Otto Guerra grew up reading Tintin comic books and watching
Disney cartoons. He dreamed of creating his own animation films, but that was
not an easy task in Brazil, a country that had hardly any tradition in animated
film. He might as well dream of being an astronaut or a dragon-slayer as more
realistic children did.
Yet today, several decades later, he has just directed his second feature animation film, "Til Sbornia do us part", which has won two audience awards in the two major Brazilian festivals where it was shown so far. Despite being an animation, it aims more at the adult public than at young children. The film is scheduled to be commercially released in theaters in Brazil in December, and the producers are also looking forward to its exhibition in Los Angeles in 2014.
I cannot impartially judge the story since I co-wrote the screenplay, but the art direction and the animation (in which I took no part) are simply beautiful. Co-directed by Ennio Torresan, a Brazilian animator who lives in Los Angeles and works for the giant animation studio Dreamworks, the film is perhaps the best animation film ever created in Brazil. Of course, that is not saying much since there were only 33 animated feature films ever produced in the country since the first one in 1951, but still, in terms of rhythm, art and style it has nothing to envy to any other current international production.
As Guerra says, "It is a worldwide phenomenon. Portugal has produced only five animation films. Hollywood and Japan have the monopoly of production. We in the rest of the world are just in the periphery, in the beginning. The difference is that a Disney movie costs 30 times more than all Brazilian films together. It’s another universe."
Brazilian cinema first sparked international interest in the sixties, with the Cinema Novo movement and its gritty films inspired by both Italian neo-realism and the French new wave. The movement did not last for long and despite critical success in Cannes and Berlin it never achieved popular success in Brazil, but its influence was pervasive.
When Brazilian cinema reemerged from its ashes in the nineties and again attracted some international success, it was with films such as 'City of God' and 'Elite Squad', which are indebted to Cinema Novo for the focus on poverty and violence, although the inspiration for the style came less from classic European cinema than from Hollywood.
While the films were good, the constant focus on crime and poverty exhausted some Brazilians, and seemed to present a stereotyped image of Brazil as a country on the eternal verge of civil war between the rich and the poor.
Til Sbornia do us part, mercifully, has no favelas and no drugs, unless the ‘bizuwin’ plant which is at the center of the plot can be considered a type of hallucinogen. It is in fact that rarest of things, a Brazilian fantasy film. While there are no links to Cinema Novo, perhaps some critic will see some connections with the magical realism that shook Latin American literature in the sixties.
However, the film is less about Brazil than about Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of the country which in 1835 fought a ten-year war for independence. They lost the war, but still today the "gauchos" (as the inhabitants of the state are called) feel as if they belonged to a separate country, closer in spirit to Argentina and Uruguay than to the rest of Brazil. The island of Sbornia and its conflit with the "Continent" is, in part, an allegory about the conflict of Rio Grande do Sul with the rest of Brazil.
Til Sbornia do us part is not the only recent Brazilian animation film. Another animated feature, "The boy and the world", by Ale Abreu, recently won an honorable mention at the Ottawa Animation Festival, and "The Adventures of the Red Airplane", by Federico Pinto and Jose Maia, based in a classic children’s story, is set to be released soon. These are perhaps the best of times for Brazilian animation productions. May they grow and prosper.
Tom Creus is a teacher and screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay of 'Til Sbornia do us Part' together with Rodrigo John.