Set in Bahia with a primarily black cast, award-winning “Café com Canela” is first full-length fictional film directed by a black woman in 34 years; movie makes its debut across the country this month
By Marques Travae
The film Café com Canela is not just another film coming out of Brazil’s reconstructing cinema industry. It is a film in which numerous accolades and international success all but guaranteed that it would earn a national release. Being shown in nine states across Brazil, the film was a part of the Rotterdam International Film Festival and won Best Film honors at the 50th annual Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro in 2017, earning the Prêmio Petrobras de Cinema (Petrobras Cinema Award) which would lead to a distribution deal (another major hurdle for black films). Other honors bestowed upon the film include opening the 21st Mostra Tiradentes, being a part of the 41st Mostra Internacional de Cinema de São Paulo and earning awards at the XIII Panorama Internacional Coisa de Cinema and the 9th Semana dos Realizadores.
Another aspect that makes this particular film stand out besides its primarily black cast, is its presentation of the black aesthetic, its references to Afro-Brazilian religious, its setting in the interior of the state of Bahia, the Recôncavo Baiano region, and its portrayal of everyday Bahian life.
And as if all of that weren’t enough, with direction by Glenda Nicácio and Ary Rosa, the film represents the first feature length fictional Brazilian film in 34 years to be directed by a black woman. The last time that happened was in 1984 with the film Amor Maldito, directed by Adélia Sampaio. Of course, in recent years, there have been a number of great films that have also earned critical acclaim, but they are of the short film variety. The film O Caso do Homem Errado (the case of the wrong man) was also directed by a black woman, Camila de Moraes, back in March of this year, but that critically-acclaimed work was a documentary film.
Café com Canela will be playing in Salvador, Bahia starting August 16th, followed by August release dates in other cities such as São Paulo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre and São Luís.
The stellar performance of Canela’s cast should also be applauded for its performance, another major reason that the film has garnered such recognition. Starting with the performance of actress Valdinéia Soriano, who was awarded Melhor Atriz (best actress) at the Festival de Brasília, the movie also features the talents of actors and actresses Guilherme Silva, Aldri Anunciação, Aline Brune, Babu Santana, Arlete Dias, Antônio Fábio and Dona Dalva Damiana. An added bonus is the original soundtrack of the film, which was composed by Mateus Aleluia, a member of the legendary 70s Bahian musical trio, Os Tincoãs.
Soriano’s winning of a Best Actress award is yet another accolade that should be highlighted as black female protagonists in Brazilian films is still an ultra-rarity. The oft-cited study “Boletim Raça e Gênero no Cinema Brasileiro” from 2016 showed just how rare they are when research showed that black women made up 2% of main cast of characters in Brazilian cinema in a 46-year period between 1970 and 2016. Once again showing that a lack of talent is clearly not the problem here as Brazil’s mainstream media would have us believe, Soriano is yet another actress who honed her acting skills as a part of the Bando de Teatro Olodum in Bahia that has produced a number of talented Afro-Brazilian actors and actresses since its inception in 1990.
The storyline of Café centers around the relationship between two women, Margarida and Violeta, the first living in the city of São Felix with the latter living in the historic city of Cachoeira. Margarida, played by Valdinéia, isolates herself from everything and everyone, drowning in misery after having lost both her son and her husband. Violet, once her student, deals with her own day-to-day tribulations and past ordeals, but takes it upon herself to take Margarida away from her profound sadness in order to bring her back to life. With their life paths crossing once again, a slow transition begins to take place as the women spend more time in each other’s company, sharing moments during and between cleanings, a lot of café com canela (coffee with cinnamon) and discussions of friends and old flames.
Directors Glenda Nicácio and Ary Rosa, both originally from the state just south of Bahia, Minas Gerais (the cities of Poços de Caldas and Pouso Alegre, respectively), both chose to relocate to Bahia. Nicácio spoke a little about the meaning of the film:
“Café com Canela is our first full length film. It is an old project of filming the place where we (myself and Ary Rosa) chose to live, and thus the Recôncavo became not only a place but a way of looking at the world and cinema, finding narratives and aesthetics that approached the daily life here and were consequently crossed by it too, with its belief and ancestry.”
The importance of a film like Café getting released and having distribution in numerous major Brazilian cities is also important for presenting a story of a relationship of friendship between two women of which anyone could identify with. Although the film is full of blackness, black cast, black directors, set in the everyday reality of a majority black state, the story doesn’t depend on the expected narrative of black people dealing with and fighting to survive in a racist society. And for good reason.
The black experience cannot be simply reduced to the de-humanizing effects of a supposed racial inferiority/superiority of one group and another. With a constant focus on such a theme, in many ways the full flavor of one enjoying and just experiencing the sweetness, bitterness and the full range of tastes that color the human condition is in some ways lost. After all, the concepts of racism and white supremacy weren’t even created by black people, so why should the experiences of black lives always be devoted to reacting to something that was created to actually maintain them in a certain box?
This reminds of the words of Professor Katemari Rosa of the Federal University of Campina Grande when she said that “blacks don’t have to speak only about race.” Café com Canela doesn’t speak directly about race or racism, but the fact that the film is directed by black women, with a predominantly black cast, set in culturally rich region of Bahia which is vastly influenced by black culture is in itself a commentary on race with its possibility of seeing blackness beyond the limitations established upon it by a Eurocentric Brazilian media. The film becomes an anti-racist statement in its depictions of characters within a black community that are not caricatures of themselves.
It becomes anti-racist in a non-verbalized statement that demonstrates that the black experience can represent the fullness of the human experience without the need of even addressing the race issue. It becomes anti-racist through the identification with the characters and not even thinking about the fact that they are in fact black. This is an accomplishment that corresponds to the film attaining a national showcase in the Brazilian film industry because audiences viewing it will have to accept the film as being 100% Brazilian featuring a parcel of its population that Brazil seems to forget is also Brazilian.
What I get from films such as Café, O Dia da Jerusa, K-Bela, Aquém das Nuvens and so many other productions coming out of the rising “Cinema Negro” (black cinema) genre in Brazil is that black men and women want to see themselves portrayed as complete members of Brazilian society in all of the joys, pain, complexities and contradictions that come along with being complete. Café com Canela comes along at a historic moment when Brazil’s media can no longer continue to deny the very existence of a population that has contributed so much to making Brazil Brazil. Café com Canela is a film that presents everyday situations of the common Brazilian, set in a common location in scenarios that any Brazilian would recognize. It just so happens that these everyday people in Café just happen to be black.