Favela Rising Review

Favela Rising is effectively two documentaries in one. On the one hand it looks at much the same terrain as that found in City of God and its spin-off TV series City of Men, albeit from a far grittier perspective as is understandable given its factual material. On the other it’s a documentary about Grupo AfroReggae, a politically motivated band-cum-collective who set about combating the drug problems, violence and poverty inherent in Brazil’s slums in an accessible fashion.

As a result of this dichotomy, Favela Rising could be seen as two films running in parallel to each other. At various points one of the subjects feels like nothing more than a mere backdrop to the other as the filmmakers’ interests vary over time. Initially we find what appears to be an incredibly political work. It portrays, in its own words, “the anti-postcard of Rio de Janeiro” and bombards the audience with numerous facts and figures which lay out the shocking truths behind the city’s poverty, gun use, drug use, mortality rates and so on. Indeed, shock is the key word during these early stages, especially when the area of police corruption is breached and various snippets of damning footage unfold before our eyes. Furthermore, the fact that much of what we see finds an echo in City of God and City of Men is similarly surprising; it would appear that there was very little fiction in either of those works.

The strength of this one side of the film is such that the other is undoubtedly at a disadvantage. Certainly, the political dimensions of Grupo AfroReggae means that the two are, of course, connected, yet ultimately Favela Rising feels weaker during these moments. That said, the rise of GAR is a fascinating one and their central figure Anderson Sa is an often extraordinary character. Born in the slums and brought up within its gun culture, it took the death of his brother at the hands of the military police to force him to approach his life differently.

However, for all the interest raised here, Favela Rising is something of a rough-hewn concoction meaning that the story of Sa, the story of his band and the general dissection of Brazil’s poverty don’t always sit together too easily. It soon becomes apparent that the lo-fi affectations of the film are wholly intentional – they provide Favela Rising with a snappiness as film stocks shift and alternate and textures change – yet from an editorial stance it means that the focus slips on more than one occasion. For example, we end the film with the remarkable recovery of Sa following a near fatal surfing accident: seemingly paralysed for life, he nonetheless made it to his feet and onto a full recovery. All told it’s a quite astonishing feat, but one that is never quite able to fit into the grander scheme of things. The impression given is that the filmmakers simply wanted to say too much but didn’t quite know how to. As a result Favela Rising makes for interesting viewing, but never quite satisfies as well it should. No doubt everyone who watches it will take a great deal away, but there’s always the nagging thought that we could be taking just that little bit more.

The Disc

Released by ICA, Favela Rising follows their now usual practice of issuing extremely lacklustre discs. In this instance that means a non-anamorphic transfer (though we do at least get a decent print and one in its original aspect ratio), burnt-in English subtitles and no extras beyond the choice of DD2.0 and DD5.1 soundtracks(!) All told, it’s a great disappointment – there surely could have been some contextualising footage or outtakes or a commentary to make itself known? – although the film does at the very least remain watchable. As said, the print is crisp and clean, and the soundtrack also, though these ultimately feel like very slim consolations.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 05:00:15

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