically unstable heroine, the often psychotic camerawork, or the psychedelic music, there’s little in Daniel Aragao’s movie for lovers of nuance, and indeed there’s an excess of Daniel Aragao himself, sweating for auteur status. But as a viewing experience it’s oddly compelling and uncomfortable, built as it is on solidly contemporary satirical foundations that just about pulls all its craziness into focus.
Aragao’s first film, Good Luck, Sweetheart, was very different tonally but similarly blended striking visuals with an anything-goes plotline. Here he pushes the envelope still further, and though it’s patience-straining fare, the rewards are there for those prepared to ride with him. Having left town, Swear could end up on the world cinema sidebars of daring festivals.
Insiting that really, she’s fine, Joli Dornelles (Bianca Joy Porte, making her feature debut) is released from psychiatric care by an unwilling doctor (Miele) who tells her she’ll relapse into the crack cocaine abuse which took her there. She is whisked away in a helicopter to the mansion of her mayoral candidate father Antonio (Zecarlos Machado), who it transpires put her inside and with whom Joli naturally has an uneasy relationship.
All Joli wants is a job, to feel part of society: after all, it’s her role as spoilt little rich girl that got her onto the crack in the first place. Recognizing her usefulness to the campaign she’s running, Antonio puts her in charge of an anti-drugs foundation (Like Luck, the new film is set is Recife, notorious for its drugs problem). Soon Joli comes to realize that her crack problem is one she shares with those at the bottom of the social pile, a realization which will cause her — and her father — all kinds of issues.
The abundance of style on display suffocates most of the characters. But Porte, though unable to win our sympathies in a film which is anyway totally uninterested in doing so, is still committed enough to make a strong impression, carrying both drama and themes on her shoulders, and exploiting her spoilt rich kid looks to the full. The demands on her are extreme: at one point, she literally spits blood at her old friend the unfortunate Manoela (Ana Moreira), at another, at another she masturbates herself to orgasm in what feels like real time. But if that kind of literal and metaphorical nakedness is what it takes to win Best Actress at Rio, then so be it.
Following her exposure to the realities of drug abuse lower down the social scale — one authentically disturbing sequence involves crack pipes and dead children — Joli becomes masochistic, seducing a mechanic and slowly stripping off in front of a cleaner. These are potent, memorable scenes which show that Aragao’s been studying Fellini and Bunuel, along with 60s drug culture in general: we’re in Psychedelia here. The social point is that both the very poor and the very rich are in thrall to the same bad substances, and that it’s people like her father who are controlling the flow of drugs into the populace. Later scenes, however, are merely absurd, Aragao seeming out of control of his narrative if not his treatment. There is, too, another side to Aragao which is fascinated by the very hollow stylishness he’s attacking: those clean-lined, vacant designer interiors, beautifully lit, seem to have seduced him as entirely as the hard angles of Porte’s face.
Elsewhere, D.P. Pedro Sotero, reprising from Sweetheart, abandons all caution when bringing Joli’s psychological issues to the screen as he pulls out the filters to create distorted deja vu blue-hued, swooning digital dreamscapes. He’s aided by a score from Bernie Worrell, once Parliament’s keyboard player, who has created what is often supremely (and probably deliberately) grating electronic soundtrack which, rather than underscoring the action, distracts from it.
The nicely ironic 60s-tinged final credits are accompanied by Parliament’s beautiful I Just Got Back, further evidence of Aragao’s magpie, madcap approach to stylistic influence. Indeed, this may be the only film in history to feature music by both Parliament-Funkadelic and Britain’s World War II morale-boosting crooner, the mighty Dame Vera Lynn.
Production company: Cicatrix Filmes
Cast: Bianca Joy Porte, Zecarlos Machado, Sergio Marone, Ana Moreira
Director, screenwriter, editor: Daniel Aragao
Producers: Daniel Aragao, Jefferson Cavalcanti, Mariana Jacob
Director of photography: Pedro Sotero
Production designer: Thales Junqueira
Composer: Bernie Worrell
Sales: FiGa Filmes Brazil
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