For the past several years, Leonardo Pirondi has created a fascinating body of experimental works that play with fictional documentary frameworks to produce complex layers of meaning. From a voyage of the Brazilian military to find a mythical island in Vision of Paradise to a sociological experiment involving children isolated in a forest in When We Encounter the World, these films revel in the ambiguity of both their metafictional premises and their avant-garde formal language.
Potenciais à deriva is the best and most mysterious of these works to date. The text at its beginning states that it has been reassembled from fragments shot by an anonymous Brazilian artist in Los Angeles who is living in exile from the 1970s military dictatorship (Pirondi is a Brazilian artist currently living in L.A.). A voiceover describes a sea voyage while the camera is trained on vegetation on land, and later a disembodied interview subject — whose voice is heard while an empty chair is shown in front of filing cabinets — describes feeling that the floor is not trustworthy, as though it’s on a boat rocking in water. Much of the film occurs in this same room, as the camera spins around capturing blurred streaks of light from the windows while the sounds of a boat can be heard. Other scenes work with similarly disconnected sound and image: announcers cover Brazil winning the World Cup while a map is shown pinned on the wall, and a radio transmits messages from left-wing Brazilian revolutionaries to an empty room in L.A.
The film is opaque and open-ended, but all of these elements speak to distance and exile. The fragmentary structure and elision of content invoke the erasure of oppositional truth by right-wing violence, the invisible interviewee a ghostly proxy for the regime’s victims. It speaks more to what’s missing than what’s present, and produces a feeling of historical vertigo. The “documentary” premise is more believable than in some of Pirondi’s other films, and while the audience is arguably not expected to believe it by the end, that uncertainty amplifies the work’s effect and asks a permanently unanswerable question.
Published as part of IFFR 2024 — Dispatch 1.