Adirley Queirós' high-concept, lo-fi futurist docudrama explores the trauma of victims of racist violence in the outskirts of Brasilia.
An innovative, intriguing and intimate piece about the maimed and traumatized underclass living in the shadows of Brazil's futuristic capital, White Out, Black In is a highlight of yet another treasure trove of films at the Viennale.
The latest in a long line of low-budget dystopian-set thrillers - a tradition born out of Chris Marker's La jetée, brought to prominence by Peter Watkins' The War Games, and then still burning bright with recent works such as the Iranian feature Taboor - Adirley Queirós' film is best described as shantytown sci-fi. Transforming a "suburb" of Brasilia into a ghostly no man's land, the Brazilian documentarian depicts two middle-aged men - playing versions of themselves - seeking to end the de facto segregation policies which has led to irreparable damage to their physical and psychological well-being.
Just like most of Queirós work for the past decade, the docudrama - which made its world premiere at Brasilia's Festival of Brazilian Cinema in September before its European sojourn, with Torino the next stop after Vienna - is set in Ceilandia, a satellite city serving as a buffer to keep the rural migrants from moving into the Brazilian capital. What was once dressed up as an urban planning strategy has slowly revealed itself to be a move aimed at limiting the freedom of movement of the mostly non-white have-nots, and it's perhaps hardly co-incidental how state-backed violence have literally reduced the mobility of the film's two protagonists. Both victims of brutal assaults by the police in the mid-1980s, musician Marquim (Marquim do Tropa) is now wheelchair-bound while ex-dancer Sartana (Claudio "Shokito" Irinaeus) walks with the help of prosthetics.
Now reduced to pale shadows of their young vibrant selves - imagine the indignity of having lost their legs in a land where football and dancing are symbols of national pride - Marquim and Sartana's apparent languor obscures a plan to bring down a status quo in which "welfare police" patrol the streets at night and out-of-towners need passports to go into Brasilia. In what looks like a nod to La jetée (or The Terminator, for that matter), the pair is tailed by Dimas (Dilmar Duraes), an agent arriving - via a time machine in the shape of a cargo container! - from 2073 to derail the "Big Boom" which will change the country's future forever. It's during one of Dimas' information-surveying sessions that White Out, Black In's sole documentarian moment emerges to the front, as Marquim and Sartana (or to be exact, Do Tropa and Irinaeus as themselves) recounts straight to the camera the way they lost their legs.
Just as Interstellar conquers the galaxy with its Imax-catering budget, Queiros and his producer-designer Denise Vieira have countered that by producing a well-crafted vehicle about the future with canny twists of the present. Their efforts in conjuring the future through ingenious representation of the ordinary and mundane - Ceilandia's empty roads crissed-crossed by an overhead railway; Do Tropa's self-built home to facilitate his handicap; Sartana working with mountains of plastic limbs - could be seen as a 21st century Brazilian take on Afrofuturism, with Queirós' subjects (or collaborators) the logical heirs to Sun Ra, Afrika Bambataa or the Black Audio Film Collective. White Out, Black In is an understated wonder, its voice - the director's and the characters' - deserving to be heard.