Filmmaker Luiza Herdy is bored of everyone’s idea of Brazil. It tends to ignore a lot of the Brazilian things about it. Her latest film for Seconds TV, Brazil R$1,99, is a bid to stop the nation selling itself short. By celebrating Brazil for what it is: Brasil.
“Every Brazilian trashes Brazil.”
Brazilian filmmaker Luiza Herdy loves her country. She’s obsessed with its stories, innovations and people. She loves how market stalls crop on car bonnets, stolen shopping carts and logpiles. She’s enamoured with the weird and wonderful workarounds that make up the DNA of normal people here. Like putting nails through flip-flops to stop the toe bar snapping. And perching legless chairs on crates, so you can still sit on them. Or even pulling parasols on wheels, so you don’t have to carry umbrellas.
These ‘gambiarras’ are improvised solutions to life’s little problems, and at the heart of Brazil’s creativity. For Luiza, they’re what make her home remarkable. “There’s one man with an old van and he fills it up with fruit and flowers, and stands in a parking lot selling them. It’s the most beautiful thing ever.”
And yet, Luiza tells me, people go abroad and pretend not to be Brazilian. “A lot of people are ashamed. There’s a strong feeling that we aren’t enough.” Somehow, in one of the world’s most diverse countries, there’s an obsession to be like somewhere else. This national craving is pretty overt, and often fixates on Europe and America. US slang litters Portuguese conversation, along with tuts of “this would never happen in Spain.” Meanwhile, President Bolsonaro flies stars and stripes in red, white and blue at protests, and kids fantasise over visiting Disneyland Florida before anywhere in Brazil. “There’s a general feeling of thinking that we’re uncivilised, and in particular a desire to Americanise”, Luiza says, showing me photographs of people carrying ‘Trump – Keep America Great’ signs to Brazil’s Independence Day celebrations last week. Luiza calls this crisis of identity ‘stray dog syndrome.’ “It’s the feeling that in almost every way things from abroad are better.” She concedes she can relate to it.
“It feels like a karma, being born in Brazil. Everything is so much harder.” Healthcare and education systems are technically in place, but Luiza’s face knots when she talks about them. “They’re there, but they don’t have budgets. Nothing really works here, and it’s meant that people have stopped having hope. They’ve stopped appreciating the things around.” Meanwhile, tourists are sold on extortionate stadiums and Rio glamour. A Vegas-like show which shouts over the stories of Brazil’s living communities.
“We chose a place people might not deem worthy of going, to show them why it is.”
But Brazil R$1,99 is all about noticing. It’s a film that drinks neglected details, and spits them out for everyone to see. The shoot starts in Brasilia’s market halls. “We chose a place people might not deem worthy of going, to show them why it is.” Oranges, pequi and pumpkin roar into shot as they tumble off trucks. We see them piled, packed and peeled for sale, but we also watch them be tasted and enjoyed by their producers.
Creative Director Sávio Farias also champions independent craft in the costumes that dress the film’s only actor. Dripping with bright pigment, Pedro Hermano’s designs wear the panache of Brazilian culture with unapologetic pride. Down to his headpieces sculpted from tarpaulin, a waterproof canvas that pervades Brazil’s markets, everything in the film is innovated. Shot using a handy cam because, as Luiza says, “perfect quality of image doesn’t go well with what we’re trying to say”, this film stars necessity as the mother of invention. Creativity in Brazil is often driven by immediate need, and so the crew also improvised. They didn’t plan interviews and often filmed using phones. Luiza smiles; “in Brazil sometimes you have no choice but to be resourceful.”
Luiza decided to name the film ‘Brazil R$1,99’ as a comment on her country’s value. “It’s a criticism of Brazil selling ourselves too cheap. Lately there was controversy around Prada appropriating a traditional Brazilian sandal design from the city of Caruaru. You can buy those sandals for like $5 from a guy who has made them his entire life, but people would rather pay $500 and have the ones from Prada.” Cleverly, the film’s title also nods to Brazil’s own habit of copycatting. “Brazil took the idea of western dollar shops which sell everything for $1, and created R$1,99 stores.” Luiza laughs, because even in adopting something foreign, Brazil still does Brazil. “Nothing in the stores costs R$1,99.”
A strong foothold into the film is singer Elis Regina’s lyric “O Brazil tá matando o Brasil.” Brazil is killing Brasil. Luiza cites it, having provocatively used the English ‘z’ spelling, rather than the native Portuguese ‘s’ spelling in the film’s title. Brazil depicts the caricature of her country, sketched by other people’s impressions. “The film’s about realising the little things which makes Brazil, ‘Brasil’ , and appreciating them”, she says. “It’s Dona Maria’s bananas, Jose’s handicrafts, Lucia’s homemade snacks, and that fresh ground coffee in from the kiosk next door. But it’s also the messy cables, crammed vans and stalls that look ready to blow over any second.” Individuals and their eccentricities are what make Brazil’s identity inexorable. Excitedly describing the tinkling car voiceovers selling snacks on her road, Luiza herself has had to engage in a ritual of re-noticing these things. “Those sounds have played since I was born, so sometimes, I stopped hearing them”, she admits. “But once people take notice of how wonderful these things are, that’s our job done.”
“It’s a very very joyful, creative place. And people are noticing.”
Easily, the most important thing to notice in this film is its faces. These are the locals, the stallholders, and the individuals which make up ‘Brasil’. Luiza was surprised at their reactions to her cameras. “People didn’t understand why we wanted to film them. They’d say that they’re not interesting. It’s so sad that people feel so unworthy.” A little conversation proved these individuals were anything but.
Watching the film, you’ll notice the woman who has a smile a teenager would be proud of. She’s Dona Cecilia from Pernambuco. White teeth match her white hair, which peeks from her black woollen hat. Wrinkles trace her olive skin, but they speak shy of her 82 years, 35 of which she’s worked in the market. In the rushes she told Luiza; “I sell coffee, cakes and tea. I only work here to keep myself entertained. Things go bad if you don’t do anything when you’re old. I wake up at 2am, ready for the market to open. My son worries, but I like working. This market is where my friends are.”
In another shot is Cristiane, who’s been selling corn and the pequi fruit here for 17 years – almost his entire life. The market is the only place that gave his mother work after he was born. At the time of filming, he was hoping to get away to study, telling the team “I will leave the market, but the market won’t leave me.”
There might be a stray dog syndrome, or a craving for the ‘other’, in Brazil. But in the foundations of this population, is a joy about being here. “It’s a very very joyful, creative place,” says Luiza, noting that her community is more than capable of pride, if only they felt noticed. “And people are noticing,” says Luiza. Her team at Seconds TV have received letters revelling in the country they’re documenting, with all its curiosities. Luiza’s mission is to celebrate the people who create these curiosities. The lady who fixes flip-flops, the car voiceover, the man with a van of fruit and flowers. “We want to paint them as national heroes. They carry our culture. Without them, we’d already have lost so much.”
Luiza used a Urth 2Peak Variable ND2-400 lens filter to shoot some of the footage in the film. You can read about how she uses a variable ND filter to make her footage look more cinematic and shop the filter.
A film by Brazil 1,99 and Seconds
Photography by Luiza Herdy at Seconds
Video by Elvis Lins at Seconds
Creative direction by Sávio Farias
Costume design by Sávio Farias and Pedro Hermano
Models: Talisson Mendes and Luther Rocha
Make up by Bianca Anderes
Soundtrack by Luiza Pessoa