Making films in a bitterly divided Brazil that is increasingly hostile to artistic freedom is an act of resistance in itself, the maker of a new drama about race relations in the years after the country abolished slavery said.
Speaking ahead of the Berlin premiere of "All the Dead Ones" Sunday, director Caetano Gotardo said the dozens of Brazilian films being screened at international festivals was testimony to the power of art to resist oppression.
"There's an attempt to put a straitjacket on this expressive force," he told reporters at the Berlin Film Festival, known as the Berlinale. "We have to be present on the world stage and also in the domestic arena with commercial successes, because that shows the strength Brazilian art has."
Since taking office in 2019, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of governing his country in an increasingly authoritarian manner and of making attempts to contain the expression of views that run against his course.
The former army captain, who was a congressman for 28 years before becoming president, has repeatedly been accused of making racist, misogynist and homophobic statements.
Dominated by four powerful female characters – the ex-slave Ina (Mawusi Tulani) and two sisters and a mother from a formerly wealthy bourgeois family brought low by the abolition of slavery in 1888, "All the Dead Ones" tackles all three prejudices head on.
Ina may no longer be a slave, but defining a role for herself and her son independent of her former owners is all but impossible, while gifted pianist Ana (Carolina Bianchi) stands on the cusp of the 20th century with no idea of what she should make of herself now she is no longer the scion of a landed white family.
"It is as if her body were part of the past," Bianchi said. "She is a character of the past and she sort of fades away, becoming whiter and whiter."
Salloma Salomao's score, mixing Ana's European art music and the African rhythms of Ina's Angolan heritage, emphasizes the chaos of a new society emerging, as does the cinematography, which lets Sao Paulo's modern high-rise skyline intrude into supposedly period shots.
"All of us, all the races, all the genders, who are together, the artists, we will win," said producer Sara Silveira, concluding with a shouted: "We resist."