The Moving Creatures is the least Brazilian Brazilian film of the year. Caetano Gotardo’s triptych of short tales features a sense of experimentation and poetic license mostly seen in European cinema. In his world, sadness makes itself known through short sentences and long pauses, teenagers muse about leaves and wonder about the existential temporality of black swans, and the quiet buttering of bread deserves a long take. It’s perhaps quietness that makes the film so refreshingly un-Brazilian. The nation’s storytelling has too often been about drama, prolixity, and hysteria, and its contemporary filmmakers have rarely played with film structure and style. In The Moving Creatures, silence is both a stylistic and narrative strategy, offering us an opportunity to roam through Brazilian space without its traditionally soap-operatic cacophony. The film is also reticent when it comes to its visual cues, as the most crucial elements of its stories are only referred to, but never really shown, such as the used condoms lovers leave behind at a São Paulo park, a suspicious computer, and a falling body.
Behind the film’s quietness is, of course, the certainty that too much peace hides turmoil. By the time something finally happens, the audience is rewarded, or cursed, with a dreadful jolt. Something happening, in the context of The Moving Creatures, can mean a literal death, the sudden recognition of the fragility of filial bonds, and grieving mothers breaking out in song, a motif that concludes all of Gotardo’s three stories. These songs, so delicate and daring, are about melancholy and mourning, an attempt to express the impossibility of knowing one’s child. These brief performances are unlike musicals, and much closer to the pathos of an aria or a fado. They also evoke a socially conscious brand of Brazilian popular music, from the canonical funk of “Rap do Silva” by MC Bob Rum, about a regular Joe from the favela who gets shot on his way to work, to Adoniran Barbosa’s classic “Iracema,” which tells the story of a man who’s left with only a shoe, not even a photograph, to remember his dead lover.
Doing justice to the delicateness of the subject matter (repressed memories and desires), Gotardo borrows from this narrative musical tradition as he favors the concision of a short story, or a song instead of the literality of words. The anguish that permeates the film recalls the magnificent Pan Pleure Pas, Portuguese filmmaker Gabriel Abrantes’s 2014 collection of three short stories about silenced human misery and speaking drones. In both films, the experience seems to take place beyond language, as some sort of emotional infection. Gotardo’s fondness for cutting scenes precisely when a character calls somebody’s name, as though they weren’t going to be really heard anyway, or when they reach for an object, also feel wonderfully counter-paradigmatic, the kind of self-reflective filmmaking that knows cinema to be something much more opaque than just a vehicle to tell stories.