The Story of Me (2009)

FILM, Film Festivals, Film Society

This week at the Wellington Film Society: Brazil in the spotlight.

The third annual Reel Brazil Film Festival, a showcase of contemporary Brazilian films that wouldn’t otherwise get exposure in this country, is about to kick off in Wellington (Sept 22-28), and in one month’s time, in Auckland (Oct 27-Nov 2). Its full programme can be viewed at www.reelbrazil.co.nz. As part of the Wellington Film Society programme, patrons were fortunate to preview one of the festival’s main attractions, Luiz Villaça’s The Story of Me (O Contador de Histórias).

Roberto Carlos Ramos is one of Brazil’s most beloved storytellers, but his real-life story  would almost make perfect fodder for a feel-good film. Ramos had it tough: growing up in poverty, he was thrown into a state-school by his mother in the belief that it would do him good. Unfortunately, he suffered from bureaucratic neglect, bullying, and was heading towards a life of crime. That was until he met Frenchwoman Margherit Duvas (Maria de Medeiros), who took both a pedagogical and personal interest in him. The Story of Me looks at Ramos’s negotiation of the temptations of the street life, and the life offered to him by Duvas. The film is a solid, if slightly stereotypical take on a kid coming good—not unlike films such as The Blind Side et al., in which a poor kid is saved by the intervention of a more powerful figure.

Villaça’s film, however, is elevated by the tough depiction of Ramos’s milieu, a mordant sense of humour, and a clear and well-charted linkage to Ramos’s past and his current situation. In particular, the seeds of Ramos’s storytelling abilities—small humorous moments (e.g. a gym teacher who looks like a hippopotamus) and instances of magic realism—emerge within the film. There are strong allusions to Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series (the sea scene is almost a direct homage to the end of The 400 Blows), as Ramos’s difficult childhood in part explains his rebellious behaviour, and no doubt has affected his subsequent storytelling. The acting is solid, and the film has the same faded look of cinema from the era. Occasionally annoying slow motion visuals aside, The Story of Me captures the turmoil of youth via its strong camerawork. Duvas’s character is, admiteddly, lightly drawn; naïve and noble, her motivations are slight in their explanation, though Maria de Medeiros impresses in adding depth to the character. It’s a crowd-pleasing film, one which gives voice to a person who was lucky to make it out.

Film Societies in twelve centres run an annual programme of weekly/bi-monthly film screenings. Membership entitles the holder free admission to screenings for a 12-month period. Further details are available online at filmsociety.wellington.net.nz. For information about a film society closest to you, visit the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies.