Brazillian director Flávia Neves launched the UK premiere of her debut Fogaréu, which explores the legacy of Brazil’s colonial past with a close-up look at the sinister events taking place in her home town of Goiás. The film follows Fernanda (Bárbara Colen) who returns to her parochial, traditional hometown to scatter her deceased adoptive mother’s ashes. Fogaréu, which translates into English as “bonfire”, is an unsurprising title as there both is a literal fire at the end and also a fire inside Fernanda’s determination to find out more about her past.
The film starts by following a procession of white, hooded figures holding burning torches marching down the street. Immediately, you can’t help but think the ritual is remarkably similar to that of KKK white supremacist marches in the United States. Nevertheless, this is a local catholic tradition of the town introduced by the Portuguese in the mid-18th century which is meant to re-enact the arrest of Jesus. However, as the film goes on you are left questioning more and more whether the traditions and beliefs of those who march are that far removed from those in the US. Indeed, Fernanda seemingly draws many of the same conclusions from the ritual and its beliefs and practices as the audience does.
Moreover, throughout the film, you get the sense that Fernanda’s lifestyle and understanding of the world is completely out of tune with that of her hometown. She comes from a more liberal environment, evidenced by her laid-back fashion and acceptance of the rights of the local indigenous community. In one scene, the local mayor, whom Fernanda is staying with, is affronted to learn that Fernando engaged with the indigenous peoples who are in the midst of a land dispute with the mayor. She is unwilling to listen to the warnings of locals that these people are dangerous, backward savages.
Neves makes the legacy of colonialism in Brazil the central theme of this film. Whether it’s the inhumane treatment of the indigenous community who have a rightful claim to their land which is being seized by the Mayor or Fernanda’s search for her true identity which was ripped from her as imperialism in Brazil did to so many other black families. Whilst this is a socio-political critique that runs throughout, about midway through, the film gets too bogged down in an awkward subplot about incest and mental disorders. This feels needless since it doesn’t take the overall story anywhere important other than the slight possibility that her uncle, who is the local mayor, may be her father.
The ending of the film, unfortunately, follows a sequence of predictable moments and unnecessarily shocking moments. But this doesn’t take away from the overall post-colonial critique that runs throughout. Ultimately, Fogaréu is a neo-noir combined with elements of surrealism, fantasy and horror, which serves as a critique of the exploitative character of Brazil’s political culture. Neves explained in an interview after the screening that her second film will explore the “agribusiness” industry and Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s fervent support for it. I for one am intrigued as to what angle Neves decides to pick for her second feature film.
Fogaréau had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 16th.
Image: Courtesy of EIFF, provided to The Student as press material.