The Man of the Crowd (O Homem das Multidoes): Rio de Janeiro Review

Mostly earnest purist fare whose engrossing visuals help to counterbalance its jaded subject matter.

A Brazilian take on contemporary alienation, loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe story published in 1840.

Cinemagoers weary of hearing that contemporary urban life has left modern man feeling alienated and alone will find much to annoy them in The Man of the Crowd, in which the medium is luckily far more interesting than the message. Loosely based on the 1840 Edgar Allan Poe story to which it owes its title -- though lacking the story’s suspensefulness -- this tale of an uncertain relationship between a train driver and a station controller is slow-moving, carefully-crafted and uncompromisingly purist fare whose conviction, assurance and pathos just about carry the viewer through its more wearying passages. Although none of its challenges are new, the visually engrossing Man is likely to find friendly crowds in festival sidebars.

The life of train driver Juvenal (Paulo Andre), the kind of absurdly gauche existential figure who once inhabited the pages of modernist novels, runs along straight and narrow lines. Using his work as his excuse for not having a life, he wanders alone through his (and co-director Cao Guimaraes) home city of Belo Horizonte, his ginger hair always visible among the throngs who surround him. The life of the pathologically shy Juvenal is as empty of friends as his refrigerator is of food. Though he may have existential interest, Juvenal's complete lack of interaction with the outside world makes him a dull figure dramatically, and through the first half hour Paulo Andre has his work cut out to persuade the viewer that he’s  worth the time.

With the arrival of station controller Margo (the captivating Silvia Lourenco, most familiar to foreign audiences for Up Against Them All) everything  suddenly more than doubles in interest. She is a more interesting character than Juvenal. Where he is dour and a little stupid, Margo is bubbly, smily, and outgoing, making it unlikely that she should approach him to be a witness at her forthcoming wedding. Living with her ailing father (Brazilian film theorist Jean-Claude Bernardet), Margo is the victim of a more contemporary form of isolation than Juvenal, spending her time on Internet chat rooms and observing Juvenal through surveillance cameras. Feminists will note that while her sexual frustrations are tackled in one fairly explicit scene, Juvenal's never are.

Man is shot in a square 3x3 format using color-faded imagery which arrestingly highlights the characters’ claustrophobia, isolation and weariness. Even within that, d.p. Ivo Lopes Araujo, who is the real star of the show here, does a wonderful job of finding confining angles, frames and perspectives which further underscore their loneliness.

Practically dialog-free, the film works by accumulation of visual detail rather than by narrative movement, with every scene adding a new facet to the inventory of solitude that the film represents. This is done sometimes subtly (the squares of the sudoku game Margo plays are an extension of the grids which frame their lives), and sometimes not.

But beyond all the slowness and the working-out of ideas, there is real pathos and some gentle humor in watching Juvenal’s struggles to relate to the world. The folk group O Grivo bring some evocative commentary to the film’s more accessible last twenty minutes.

Production: Cinco Em Ponto, Rec Produtores Associados
Cast: Paulo Andre, Sílvia Lourenco, Jean-Claude Bernardet
Directors, screenwriters: Marcelo Gomes, Cao Guimaraes
Producers: Beto Magalhaes, Joao Vieira Jr.
Director of Photography: Ivo Lopes Araujo
Music: O Grivo
Editor: Guimaraes,Gomes, Lucas Sander
Sales: FiGa films
No Rating, 95 Minutos