‘Blue Blood’ (‘Sangue azul’): Rio de Janeiro Review

Courtesy of Agencia Febre
Visually stunning as film but largely unrelatable as drama

Lirio Ferreira’s tale of circus life and incest set on a paradise island took the best feature and director awards at Rio

A sumptuous study of isolation that feels remote from authentic experience, Blue Blood is full of stunning images and striking set pieces which add up to little apart from a series of brilliant, blue-hued flashes. Back in 1996, its director Lirio Ferreira co-directed Perfumed Ball, the first film from Brazil’s Pernambuco region to make an impact on the international festival circuit: Blue Blood is only his third film. Unfortunately, despite its tight geographical focus it replicates the diffuseness of Dry Movie, Ferreira’s second, by saying too little about too much.

High on style but low on substance, there’s no escaping the fact that a story about the far-flung possibility of incest is a slim premise on which to hang a movie, despite that movie’s often elegant attempts to conceal its hollowness with cinematic fireworks. Offshore prospects, too, seem remote, though Blood’s awards for best film and director at Rio should generate some interest.

The travels of the Neptune circus have brought it to a distant island, an unnamed tropical paradise (the film was in fact shot on Fernando de Noronha, an idyllic location some 200 miles off the coast of north-east Brazil). The early scenes of this languid, sumptuously-shot film show the setting up of the circus, with billowing canvases set against the crystalline blue sea which dictates its palette and to which the title refers.

The cast is high-profile. Zolah (Daniel de Oliveira) is the human cannonball, a figure who metaphorically enough oozes a sexuality which he explores with Teorema (Cuban actress Laura Ramos). The ringmaster, Marlon Brando fan Kaleb (vet Paulo Cesar Pereio), is a fading illusionist who converses existentially on the beach with local fisherman Mumbebo (the great Brazilian director Ruy Guerra, squeezed in: touchingly it was fifty years ago this year that Pereiro made his debut in Guerra’s The Rifles). Other members of the troupe include strongman Inox (Milhem Cortz) and Gaetan (Matheus Nachtergaele), who throws knives at Teorema.

Read more Rio Film Fest: 'Blue Blood' Tops Premiere Brazil Competition

Zolah is returning to the island for the first time in over twenty years since being handed over to Kaleb to be raised in the circus by his mother Rosa (Sandra Coverloni). But unfortunately he falls for diver Raquel (Caroline Abras), now married to the hapless Cangulo (Romulo Braga, who won the best supporting actor in Rio): we soon learn that not only were Zolah and Raquel friends when they were children, but that they're biological brother and sister.

Presumably the aim is to have the circus function as a microcosm of society, and indeed major subjects are negotiated, among them love, sexuality, marriage, aging and death. But the angle of focus is so wide that very little new light is shed on any of them. Blue Blood is full of small moments of symbolism which don’t add up to much, unless we’re looking at a metaphor for a society struggling to emerge from the consequences of the bad decisions taken by its elders: and if that is indeed what it’s all about, then it doesn’t deliver anything particularly revealing.

The film is thus best enjoyed for its full creation of an isolated, remote and offbeat world, a world, however, in which it’s hard to engage emotionally because of the broad brushstroke characterization. Most of the dramatic burden falls on the shoulders of de Oliveira, who is sensitive, muscular and dull, and Abras, straddled between marriage and sex as Raquel: but there’s no sense of anything that may have happened between the central duo which would merit all this dramatic fuss.

Circuses as seen in movies tend to be brighter, less drab places than their real-life counterparts, and that’s the case here: the characters seem to be at their happiest when performing. But there’s little of note about what they’re doing during these scenes, which drag on too long. Such scenes contrast with those too-few moments of extraordinary and memorable artistry, as in a long shot of Raquel falling asleep in what appears to be real time, or of Kaleb approaching Inox and suddenly, apropos of nothing, kissing him passionately.

Production company: Drama Filmes
Cast: Daniel de Oliveira, Caroline Abras, Romulo Braga, Paulo Cesar Pereio, Sandra Coverloni, Milhem Cortz, Matheus Nachtergaele, Laura Ramos, Ruy Guerra
Director: Lirio Ferreira
Screenwriters: Lirio Ferreira, Fellipe Barbosa, Sergio Oliveira
Producers: Beto Brant, Lirio Ferreira, Renato Ciasca
Executive producers: Monica Lapa, Julia Bock, Fred Lasmar, Tuca Noronha
Director of photography: Mauro Pinheiro
Production designer: Juliana Carapeba
Editors: Mair Tavares, Tina Saphira
Composer: Pupilo
Sales: Drama Filmes

No rating
114 minutes