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Other genres in Brazilian cinema

Serra Pelada (Bald Mountain), by Heitor Dhalia, could stimulate the expected increased diversification in Brazilian cinema

Striking reproduction of the chaos of the gold rush in Serra Pelada

Public domain imageStriking reproduction of the chaos of the gold rush in Serra PeladaPublic domain image

The trailer for Serra Pelada, the new film from Pernambucan director Heitor Dhalia, scheduled for release in October 2013, promises a lively product: the drama of the gold rush in a small town in the state of Pará will serve as the backdrop for action and suspense arising from a dispute over land between three miners. Based on the promotional material, Serra Pelada brings to mind gangster movies directed by Martin Scorsese.

Another recent film with a complex production process that resembles a well-established genre not common in Brazil—Xingu—was released in April 2012. It is a western in the purest sense of the word, depicting the conflicts generated by frontier expansion. With at least three shootouts, comparisons between the directors Cao Hamburger and John Wayne are not entirely far-fetched.

These two films are still rarities in the recent history of Brazilian cinema. But the fact that they were released over the same 18-month period suggests a future in which genre films that require more complex production—not yet common in Brazil (such as action, suspense, or science fiction)—could be expected to increase in both quantity and, more importantly, quality.

Before Xingu, Tropa de Elite 2 (The Elite Squad 2: the enemy within) had been the most recent genre film with complicated production requirements widely embraced by audiences. Released in October 2010, José Padilha’s film still ranks first in terms of box office success in the history of Brazilian cinema. Even with its strong social bias, the Rio de Janeiro-bred director packed the film with quality action sequences never before seen in Brazil, resulting in a production that held strong appeal for those who appreciate this particular genre as well as those who expect something more than the pure spectacle.

Wagner Moura as the character Lindo Rico

Public domain imageWagner Moura as the character Lindo RicoPublic domain image

Still, low budget and low quality films continue to dominate the Brazilian scene. The comedy Minha mãe é uma peça (My mother is a pain in the neck), still in theaters, cost R$5.5 million to make and has already earned R$45 million, currently the highest grossing film of the year. It appears as if producers think: why spend more on riskier movies if the current formula still works fine?

If the ultimate goal of producers is to further widen the difference between production value and the bottom line, the Brazilian public has already proven several times over that when it is surprised, it better fulfills the specific craving of cinema as  business. To put it in perspective: Tropa de elite 2 cost R$14.5 million and earned more than R$100 million. The side effect of this gamble (investing more, but expecting a higher return) is especially beneficial to the history of Brazilian cinema in the long term, namely as the long-awaited diversification of the genres produced in the country.

In the not yet published article “Genres and performance in the film market,” Professor Roberto Franco Moreira of the Department of Film, Radio and Television of the School of Communications and Arts, University of São Paulo (CTR/ECA/USP), explains precisely what the negative implications of this dilemma are. “Brazilian cinema is doomed to have a timid presence on the market,” he writes, if it does not diversify the genres it offers.

Moreira mentions that Brazilian cinema only managed two audience ratings peaks in the market over the past 10 years: 23% in 2003 and 19% in 2009. In other years, this percentage ranged from 9% to 15%. “By way of contrast, note that Japanese, Korean and French cinematography account for around 50% of their own markets,” he says.

Juliano Cazarré and Júlio Andrade as Juliano and Joaquim

Public domain imageJuliano Cazarré and Júlio Andrade as Juliano and JoaquimPublic domain image

Of these three, Brazilian cinema most closely resembles that of France, because Brazil is likewise not known for its genre cinema (in the French case, Nouvelle Vague is to blame). Still, French cinema regularly releases action and suspense movies with considerable domestic box office impact. Não conte a ninguém (Don’t tell anyone), from 2006, and O ninho (The Nest), from 2002, are definitive examples of genre cinema beyond that offered by the American market (the first is a suspense thriller, the second a clever action movie). Production was relatively simple for both films. They shared great features: lean scripts that tell unpredictable stories in a straightforward manner, appealing to the average audience, but without stooping to the least common denominator.

According to Professor Luiz Dantas of CTR/ECA, this is precisely Brazilian cinema’s greatest weakness. “Genre movies need a better understanding of screenplay structure, and in this respect we still have work to do,” he says. Dantas acknowledges that domestic films have very competent production structure and techniques, but are not able to create stories that communicate with the public by taking their intelligence into account.

Serra Pelada is a highly complex production with a budget of R$10 million, offering an unpredictable story that will appeal to the general public. It follows the strict formula of the few successful genre films produced in Brazil. If the audience responds as expected, investing more and better could become the rule rather than just a roll of the dice.