'While We Are Here' ('Enquanto estamos aqui'): Film Review | Rotterdam 2019

International Film Festival Rotterdam
Theo Campolina Pretti in 'While We Are Here.'
An entrancing, original miniature.

Clarissa Campolina and Luiz Pretti's obliquely told romance premiered in a sidebar at the long-running Netherlands showcase.

A poetic, philosophical, romantic tale told using elliptical images and literary voice-over, While We Are Here (Enquanto estamos aqui) is a delicately crafted Brazilian gem that proved one of the finds of this year's Rotterdam Film Festival. Evidently a labor of love for real-life couple Clarissa Campolina and Luiz Pretti, who share directing, writing, cinematography and editing duties, this bittersweet episodic story of globe-hopping sweethearts rewards patient audiences willing to embrace unconventional narrative forms. Further festival play is indicated.

It's Campolina's second feature, nearly a decade after 2011's fine docu-fiction hybrid Swirl (aka Girimunho) — co-directed with Helvecio Marins Jr — which nabbed a nice handful of awards and secured distribution in several territories including France and Spain. Pretti, meanwhile, has numerous credits as part of a constellation of regularly collaborating Brazilian talents that includes his brother Rodrigo, Pedro Diogenes and the prolific Guto Parente. His crowning achievement to date is editing Affonso Uchoa and Joao Duman's superlative labor-focused road-movie Araby (2017), which also bowed at Rotterdam and is easily one of the great Latin American films of the current century.

While We Are Here is a quieter and more intimate enterprise, but once again a great deal of geographical terrain is covered: the story begins in New York, includes an interlude in Brazilian metropolis Belo Horizonte, and ends up in Berlin. And both films make copious use of narration, which provides the sole dialog heard here. In fact, the script is a measured compendium of monologues by various speakers in various languages, encompassing various forms (including authorial interjections and first-person epistolary communications).

After introducing protagonists Wilson (a worker from Brazil) and Lamis (a single mother from Lebanon) -- the former about to leave NYC and the latter a recent arrival — the pair are connected in a chance encounter and passionate attachment gradually develops. Pretti's editing flair is evident in the way the duo's environments are conveyed in fleeting, fragmentary form. Dazzling visual grace-notes abound; the grimy, intoxicating hubbub of New York niftily contrasts with the more stately rhythms of the well-ordered German capital.

In the latter sections, individuals we may or may not take for Wilson and Lamis are teasingly glimpsed, though the closest approximation to an actual "performance" is provided by Campolina and Pretti's young son Theo, an appealing tyke who plays Lamis' child Omar. A delicate wisp of a story stretched out to bare-minimum feature length, While We Are Here may occasionally give the sense of an over-extended short. But in its subtle and mature way the picture casts a gentle, endearing spell that lingers after the credits roll: small, once again, is beautiful.

Production company: Anavilhana Filmes
Cast: Mary Ghattas, Marcelo Souza e Silva, Grace Passo, Theo Campolina Pretti, Glaucia Vandeveld, Fernando Alves Pinto
Directors / Screenwriters / Cinematographers / Editors: Clarissa Campolina, Luiz Pretti
Producer: Luana Melgacao
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Bright Future)
Sales: Anavilhana Filmes, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
In Portuguese, Arabic, French, English No Rating, 77 minutes