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Brazilian director Adirley Queirós here cobbles together something comparable, though far more lo-fi, to Wong Kar-wai’s 2046: a haunted, backwards-looking sci-fi assembled from textures of the past, which encourages you to pick through the wreckage of political ideology it strews in its wake. Wellington Abreu plays WA4, a Mad Max-style refugee from outer space who, as punishment for an illegal land occupation on his own planet, is sent to Earth to assassinate the real-life former Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek on the inauguration day of the capital city, Brasília, in 1961. But his ship crash-lands in the present day, in the satellite city of Ceilândia, an overflow enclave for the dispossessed that represents how the country’s utopia has been thwarted.
Once There Was Brasília has a jerrybuilt, improvisational quality that throws out moments of Terry Gilliam-esque humour: the chain-smoking WA4 sizzling meats on his in-spaceship grill; his vessel – basically an intergalactic Ford Transit – literally dropping out of the sky into the wrecking yard of Ceilândia.
The oddness also washes the film in a poetic half-light as captivating as the floodlit no-man’s lands it loiters in. Characters embark on surreal monologues, or simply sit in these interzones soaking up long political screeds as they are broadcast. It’s hard to tell if they’re apathetic or gearing up for revolt. Occasionally, Queirós’s penchant for these wearing scenes, and ambience over incident, does come across as more related to the film’s budget than anything else.
WA4 eventually teams up with two denizens of Ceilândia to overthrow the National Congress. The film clearly inhabits the scorched political landscape following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, but it traces the corruption back through time, framing it as just the latest “democratic rupture” in Brazil and a further deviation point from a promised gleaming future. Its underdog ethics deeply embedded in its style, this is an intelligent, disconcerting, if sometimes disjointed, piece of Afrofuturism.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Once There Was Brasília review – sci-fi odyssey into Brazil’s murky politics | Science fiction and fantasy films