Film Review: Garapa

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Panorama Documentary

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BERLIN -- Brazilian director Jose Padilha, recipient of last year's Golden Bear award at the Berlinale for his police drama "Elite Squad," returns to the festival with a completely different effort in "Garapa." This is a documentary about one of the world's great killers -- hunger. To put faces to this epidemic of malnutrition and poverty, Padilha filmed three poor Brazilian families over several weeks, watching them grapple with chronic food shortages and engage in various strategies to survive without proper nutrition.

This is an important subject but as a cinematic experience, it's about as rough as it gets. You get the point after five minutes, but the repetition of these images played out over 110 minutes provides no further illumination. The film will be seen nowhere other than at festivals or in conferences or educational settings.

The three families all occupy the lowest rung of Brazilian society, one in the outskirts of a small town, another in an urban environment and the third in the middle of nowhere. The men either cannot find work or drink away the money while the women spend the day caring for children and babies covered with scabs and lice and lethargic from lack of food. What passes for a meal is a disgrace. Indeed the title comes from a mixture of sugar and water that is the main source of calories for most of the film's kids.

Padilha strips cinema down to bare essentials. He films in black and white with no music and only monophonic sound. The same scenes of food preparation and consumption are replicated over and over just as most of his subjects tend to repeat themselves.
One woman has 11 kids and no thought of practicing birth control. One man admits that at age 28, he has never had three meals in a day in his life.

From off camera, someone asks an occasional question. For the most part though, the film simply shows the families getting through the day without any concern for filling the audience in on their pasts, their relationships or what they think about their dire conditions.

Padilha says he chose this approach to provoke empathy about hunger. But empathy requires understanding of people, not simply observing or pitying them. You don't, in fact, understand these people. You only understand their horrifying condition.

Production companies: Zazen Producoes Audiovisuals
Director: Jose Padilha
Screenwriters: Felipe Lacerda, Jose Padilha
Producer: Jose Padilha, Marcos Prado
Executive producers: James D'Arcy, Mariana Bentes
Director of photography: Marcela Bourseau
Editor: Felipe Lacerda
Sales: Zazen Producoes Audiovisuals
No rating, 110 minutes