Marcelo Gomes’ Waiting for the Carnival unfolds in the village of Toritama, the self-proclaimed “capital of jeans,” in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. Though it is a site of near-constant production, it has no factories as such, and is instead comprised of small household workshops (known as factions), where “self-employed” individuals regularly put in ten- to 12-hour days. The late capitalist illusion of “being your own boss” is self-evident, as is the frightening efficacy of the town’s self-perpetuating, self-regulating cycles of exploitation. (A 19-year-old kid with a six-month-old casually observes a recent trend of young townspeople not getting married, but choosing to have children.) But what’s most striking about Waiting for the Carnival is its self-conscious, but never insistent awareness of its own representational methods. Just as the director observes the myriad stages of craftsmanship that go into each piece of clothing, so he cannily exposes his own aesthetic interventions, practically cycling through a set of documentary clichés: ruminative voiceover, classical music cues, a layered soundscape of various spaces of labor, among others. An illustrative moment: After lamenting on the “distress” of the workshops and the “anguish of repetition” he observes therein, Gomes offers a set of close-ups of teary-eyed workers (their eyes likely irritated by dust), not so much exploiting the Kuleshov effect as laying bare its manipulative potential. In a lesser film, this sequence would be the soul-crushing kicker; here, it’s merely another instance of Gomes letting the seams show, so to speak. Waiting for the Carnival’s constant tension between the director’s aesthetic mediation and the general theme of material/bodily exploitation comes to the fore during the annual Carnival, during which nearly the entire population of Toritama takes to the sea, many households even selling essential belongings just to fund the six-day trip. As one family is unable to afford the costs, Gomes pays for them to go—in exchange, that is, for their vacation footage. When the Carnival ends, they and the rest of Toritama will resume their work. But what Gomes’ self-implicating documentary suggests is that it never really ended.
Published as part of Neighboring Scenes 2020.