O Zelador Review

Based on the films we’ve seen coming out of Brazil in recent years showing the poorer aspects of the slums of Rio de Janeiro, viewers can certainly appreciate the connection between poverty and crime, but Daren Bartlett’s documentary bucks the trend. Going even deeper into the the suburban Baixadas, areas forgotten by the socio-economic reform programmes that are being targeted at the favelas, where the suffering and deprivation is consequently perhaps even greater, the director unexpectedly finds that the inhabitants choose to express not anger or disillusionment at their circumstances, but their joy for life through the art of Capoeira.

Not insignificantly then, the roots of Capoeira lie within the Afro-Brazilian slave community that the country was built upon, and in the present day for the inheritors of the tradition who equally have nothing else to live for, Capoeira is everything. It’s a culture, a way of life, a philosophy, a discipline - a way of lifting themselves out of their everyday existence and taking themselves to another level. For many, it fulfils the role of religion (arising as it does out of the cult of Candomble) and even family, becoming the most important presence in their lives. It even builds houses. Without Capoeira, many would simply fall into the poverty traps that have claimed so many of their friends and family – drugs, gangs, crime and guns. Capoeira is an expression of the one thing that is most important to every person, even those who can’t afford it – freedom.


Coming from the Baixada Fluminense, the most important and influential practitioner of the discipline or culture of Capoeria is Jonas Russo, the Mestre of Caxias, the zelador of Capoeira - the caretaker. It’s through Russo’s championing of the Roda de Caxias, an outdoor meeting of Capoeristas that maintains its essential street characteristic as an artform of the people, and through the master’s eloquent words, that O Zelador attempts to give outsiders an understanding of the importance of Capoeira to these people. That aim is certainly achieved, but just what exactly Capoeira is, is a lot more difficult to pin down, and it’s the difficulty in grasping exactly what is being expressed through the complex whirling, spinning dance movements to the accompaniment of berimbau rhythms that is likely to leave the viewer impatient with Daren Bartlett’s documentary.

It’s not that it is entirely the fault of the director, since he does his best to cover the history and development of the Capoeira – it’s just that it is not something that is easily defined. It’s a tradition, a ritual, a martial art, a dance, it’s music – it’s all of these things but it’s also not just any one of them, and any attempt to define it would only lessen what it is and the enormous potential it has to further grow and expand according to the abilities of its practitioners and in line with the social needs of their backgrounds.

All of this can make O Zelador a frustrating experience, leaving the viewer feeling like an outsider who is never truly able to understand just what Capoeira is. And if you can’t understand what it is, it’s difficult to fully grasp its importance to the people of Baixada Fluminense. A little more examination of the main practitioners explaining their movements or the thoughts behind them would certainly have helped, but even performances are reduced to edited clips and still images that fail to adequately describe or even give an impression of what is going on. Only in the extra features on the DVD do we see a full four-minute performance between Master Russo and Master Urubu at the Roda de Caxias. It’s filmed without any particular flair or style, but it’s a fascinating exercise, showing two men going through a complex series of improvised movements, a cross between a dance and a martial art fight with scarcely any physical contact, but in it you can see the those similar qualities of sporting and artistic discipline, of anticipation of another person’s thinking and movement, adapting to their style and through them modifying and developing one’s own movements, reactions and approach.


Sadly, whether through necessity or simply a desire by the director to not overly define a fluid artform, this exhibition of Capoeira is inadequately represented or examined in the film itself. That’s is certainly understandable, and even so it may still fulfil its role in bringing Capoeira and the living conditions of a forgotten part of Brazilian society to the attention of a wider audience, but as a documentary on Capoeira, talking a lot more about it than it shows leaves O Zelador feeling somewhat incomplete.

DVD


O Zelador

is released in the UK by Drakes Avenue. The film is presented on a single-layer disc, in PAL format, and is Region 2 encoded.

Video
Shot as a documentary on either video or 16mm, but apparently not on a digital camera, the quality of the print could certainly be expected to be a bit rough and ready, but it’s not helped at all by its transfer onto a single-layer disc. The transfer is blocky with compression artefacts, there is motion blurring and interlaced images, with evident combing and jaggies, particularly when there is movement on the screen and panning of the camera. Otherwise, the transfer is adequate for the demands of the material, the image colourful, relatively clear and free from marks or scratches. It’s presented presumably in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.


Audio

Similarly, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track is straightforward – it’s clear enough, there’s some noticeable stereo separation, with dialogue, music and sounds being as clear as the sources and the conditions they were shot in allow.

Subtitles
English subtitles are fixed on the transfer and are not removable. They are in a white font and are of a reasonable size.

Extras
A Trailer (2:07) gives a good impression of what the film is about almost without the need for any words. There are also five additional Interviews (all 1-2mins long) which look at other aspects of the history of Capoeira and its use, including a Capoeira song. Fuller sequences of two scenes used in the documentary are included under the Capoeira section - Master Piexe and Africano (1:48) showing berimbau playing, Master Russo and Master Urubu (3:50) showing a full Capoeira duel at the Roda de Caxias.


Overall
O Zelador

is a fine introduction to the cultural phenomenon of Brazilian Capoeira, showing its historical roots, the social background it comes from, and its modern-day importance through an experienced and eloquent practitioner of the art. But an introduction is all it is, the documentary failing to get to grips with what it is all about or adequately examining the nature of Capoeira in its application and practice. It can be frustrating from this aspect, but if its purpose is to just spread the word and bring knowledge of Capoeira to a wider audience, it at least achieves that. It’s not a particularly attractively shot documentary and the presentation of the film on DVD isn’t particularly notable either, but it’s just about adequate and has a few extra features that just might thrown a little more light on the subject.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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