CIFF 2013: The Invisible Collection (A Coleção Invisível, 2012)

Director/Coscreenwriter: Bernard Attal

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

“Life is a casting off,” Arthur Miller wrote for the character of Linda Loman in his towering play Death of a Salesman. In context, Linda is consoling her despondent husband Willie about the fact that his favorite son Biff will not inherit their house when they die to raise his own family because he has done nothing to establish a life for himself. Linda reminds him that we gradually lose everything, and in the end, have no real say about what future generations do with what we have left behind. “It’s always that way,” she says. But is there no way for something to endure? The Invisible Collection suggests that the one thing that remains after all else has fallen away is memory, and that remembering that which we love has particular power.

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Beto (Vladimir Brichta) is a young Brazilian who is enjoying life in Salvador with his circle of 20-something friends. They smoke pot, joke with each other, drink, and dance like young people everywhere. After playing a game of telling what they’d like to be reincarnated as, they go clubbing. When they are ready to move on to another hot spot, Beto is called out of his car by some guys to whom he owes money for hauling his sound equipment around. His friends decide to drive off without him. The next time he sees them, they are lying under white sheets, all dead following a horrific car crash. Overcome with feelings of grief and survivor guilt, Beto is given an opportunity to get out of Salvador and earn some money for his financially struggling mother Iolande (Conceição Senna) by coaxing a former customer of his dead father’s antique store to part with some valuable prints for a German exhibitor.

FAZENDA DE SAMIR / SALA DE GRAVURAS

He travels to the town of Itajuípe in a region filled with cocoa plantations, where the rich collector lives. When he gets there, he finds that a fungus the locals call “the witch plague” has decimated the cocoa fields. His wealthy plantation owner/collector, Mr. Samir (Walmor Chagas), is now blind and financially strapped, and his daughter Clara (Clarisse Abujamra) is keeping what’s left of the plantation going with a skeleton crew. With Clara and her mother Saada (Ludmila Rosa) openly hostile to Beto’s attempts to meet with Samir, the young man seems unlikely to fulfill his mission. Eventually, his stalking of the plantation house bears fruit, as he spies Samir on the veranda and approaches him. Evoking his father’s friendship with Samir, Beto gets an invitation from the old man to come back the following day to view his prized collection of prints. What awaits him will help assuage his grief and motivate him to return to his life in Salvador.

Fazenda de Saada

Memory is a slippery thing. I’ve discovered more than once that I remember an incident from my childhood that my brother has forgotten entirely, or that we remember an incident differently. It’s hard to know why memories fog and change, but without them, life doesn’t seem worth living—just ask people who are slowly going blank from Alzheimer’s disease. Many people try to achieve immortality through their works and monuments—novels written, wings of hospitals funded and named, appearances in movies made. Yet it is the personal relationships that we forge over a lifetime that carry on our legacy in a hundred large and small ways. My voice sounds like my mother’s. My neighbor inherits and carries on the family business with the same customer service she learned from her parents. A friendship forged years ago fuels the hubby’s interest in poetry. An A+ grade a teacher gave me on my unconventional approach to a writing assignment gave me the confidence to write in my own way. Conversely, a comment I made on a high school student’s blog has stayed with him and informed his outlook as he goes on to become a filmmaker. When we speak with our authentic voices and feel with our authentic feelings, the threads we send out anchor us to the world far better than a weathered statue with a name that, in time, only historians will recognize.

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Beto experiences the churning of memory during his stay in Itajuípa. He awakens groggy and disoriented from a dream of his friends dancing in the nightclub on the day of their death. He reminisces with a cab driver who hauls him to the plantation day after day about coming to the region with his father. Later, Beto dreams of one of those trips, an incident in which Clara angrily soils his shirt with fermented cocoa turned into messy snacking in the back seat of his father’s car. Director Attal understands the meaning of certain dream appearances that soothe us with fond memories of things past and connect us with our present.

