'Pacarrete': Film Review | Shanghai 2019

'Pacarrete' - H 2019
Courtesy of Deberton Filmes
She's way beyond manic-depressive.

Marcelia Cartaxo ('Hour of the Star') redefines the meaning of crazy old lady in an on/off Brazilian first feature by Allan Deberton.

Brazilian films are frequently hard to pigeonhole, and Allan Deberton’s wildly veering Pacarrete is a case in point. The first half is such a broad comedy that it will turn off many festival audiences, until quite suddenly the tone turns somber and meaningful for another half hour. The ending is unclassifiable, a vindication of difference as beauty that leaves a sense of wonder — and wondering what this film is all about.

Deberton’s short films have received awards and his first feature, for all its oddity, could follow suit. It bowed in Shanghai's competition.

Playing the title role of an eccentric ex-ballet dancer somewhere around 70 is Marcelia Cartaxo, who won the Berlinale best actress award for playing a mentally challenged secretary in Suzana Amaral’s Hour of the Star (1986). Here, a cheerful opening dance number, in which she sings and cavorts with a broom on the front porch of her house while shouting obscenities at unseen passersby, is enough to disorient anybody. Complementing her tightly coiffed red hair, rouged cheeks and trim figure is a voice like a foghorn that still gets laughs late into the film.

She shares a sprawling house in Russas, in the Brazilian northeast, with her ailing sister Chiquinha (Zezita Matos) and their domestic help Maria (Soia Lira). It’s soon clear Pacarrete is in her own little world, though we still don’t know how deeply. She flirts with a young married man who runs a confectionery store, Miguel (Joao Miguel), batting her blue eyes at him and talking like a southern belle. His kindness and delicacy toward her are moving. Not so the kids who ring her doorbell for a lark. To anyone who stares at her on the street, she is quick to honk out a nasty retort.

The film’s tone is still lighthearted comedy when trouble begins brewing. Pacarrete waltzes into the office of the city’s hip head of cultural events (Samya De Lavor) and announces she has decided to give Russas a gift for its 200th anniversary: she will dust off her tutu and ballet slippers and perform a classical dance on stage during the celebrations. Brushing her off is not easy, and after a tussle in the car, the official kicks her out near a sinister abandoned factory. There she meets an overgrown poodle she calls He-Man. She refers to him not as her pet, but as her son and buys a baby crib for him to sleep in.

It’s an enjoyable array of nonsense but goes on too long and grows tiring. Just then the film turns a corner. From bubbly, bouncy madwoman, Pacarrete goes into a sudden depression, stops eating, bathing, dying her hair. She even stops talking. In a beautifully directed, delicate scene shot in semi-darkness, she realizes that her sister is no longer with her — meaning that many things we have taken for granted as true were only her delusions.

This prepares the way for the astonishing third act, in which she reacts to the noise and confusion of the city’s celebrations outside her house with a moment of sheer imagination. And once again the filmmaker follows suit, pulling the rug out from under the audience. So it is a film that bears watching to the end, if nothing else for Cartaxo’s extraordinary ability to be fascinating and liberating, whatever her state of mind.

An opening title proclaims this is based on a true story, which may account for the filmmaker’s obvious affection for his batty but utterly understandable heroine. Though her story is set near Fortaleza, the film is as set-bound as a 1930s musical, and the tech work pulls together a very special atmosphere of a genteel old Brazil that lingers on in a crass new world. Fred Silveira’s score and unexpected song choices are spot on and Christiana Garrido's costumes for Pacarrete are a delight, especially some spectacular tutus.

Production companies: Deberton Filmes, Ancine, FSA, BRE
Cast: Marcelia Cartaxo, Soia Lira, Zezita Matos, Joao Miguel, Samya D Lavor, Edneia Tutti, Debora Ingrid
Director: Allan Deberton
Screenwriters: Andre Arauja, Natalia Maia, Samuel Brasileiro, Allan Deberton
Producer: Cesar Teixeira
Executive producer: Ariadne Mazzetti
Director of photography: Beto Martins
Production designer: Rodrigo Frota
Costume designer: Christiana Garrido
Editor: Joana Collier
Music: Fred Silveira
Casting: Icaro Costa-Paio
Venue: Shanghai International Film and TV Festival (competition)

World sales: 02 Play, 96 minutes