Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Review of 180 Degrees

By 06 September, 2011

180º is not your average Brazilian film: there’s no violence in the favelas, no drug-trafficking, prison riots or corrupt police; there is little, if any, on-screen sex and no blood is spilt. If anything, Eduardo Vaisman’s first feature seems like a deliberate attempt to move away from all those things we would normally associate with Brazilian cinema, especially the “urban warzone image” (Phil Hoad, The Guardian) seen in City of God and Elite Squads 1 & 2, Brazil’s most successful exports.

180º is unusual because it does not offer a commentary on the poverty and social problems in Brazil. Instead it focuses on the country’s middle class, and in particular, the lives of three members of Rio’s intellectual elite, Anna, Bernardo and Russell, who meet whilst working in a newspaper office. What happens when their lives become intertwined could be described as the age-old love triangle, but in his choice of narrative style, director Eduardo Vaisman gives the story his own unique twist.

In 180º’s opening images a man is sitting in the living room of a beautiful pink house in the country; a woman with manicured red nails drives a car along a country road, while her companion admires the lush scenery around them. The sun sparkles through the trees and the music accompanying these images, first a trumpet, then the piano, has the jazzy air of soundtracks from the 60s, The Thomas Crown Affair or The Pink Panther perhaps. Then there is some light drumming, and the illusion of a holiday in the French Riviera diminishes, to be replaced by a more subtle tropical flavour, and with the slightly more ominous notes that follow, there’s a suggestion that behind this glamorous façade lurks a story that is a little more unsettling than it initially appears.

Anna is a newspaper editor turned publisher. Together with her boyfriend Bernando, an ex-colleague from their newspaper office and the recent author of a best-selling collection of short stories, they are spending a few days with another ex-colleague Russell, who has given up his career in journalism to take over his late father’s orange selling business.

The fact that the three friends – of whom Bernardo is noticeably the youngest – will be spending the weekend alone in the country, immediately raises some questions about the exact nature of the relationship between them. This becomes more poignant when, shortly after their arrival, Bernardo confesses to Russell that the book he has written was based on ideas he found in a notebook, a notebook that somehow came into his hands and that does not belong to him. The owner’s identity has remained a mystery, until now. The real author has suddenly appeared, and is harassing Bernardo with messages and emails. Worst of all, Anna knows nothing: she believes the ideas for the stories were his own, and actually devised a marketing campaign based on the lost notebook as a means of generating publicity. Bernardo is afraid that if Anna finds out the truth about the notebook, she will think he is a fraud, and their relationship will be over.

What follows is a non-linear sequence of scenes, showing episodes from the characters’ recent histories: how the novel came about, and what happened when it was published. But there are also events that go further back, 4 years before, when Anna was Russell’s girlfriend. As the film develops and the timeline of events begins to take shape, so, apparently, do the characters begin to piece together their own stories. Only one person seems to know what is really going on, yet even they cannot predict the outcome.

The 180º in the film’s title, which is also the title of Bernardo’s collection of stories, is a reference to the sharp turn that a person’s life can take when something unexpected happens, suddenly spinning their life into a totally new direction. For Bernardo, this event is finding the notebook, which leads him to write his book and eventually become involved with Anna. But the film is not just about the turns of fate. Throughout there is an emphasis on the ability to create, both in the literary sense, with the questions it poses about the creation of a literary work, and also in the engendering of life itself. Half way through the film we find out that whilst Anna and Russell were together, she terminated a pregnancy. For Anna, the events that follow her break-up with Russell: her leaving her job as an editor to set up a publishing house, turning Bernardo’s manuscript into a best-selling book, are her attempts to compensate for what happened by bringing other things into existence. In contrast, Russell and Bernardo, both of them writers, struggle with the results of their creations.

Ultimately then, the message behind 180º is that creativity, whatever form it takes, cannot be controlled. Control must be relinquished to fate, and in life’s 180º turns, our existence becomes interesting. For the characters of this Brazilian film at least, while the outcome may not always be what they would wish, it is none the less a position of considerable privilege.

180º is showing as part of the 3rd Brazilian Film Festival of London. Find out more about the festival here.

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