Cannes Hidden Gem: 'Sick, Sick, Sick' Sheds Hope for "Young Generations" in Ailing Brazil

'Sick Sick Sick' Still — Publicity — H 2019
Courtesy of Cannes

Director Alice Furtado tells the story of a lovestruck teen attempting to defy the laws of nature at a time when Brazilian filmmakers are facing an uncertain future.

Brazilian director Alice Furtado's feature debut, Sick, Sick, Sick, was created by young people for young people at a time when its makers are gravely concerned about the future of the next generation of Brazilian creative talents.

The local industry is undergoing "a political and bureaucratic crisis" after state film agency Ancine in April froze its incentive programs and Brazil's controversial new president, Jair Bolsonaro, announced the cancellation of investments from leading industry sponsors, according to Sick producer Matheus Pecanha. If things don't change, Peçanha warns, "we will lose a big generation of young filmmakers, producers and technicians."

Sick, which screens as part of Directors' Fortnight, tells the story of Silvia (Luiza Kosovski), a teenager exploring her sexuality, who falls in love with Artur (Juan Paiva), a hemophiliac tempting fate by living life to its fullest. When he dies, Silvia falls into an inexplicable trancelike state of physical decline and spiritual malaise as she tries to bring Artur back to life. Furtado films the actors in close-ups, capturing a feeling of disorientation as viewers experience events alongside Silvia.

Asked whether Sick could be read as a metaphor for an ailing Brazil, Furtado says that wasn't the case when she started writing it in 2014, but she now sees an increased relevance in the film's message in light of the current political context. "When I see this young powerful couple overcome the laws of nature for love, it makes me think about the young generations in my country," she says. "And the hope I have that they will, with all their power and energy, shake the structures of this old, white, patriarchic system of privileges that is taking the country down."

One surprising source of inspiration for Furtado's film was Stephen King's 1983 horror novel Pet Sematary. "I love that book, the way we commit to the main character's madness," says Furtado. "Even though we know his fate will be doomed and tragic, we hope for him to do everything he does and to succeed. I wanted to generate this same kind of feeling for Silvia's character."

Furtado was also inspired by Claire Denis, for whom she worked as an assistant director while studying at French audiovisual school LeFresnoy. She says Denis taught her to be strong in filmmaking and in life, which can only help her ability to weather the challenges facing Brazil.

"That kind of strength is fundamental when we have to fight for our ideas and decisions," she says. "And also, when we need to reassure our crew on set, when we have to show ourselves with full presence in body and spirit."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 19 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.