A favorite on the international festival circuit with a robust filmography of at least 40 films made over 50 or so years, Júlio Bressane looms large as one of Brazil’s most enduring experimental filmmakers, specializing in postmodern syntheses of the literary, theatrical, and cinematic that indulge in silly humor and soapy dramatics. Though, of course, an artist this prolific and inventive transcends simple summaries of aesthetic and predilection, further complicated by very limited distribution outside of Brazil, with seemingly none of his movies ever finding distribution in the U.S.
This could either be a hindrance or point of interest for Western audience members (French and Italian distributors are a little more favorable to his work) approaching Bressane’s newest film, Capitu and the Chapter (or, Capitu e o capítulo), a late work fixated on the films of this director’s past as much as it is the nominal plot. Adapted from Machado de Assis’ 1899 novel Dom Casmurro, Capitu and the Chapter deconstructs its source narrative and rearranges it as a series of tableaux with characters speaking at each other in monologue, blocked and staged in stilted, Brechtian fashion. A fairly standard tale of infidelity and its related envies and insecurities, Capitu and the Chapter filters its narrative through a framing device, the source novel’s title character, Dom Casmurro, holed away in an empty library, imprisoned in a frame of dusty books and shelving, committing his memories to paper in the hopes of making sense of his romantic misfortunes. Though, as previously implied, the plot that unfolds in these writings isn’t the film’s most interesting element, essentially detailing the paranoias of a young man beguiled and intimidated by his charismatic, provocative wife (the Capitu of the film’s title). This is the tired, sexist material of any number of modernist novels and cinema, but it provides a convenient shape for the film, as well as a (suitable enough) context for Bressane to experiment with aesthetic approximations of memory. For some, the former will negate the latter, particularly if they aren’t invested in Bressane’s work to begin with, but Capitu and the Chapter isn’t all as dour as the plot would suggest, with many of the scenes tonally pitched towards camp and soap. Sequences of bourgeois parties represented by four people dancing furiously in silence alleviate the weight of the film’s austerity, as do the eventual depictions of violence, staged to render the perpetrator pathetic.
Capitu and the Chapter isn’t necessarily a perfect rendering of the implied thesis, but it is obviously the work of an ingenious visual storyteller, able to convey emotions that aren’t being expressed in dialogue or performance using the tools of cinema many no longer care to toy with —blocking and sound design, most overtly. This also comes with a refreshing lack of pretension, the filmmaker not afraid to go for broad comedy or slapstick, and readily weaving himself into his own narrative in a way that is self-deprecating but not flagellating (scenes from his previous films are occasionally edited in proximity to scenes of Casmurro writing the story, and the credits feature extensive behind-the-scenes footage of him directing). Infidelity and memory are fairly well-trod concepts in the world of cinema, especially within the sort of arthouse milieu Bressane is associated with, but Capitu and the Chapter gets by with humor and candor, recognizing the act of remembering to be a mortifying one.
Published as part of IFFR 2021 June Programme — Dispatch 2.