Riverrun (Riocorrente): Rotterdam Review

Riverrun - H - 2014
Enigmatic Brazilian provocation strikes some moody poses but never lands a real punch.

Simone Iliescu and Lee Taylor star in writer/director Paulo Sacramento's Sao Paulo-set drama, showing in competition at the Netherlands festival.

A bold if ultimately unconvincing vision of a 21st-century Brazil that's much more powder-keg than melting-pot, Riverrun (Riocorrente) is a belated fictional debut by award-winning documentarian Paulo Sacramento. One of the more stylish entries in Rotterdam's Tiger competition, it picked up some prizes at the festivals of Brasilia and Sao Paulo last fall, and is of topical interest as a snapshot of life in the country hosting the soccer World Cup later this year and also the 2016 Summer Olympics. But while events and platforms seeking "edgy" fare may bite, the end result is too pretentious and insubstantial to gain much real international traction.

The episodic, elliptical plot echoes two of 2012's more notable Brazilian productions, namely Francisco Garcia's droll Sao Paulo hipster-chronicle Colors and Marcelo Gomes's superior, Recife-set character-study Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica -- neither of which made the overseas impact they deserved. Colors' female lead Simone Iliescu now plays thirtyish Renata, who's simultaneously going out with bad-boy auto-shop worker Carlos (Lee Taylor) and bohemian intellectual Marcelo (Roberto Audio). But whereas Gomes' film got right into the head and under the skin of its fascinatingly complex heroine, here the focus shifts too frequently between the principal trio of Sao Paulo residents for any of them to really attain three-dimensional life.

The fourth main character is street-kid Exu (Vinicius Dos Anjos), who is looked after by Carlos in a relationship somewhere between paternal and fraternal. Exu's wanderings around this mega-metropolis of 11 million souls provides Riverrun with its most effective sequences, veteran cinematographer Aloysius Raulino capturing some strikingly atmospheric images of a city riven by socio-economic inequalities and seemingly poised on the verge of violent, perhaps even revolutionary upheaval. In stronger hands, what follows might have been dynamite indeed.

Sacramento, best known in Brazil as an editor (he shares cutting duties with Ida Lacrete here), has a background in non-fiction and experimental fields -- he won numerous prizes for 2003's prison-expose Prisoner of the Iron Bars (including Best New Documentary Filmmaker at Tribeca). Now moving into the long-form dramatic realm for the first time, he increasingly struggles to translate his passions and concerns into accessible screenplay form. And the actors can't do much with the generally prosaic, on-the-nose dialogue.

The main thrust of the plot concerns Renata's attempts to radicalize the brutish proletarian Carlos, a surly, extravagantly sideburned biker whose care for Exu betrays his swaggering exterior (a little of Taylor's unsmiling sub-Brando routine goes rather a long way.) But whatever narrative flow Riverrun accumulates is fatally dissipated in the second half, as hallucinations and fantasies freely mingle with hard-knock reality -- including some extravagant, fiery visual "flourishes" which nod towards the Carlos Reygadas school of self-indulgent excess.  "I don't paint apples, I paint allegories" explains acclaimed artist Marcelo Grassmann in an intriguing early documentary-style interview section, but Sacramento's ardent flirtation with symbolism yields consequences that are generally more waterlogged than incendiary.

Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Tiger Competition)
Production companies: Olhos de Cao, TC Filmes
Cast: Simone Iliescu, Lee Taylor, Roberto Audio, Vinicius Dos Anjos
Director/Screenwriter: Paulo Sacramento
Producers:Paulo Sacramento, Pablo Torrecillas, Moema Miller
Director of photography: Aloysius Raulino
Production designer: Akira Goto
Editors: Ide Lacreta, Paulo Sacramento
Music: Paulo Beto
Sales: Olhos de Cao, Sao Paulo
No MPAA rating, 79 minutes