Review: Vazante (2017)

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Directed by: Daniela Thomas | 116 minutes | adventure, drama | Actors: Adriano Carvalho, Luana Nastas, Sandra Corveloni, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha, Roberto Audio, Vinicius Dos Anjos, Toumany Kouyaté, Jai Baptista, Fabrício Boliveira, Isadora Favero, Geísa Costa, Alexandre da Sena, Maria Helena Dias, Dinah Feldman, Maria Aparecida de Jesus Fátima, Adão de Fátima Gomes, Kelle das Graças Lopes, Adilson Magah, Vasco Pimentel

There is little more Brazilian than a mixed child: the country’s population is generally seen as a great melting pot of cultures and colors. And while more than half of the population is black or colored, and samba and capoeira are widely celebrated as national symbols of the “rainbow nation,” the slavery past is more often disguised than openly discussed. There are hardly any films about Brazilian slavery.

But the black Brazilians come from somewhere. Where did director Daniela Thomas want to investigate to the last detail. In the impressive historical drama “Vazante”, her first solo film, she opens a book about the history of slavery. She has often shown that she does not like to hide the proverbial “black pages” and has done extensive historical research before making the film.

Diamantina, Minas Gerais, 1821. The rough and taciturn plantation owner Antonio returns to his plantation after a trading trip to discover that his wife and child have both died in childbirth. Disconcerted, he spends his days quietly until he meets his much younger niece – the daughter of his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who in their humble position agree to marry. Even though their beautiful daughter – a child – has not yet had her period. Antonio decides to spare Beatriz on the wedding night, and takes his lusts out of the slave girl Feliciana. When Antonio sets off on a journey again soon after, Beatriz sinks into loneliness and boredom. Her childlike character still makes no distinction between black and white, has no predilection for power, but seeks and finds friendship and affection in Feliciana’s son Virgilio, of the same age. In the absence of supervision but also of any form of meaningful use of time, the two are moving closer together. That puts all relations on edge and shows the true face of the gruesome history.

“Vazante” was shot in breathtakingly beautiful black and white for a reason: the people and their clothes are telling: the white of an embroidered baby suit, the gray hair of a demented grandmother, a black fierce beard. The hushed images of the silvery landscape seem alien. The fire, the rock formations, clouds and trees enchant but also make an alienating impression.
Some of the black roles in the film are played by Brazilians who have fled what is now West Africa. Thomas says in interviews that she was looking for actors who spoke French and an African language, which is not subtitled in the film. According to Thomas to propagate that the voice of the slaves has never been heard before – which, as we see in tragic scenes, can lead to great despair.

Not much seems to happen in the two hours that “Vazante” lasts. Events unfold at the slow pace of the interior of Brazil in 1821. The days pass without heroic deeds or with at most a dumb resistance. The naturalness of the actions and the status quo is characteristic. There is hardly any dialogue. The silence is both visual and auditory. And yet, with what little is on display, Thomas actually tells the whole story of the birth of the state of Brazil.

How the reactions in Brazil itself will be to Thomas’s powerful solo debut, remains to be seen. Here, the film will come in in all its troubling truth, leaving viewers in the stomach.

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