Brazil’s Paraiba Valley was once a flourishing region that prospered on returns from its coffee plantations during the 1800s boom. Over time the area has been reduced to a scattering of empty, rundown estates and ghostly villages. Julia Murat’s delicately crafted debut, Historias Que So Existem Quando Lembradas (the title phrase translates to “stories that only exist when remembered”), relays life in the Paraíba Valley through the fictitious village of Jotuomba, a place lost to the world, abandoned by the railroads and inhabited by an aging population that has forgotten what it’s like to be young.
Each citizen of Jotuomba plays an integral role in village life. Madalena (Sonia Guedes) is responsible for baking bread; each morning she stacks her rolls as Antonio (Luiz Serra) prepares the coffee. The two share a morning ritual of arguments and insults, followed by an amicable cup of coffee on the bench outside Antonio’s shop. At midday the church bells ring, summoning the villagers to mass. In the early evening, they all share a meal together. And so life proceeds in Jotuomba, the days languidly drifting into one another. The only variations seem to be in the weather.
One day Rita (Lisa Favero) arrives looking for a place to stay. She came upon the village while travelling through the valley, following the unused railroad tracks. She is a photographer, intent on capturing the village’s special allure. Initially reticent, the townsfolk gradually open up to her, sharing their stories and allowing themselves to be photographed. Rita is comfortable with technologies old and new, and Madalena teaches her to knead dough by the light of an oil lamp. Only the village priest continues to find Rita’s presence worrisome — especially when she begins asking about the locked cemetery.
Murat expertly conveys the confluence of generations and cultures; her portrayal of the deepening relationship that unfolds between Rita and Madalena is one of the film’s highlights. Moments of magic realism illuminate this gentle, poetic film about a forgotten time and place — a film in which one can delight in getting lost, if just for a little while. –TIFF
A first roundup follows the festival’s trailer and the obligatory bit of general throat-clearing.
Plus: An impressive new trailer for Gareth Huw Evans’s The Raid.
A roundup of reviews, impressions and more from this year’s edition.