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BERLINALE 2024 Encounters

Review: Cidade; Campo


- BERLINALE 2024: Juliana Rojas’ newest film is a slow-burn diptych that examines the complex entanglement between city and countryside in contemporary Brazil

Review: Cidade; Campo
Fernanda Vianna in Cidade; Campo

“For a short moment, a parallel universe is possible”, remarks a character in writer-director Juliana Rojas’ third feature, Cidade; Campo, which is dappled with the suggestion that connections between alternate worlds may sometimes be closer than those within the same one. Rojas’ two-pronged semicoloned work, which just premiered in the Encounters section of the 74th Berlinale, has social outcasts reckoning with physical and emotional estrangement in Brazil as they traverse the liminalities between the cidade (city) and the campo (countryside). Unfolding like a dialogue between its diptychal parts, the film’s slowness is its strength, with a meditative but never dragging pace easing the viewer into contemplation between the stories that, by themselves, would feel unfinished.

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Separating the film into two tales of near-equal length, Rojas emulates the contained brevity of short literary stories. In the first half, Joana (Fernanda Vianna) arrives at the São Paolo home of her sister, Tânia (Andrea Marquee), after her farmland home is destroyed by a dam flood caused by mining mismanagement, which reflects real-life events. She takes refuge by tending to the garden and strikes up a relationship with Tânia’s young grandson Jaime (Kalleb Oliveira), who encourages her to begin working as a gig worker for a cleaning company. In the second half, Flavia (Mirella Façanha) and her partner Mara (Bruna Linzmeyer) move to the rural ranch of Flavia's estranged father after his passing. They experiment with ayahuasca after uncovering a book titled Mundos em Simetria (“Worlds in Symmetry”) and learning of her father’s interest in the psychoactive drug.

Cidade; Campo contains a political undercurrent at the confluence of topical issues in Brazil, including exploitation within the gig economy, indigenous usage of medicinal drugs, and displacement due to the climate crisis. Much of the two halves actively mirror each other, beginning with the film's two protagonists estranged from important men in their lives (Joana from her son, Flavia from her father). However, the parts of the diptych have different tonal emphases, epitomised by Joana’s oneiric visions of her childhood white horse named Alecrim (Portuguese for “rosemary”) in contrast with a segment to the couple making love in the bed of Flavia’s father.

With cinematography by Cris Lyra and Alice Andrade Drummond, the film is united by a muted green-grey palette punctuated by the yellow spectra of lights through windows, the moon, and far-reaching celestial objects. The two parts are thus made distinct through other technical aspects. in Joana’s world, the camera observationally peruses each scene, echoing her sentiment that “she likes to watch” other people as they go about their quotidian lives in the buildings across. In Flavia’s world, Rojas prefers slow zooms that confront her subjects and force them to reveal themselves. The sound design by Tiago Bello, too, reflects an oppositional interplay: The ambient, dissonant orchestral soundtrack with music by Rita Zart mimics Joana’s constant unease, while the insertion of a thumping electronic song by Nicolas Jaar goes as far as taking over the rhythmic bodily movements of the couple.

But Rojas never bends to simplistic dualities: neither the city nor the countryside is always stifling or always freeing. Rather, the existence of each in opposition to the other contributes to their union; without the city, there is no country and vice versa. The filmmaker’s feature also embraces an interpretation of reality where psychedelics and fantasies unlock separate worlds, times, and realities beyond those caught by our meager five senses. However, whether one wishes to encounter them again — and whether it is voluntary or not — is another question, something that Rojas leaves the viewer to sit with at the end.

Cidade; Campo is a co-production between Dezenove Som e Imagens (Brazil), Sutor Kolonko (Germany) and Good Fortune Films (France). The Open Reel is managing international sales.

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