CIFF Review: Southwest


[Flixist will be attending the 47th Chicago International Film Festival over the next few weeks. Be sure to follow along as we bring you reviews, interviews, and more from the longest-running competitive international film festival in the country. You can easily keep track of the coverage here.]

Magical realism is a genre (theme? direction? tone?) I’ve begun to notice in Hispanic/Latino films, most notably with Pan’s Labyrinth. This could be due in part to traditional beliefs tied with the supernatural. In Southwest, the magical aspect revolves around a young girl who is born, matures into adulthood, then dies at an elderly age within the span of a day.

Magical? Yes. Realistic? Very. Really magical? Definitely.

Southwest (Sudoeste)
Director: Eduardo Nunes
Rating: TBD
Country: Brazil

Southwest follows the life of Clarice, a young girl who mysteriously appears in a Brazilian coastal town following the death of a young local pregnant woman, who was also named Clarice. New Clarice curiously resembles the dead woman as she interacts with the mourning family, acting as a sort of replacement to their lost daughter/sister. However, she begins to rapidly age as the day goes on, ultimately dying as an elderly woman at the end of the film.

The film draws heavily from the concept of death breeding life. While it’s not overtly-stated in the film, the new Clarice represents the dead Clarice’s replacement. However, dead Clarice’s family refuses to acknowledge the fact, claiming her to be the result of the local witch doctor’s magic. New Clarice is oblivious to this; rather, she just wants to have fun and enjoy her time. But as previously stated, time’s definitely not on her side. In short, the main question posed by Nunes and co-writer Guilharme Sarmiento is, “What is life without memories and experiences?”

The film is shot completely and black and white, accentuating the surreal tone of the film. It looks and feels like a dream, relating to new Clarice’s heartbreakingly short life span. The camerawork is tremendous, as well. I couldn’t help but fall in love with some of the cinematography throughout the film. For example, there are multiple visual motifs of characters being framed within the frame itself, such as dead Clarice’s mother crying in a door frame or the family’s young boy, Joao, framed by the support beams of a hut in the middle of the lake. The only person unaffected by this framework is new Clarice, giving rise to her ethereal existence.

This is director Eduardo Nunes’ feature-length debut, and what a debut it is. Unfortunately, given the fact that it’s Brazilian and essentially made for the film festival circuit, it might be hard to catch. If you’re attending this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, do yourself a favor and catch this film. Out of the numerous films I screened and previewed for the festival, this is wholeheartedly in my top five.

Simply put, words can’t describe just how beautiful Southwest is.