DIARY: THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS at the London Film Festival [16.10.18]

João Salaviza and Renée Nada Messora’s collaborative feature THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS aka Chuva É Cantoria Na Aldeia Mortos (Brazil-Portugal, 2018), screened at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (16 OCT 12:45, BFI Southbank). Introduced by BFI programmer Ana David and co-director João Salaviza, the film was followed by an audience Q&A. Here’s our writeup.

Films in London: THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS at BFI Southbank, part of London Film Festival (16 OCT).
Films in London: THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS at BFI Southbank, part of London Film Festival (16 OCT).

THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS is a calm but, thanks to a richly immersive soundscape, far from quiet film made in collaboration with a community of indigenous people in Brazil, the Krahô.

Following the recent death of his own dad, young father Ihjlãc fears he is destined to become a shaman, a role he does not want. He knows he is in trouble because he is being pursued by a messenger from the spirit world – in the form of a macaw – and suffers from a mysterious illness. Turning away from his village, he travels out of the forest to seek health treatment from the white people. Finding nothing wrong, they label him a hypochondriac and, after a short recuperative stay in a Support House, send him out onto the streets. Still afeard of the macaw, Ihjlãc extends his time in town, resisting a vision of his father (perhaps..?) and a visit from his wife and child. He must, however, return home to face his destiny, attend his father’s funeral feast and fulfil the community ritual of forgetting: “the time for remembering is gone”.

THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS is bookended with supernatural acts, framing relaxed performances and long sequences of near-documentary detail. Opening, Ihjlãc encounters the spirit of his father near a waterfall. He returns to the same body of water for an ambiguous ending. These sequences are the most obviously fantastical of the entire film, using the filmmakers’ deep immersion into the lives and rituals of the Krahô to communicate the sincere magic of a place to an audience who might be bereft of their own.

In the post-screening Q&A, co-director João Salaviza explained the process of making the film and what became, for him, a truly collaborative approach (it’s not a film about the Krahô, but a film made with the Krahô). Given the community’s ability to witness a spirit world that lives directly alongside the living (our language feels clumsy…), the film treads a careful balance between who is seeing and what is being seen.

This cross-cultural complexity is most telling when Salaviza describes two contrasting experiences of showing the film. The first came from Cannes where the filmmakers travelled with the two leads, Henrique Ihjãc Krahô and Raene Kôtô Krahô. Both actors were deeply moved upon receiving a standing ovation – and eventually winning the Special Jury Prize Un Certain Regard: this was the first time they had ever been appreciated by so many white people.

The second screening was back in their village, Pedra Branca. Anticipating an emotional response, the filmmakers were surprised by laughter throughout the entire event. They had cast everyone in their true-life relationships, the only departure being that the real Ihjlãc’s father is very much alive and was present at the screening. Repeatedly referred to on film as a “spirit”, his actual presence in the audience caused considerable hilarity, providing a literal manifestation of their complex belief structure.

Salaviza topped and tailed the film with two earnest messages. The first was a moral obligation – on him, and now his audience – to “share the bad news” about the growth of the far right in Brazil; a political movement that would seek to remove indigenous peoples from their traditional homes. His closing point tackled the bigotry that underpins such moves: whilst the Krahô might be adapting to accommodate new experiences – of ‘phones, video games and other technology – that does not mean they are invalidating their ancient land rights. As this sophisticated film shows, through a deep empathy with its community cast, the Krahô are a people of the present, and their rights must be protected.

Films in London: THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS at BFI Southbank, part of London Film Festival (16 OCT).
Films in London: THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS at BFI Southbank, part of London Film Festival (16 OCT).

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Featured Image: THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS (2018).

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