By Spencer Kellogg | United States
Set at the turn of the 19th century in a vacant plot of land in the hidden hills of Brazil where nothing grows, Vazante tells the story of a slave trader and his child aged wife in front of a racially charged backdrop. Shot in mesmerizing black and white, the sharp contrast of skin, earth, and sky masterfully match the ever-present racial disharmony that dominates the two-hour film. The striking monochrome images & slow languid pace of the tension-filled piece are hypnotizing and signal the arrival of former Walter Salles collaborator Daniela Thomas.
The film is a quiet one & the cinematography is a pleasure to watch. The stark palette of coal and ash are buoyed by the silence of stillness in each magnificent frame and is reminiscent, in scope, to Paweł Pawlikowski’s brilliant Ida from 2013. Vazante cinematographer Inti Briones, best known for his work on the Polanksi like The Loneliest Planet, shines as the camera floats around the farm finding beautiful portrait after beautiful portrait. Every image feels delicately cultivated and brilliantly lit with some of the most incredible sections featuring fires at night, horses in the rain and wide fields of tall grass that the characters continually find themselves in.
There are many hidden conflicts within the story and the dynamic between master and slave, white and black, Portuguese and African, makes for a perplexing film about love, loss, and sadness on the edge of the world. The acting is magnificent with lead Adriano Carvalho turning in an award-worthy performance. His steely gaze and rugged gaunt pierce through the screen as he walks barefoot over broken land.
Newcomer Luana Nastas is ghost-like in her portrayal of Beatriz, the child bride of Antonio. Too young for a serious relationship with Antonio and ripped from the comfort of her mother’s home, Beatriz is a slave in her own way and finds shelter in the arms of an African boy her age. Her vacant walk haunts the film as Nastas shows the sad hell of the farm simply through her passive gaze.
At the center of the film is a raw discussion about the history of neo-colonialism. We watch as white men lord over African slaves while also engaging in physical and emotional relationships that contort the stereotypical narratives of oppressed/oppressor. Slavemaster Antonio sleeps repeatedly with one of his slaves and impregnates her. When Antonio leaves to trade cattle at the market his child age bride begins a relationship with a young African slave on the farm. The dialectic between master and lover is disconcerting, to say the least.
In a film world dominated by big-budget comic book spectacles, Vazante is a stunning rebuttal in form and content. Here, there are no easy answers and the quiet viewing experience asks complex questions of its audience. Every sound is precious from the clanging of horse hooves to the buzzing ecosystem of empty fields so that when there are moments of major conflict, the film feels as if it is erupting like its characters.
Vazante is not an easy film to stomach but it is a genuine masterpiece. Each element of the film’s form and content is pitch perfect and the ending will leave you on the edge of your seat.