Bel Borba Aquí: Film Review

BEL BORBA AQUI Still - H 2012

BEL BORBA AQUI Still - H 2012

Endearing doc focuses on the pleasure of creating over the rigors of artistry.

Burt Sun and André Costantini's debut film follows a prolific artist leaving no blank wall unpainted in Salvador, Brazil.

Celebrating a gregarious Brazilian painter/sculptor whose defining characteristic is an inability to stop creating, Bel Borba Aquí is cheerfully out of step with the street art zeitgeist, where shadowy figures like Banksy occupy the top rung. The debut film from Burt Sun and André Costantini will charm many arthouse patrons, though some highbrow-leaning art lovers will find the subject unworthy of such attention.

Famous in his native Salvador, Bel Borba studied art but gave up the gallery scene decades ago, instead becoming regionally famous via tile mosaics and murals on buildings throughout the city. Unexplored here is whether the fine art world rejected him first: Borba's folky style seems unlikely to wow critics. He tells the filmmakers at one point they should talk to a writer who "talks intelligently bad things about me," but the film has no use for naysayers, or even for outsiders who might praise his work. Borba's is almost the only voice we hear in the film.

Instead of talking heads and biographical info, Sun and Costantini spend their time watching the man do his thing. We see him suspended on a crane, decorating a concrete ruin; breaking tile for colorful human-scale decorations in a seaside residential area; directing assistants on sculpture projects made of heavy steel and weathered wood. One thing we never see him do is edit himself: With the exception of a time-lapse sequence in which he makes an evolving picture for the camera's benefit, Borba never erases a brushstroke or questions an idea. Every image that enters his head gets used, and if strangers suggest he should add a fish to a mural, he'll throw that in as well.

Borba's a charismatic self-promoter, happy to take commissions from big corporations and incapable of saying no to a TV crew. We only rarely hear him make an introspective comment or hint at the kind of political sentiments that motivate so many other street artists. But it's clear from street scenes that his work brings joy to people throughout Salvador -- a city whose flavor comes across vibrantly here, from the well chosen songs on the soundtrack to the bustling outdoor market where Borba, having spotted a butcher stall's cow heads, can't help but create clay torsos to prop them on for shoppers' amusement.

Production Company: Bel Borba Aqui Productions, LLC
Directors-Screenwriters: Burt Sun, André Costantini
Producer: Burt Sun
Executive producer: Debra Winger
Director of photography: André Costantini
Music: Anrdré Costantini, Michael Wall, Eliano Braz, Darren Morze, Bob Hart
Editors: Vanessa Reiser Shaw, Daniel Burity, André Costantini
No rating, 91 minutes.