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Docpoint Festival Review: In 'Pixadores,' Oppression is the Mother of Recklessness

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood February 5, 2014 at 12:13PM

The filmmaking is nearly as breathtaking as the subject matter in Amir Escandari’s “Pixadores,” a portrait of Sao Paolo’s revolutionary graffiti artists, who tag the tallest buildings in the dark of night, drive more finicky aesthetes insane and are certainly dropping a little equatorial rain on Brazil’s makeover parade.
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'Pixadores'
'Pixadores'

The filmmaking is nearly as breathtaking as the subject matter in Amir Escandari’s “Pixadores,” a portrait of Sao Paolo’s revolutionary graffiti artists, who tag the tallest buildings in the dark of night, drive more finicky aesthetes insane and are certainly dropping a little equatorial rain on Brazil’s makeover parade: Just as the country is trying to buff up its image in anticipation of this summer’s World Cup and the ’16 Olympics, director Escandari present a portrait of favela life that is alternately hopeless, and exhilarating, but in the end examines an art movement born of anger, want and desperation. If the movie needs a tagline (no pun intended) it could be that Oppression is the Mother of Recklessness. It’s said there’s such thing as bad publicity. Brazil may beg to differ.

And that’s because, given its currency – and the bracing cinematography of Peter Flinckenberg, and Escandari’s amazing access to a world ordinarily cloistered in crime and poverty -- “Pixadores” could break out into a global phenom. Escandari captures his subjects in all their unhinged escapades, drug-snorting, in-fighting and family intrigues; he gets them surfing public transportation, scaling the tallest structures in Sao Paolo and slapping a tag, the way Hillary must have conquered Everest. It’s an adventure, a thriller and an in-your-face affront to artistic proprieties: When the movie’s principal quartet of pixadores (their particular brand of tagging is known as pixacao) are invited to the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2012, they immediately start tagging landmark buildings --  to the collective outrage of their German hosts.

“What did you expect?” is their response. “Why did you invite us? This is what we do!!” When a petulant paint fight breaks out between curator Artur Żmijewski and the lead pixadore, it constitutes an essay-in-motion about First World posturing and Third World defiance. It’s also slightly hilarious.

The world premiere of “Pixadores,” (Finnish title: “Tuulensieppaajat”), a pan-Nordic co-production with enough co-sponsors to sink an iceberg, took place Saturday, the penultimate day of the Helsinki–based Docpoint festival. On Sunday, the Jussis -- a.k.a. the Finnish Oscars – were handed out, six of them going to Pirjo Honkasalo’s “Concrete Night,” including one to DP Flinckenberg, for an effort that may have had its struggles, but didn’t involve scaling unfinished Sao Paolo skyscrapers, or hanging out the windows of speeding Brazilian rail cars.  

This article is related to: Festivals, Reviews, Documentary, Documentaries


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.