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Not all things past are soothing, of course. As Beto wanders through the empty workers’ quarters on the plantation, with a living reminder of the minority workers who must have slaved for the white plantation owners embodied in the person of Wesley (Wesley Macedo), a poor, black kid who tags along with Beto, the harshness of history edges into the picture—an invisible collection of a different kind. This movie is not, however, terribly interested in making any strong political statements; it is more of a piece with such films as Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room (1958), an elegy for a formerly grand lifestyle in which art means more to Samir than his plantation. When we reach the climactic scene in which Samir examines his collection in his mind’s eye with the joy of one who has memorized every line, color, and figure in every matchless piece of art, we can’t help but be moved by the love that brightens his world of blindness. Clara and Saada see that by trying to shield him from sharing his collection with Beto or anyone else, they have been robbing him of the memories that express his humanity at its best.

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I was profoundly moved by the genial performance of Chagas, and enjoyed watching Brichta unwrap his character both from his carelessness before the accident and his distance after it. I thought the women in this film were treated with less understanding and logic. Iolande is characterized mainly as an unstable, selfish woman, Saada as a rude and unreasonable caretaker, and Clara, a mass of anger and hardness. It takes Beto to set them all to right, though Iolande seems a lost cause, and that tinge of sexism mars the film for me—but not enough to turn a blind eye to the film’s poignant pleasures. The Invisible Collection has left me with a fond memory of my own.

The Invisible Collection screens Thursday, October 17, 8:40 p.m., Friday, October 18, 6:15 p.m., and Tuesday, October 22, 3:30 p.m at the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St. in Chicago. Director Bernard Attal is scheduled to attend the Thursday and Friday screenings. www.chicagofilmfestival.com

Previous coverage

Stranger by the Lake: A lake in summer is the setting for a close exploration of the mating rituals of gay cruisers and the fatal attraction that envelopes one of the regulars to the lake. (France)

  • Christopher Potter spoke:
    1st/10/2013 to 1:30 am

    To Marilyn:

    OH, how I wish I could get to see the films you see!

    It’s true that my residency, Ann Arbor Michigan, is something of a mecca for off-the-beaten-path cinema. Alas, it can never compete with big-city filmgoer Babylons like Chitown. How I’d love to stroll over to the AMC River East October 17, settle in and not only watch this amazing-sounding movie but get to talk to its creator afterwards. Pure celluloid hog heaven!

    The reason I comment so rarely on your site is because I usually haven’t seen the film you’re currently reviewing. (The score is usually about 9 out of 10.) Sans enough available moviehouses, even a culture-crazy town like Ann Arbor simply can’t keep up with the wealth of screen goodies disembarking from faraway places.

    Since I have no plans to move, my only option is to gorge on your wonderful reviews — all the while feeling green with envy over the cinematic cornucopia that lures you day after month after year. Be sure to count your blessings and chew your popcorn softly.

    Chris Potter

  • Pat spoke:
    1st/10/2013 to 7:32 am

    Marilyn,

    This is not just a review, it’s a beautifully written essay on memory and the power of the legacies we live to others. This films sounds wonderful; sadly it’s one I won’t be able to see at the festival, due to my work and travels schedules – but would like to seek out once it gets to DVD.

  • Tinky spoke:
    1st/10/2013 to 8:10 am

    May you continue to speak with your authentic voice and feel with your authentic feelings, my dear. Lovely essay.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    1st/10/2013 to 9:32 am

    Thank you all.

    Pat, I can only hope it does come out on DVD. It seems like one of those films that might disappear on the world stage. It doesn’t seem to have gone much further than Brazil and Portugal. The U.S. seems to give a cold shoulder to South American films.

  • BERNARD ATTAL spoke:
    28th/10/2013 to 8:49 am

    Marilyn: thank you very much for your beautiful and so insightful review. Once we have DVDs made, I will let you know and we will make some available to your readers. Kindest regards. BA

  • Marilyn spoke:
    28th/10/2013 to 9:29 am

    It is a pleasure and honor to have you on the site, Mr. Attal, and thank you for your generous offer. I know my readers would love the opportunity to own this beautiful film you have given us.

  • Leandro Bezerra spoke:
    30th/10/2013 to 8:48 am

    he travels to Itajuípe (spells something like Itajooeepy)… =)

  • BERNARD ATTAL spoke:
    8th/01/2014 to 10:29 am

    Marylin: I am in NY for a few weeks and would take this opportunity to send you three or four DVDs, as promised. Would you kindly let me know where I should?
    Kindest regards.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    8th/01/2014 to 11:07 am

    Thank you very much for remembering us. I will send you my address via email and share your generosity with my readers.

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