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The films of Davi Pretto strive to endow the homeless with a spiritual roof over their heads. Barely able to make ends meet, his protagonists are part of Brazil’s lower middle class. Born in 1988 in Porto Alegre, the filmmaker Pretto merges Brazil’s past and present in his films using the stories of his individual characters, such as that of a 52-year-old actor and transvestite who lives with his mother in a bourgeois gated community, or a young former soldier living in the wide plains near the border to Uruguay. Pretto’s contemplative films stand out with their economy of style and elegance. Critics have already compared his work to visual masters such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pedro Costa.

Cinema serves as Pretto’s home away from home – he is responsible for selecting and awarding prizes to films at numerous festivals like Sundance and Diálogo de Cinema in Porto Alegre. A true cinephile, his films are filled with subtle undertones and allusions. And yet they also can stand alone, allowing the viewer to dive right in even without understanding all of the film historical references. His feature-length debut “Castanha” (2014) and the sequel “Rifle” (2016) continually oscillate between documentary and fiction, even adding further filmic genres to the mix.

For example, “Rifle” combines elements typical to road movies, westerns and thrillers. Just like in a classic western, the film takes place in the prairies of Southern Brazil and follows the conflict between landowners and subsistence farmers. The problem is not only fictional: Land distribution practices in Brazil have resulted in real social and political conflict, with about 55 percent of rural areas in the hands of 130,000 landowners, while five million farmers are forced to make do with just 25 percent of the available arable land. The remaining areas belong to midsized owners. These statistics are a source of conflict over land and social inequality. The amateur actors in Pretto’s film have experienced this first-hand: They are from the small village where the film was shot, consisting of just thirty households. This area is also the site of one of the worst battles ever seen in Brazil, which took place about one hundred years ago.

Set in the present day, the feature film tells the story of a young former soldier, who is charged with protecting the property of a poor farmer in Rio Grande do Sul. He takes drastic measures when a large agricultural company makes overtures to buy the property. For Pretto, “Rifle” is not about physical violence, but instead about a “kind of quiet violence that stems from the day-to-day existence between humans and an expansive form of boundless capitalism, and from the relationship between humans and machines, and from a vision of what a successful life should look like.” The film premiered in 2017 at the Berlin Film Festival. Since then, it has been invited to many prestigious festivals and took the top prize at the Korean Jeonju Film Festival, as well as additional top prizes and honors for best screenplay at Brazilian festivals.

His debut film “Castanha” was screened at over forty international festivals and ran in theaters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The film won the top prize in Rio de Janeiro, the critic’s prize in Rio Grande do Sul and a prize from the film university in Buenos Aires. “Castanha” is a fictional film that depicts a real person, the actor and transvestite João Carlos Castanha (52). Pretto met him while he was directing his first short film as a student; he was fascinated by the actor’s face and stage presence. Working in the tradition of John Cassavetes, Pretto funneled his full attention on the actor and the rest of the cast. At the same time, the film blends realism and horror; like in the films of Roman Polanski or John Carpenter, the horror is born from the characters’ everyday lives. Beyond that, “Castanha” is an intimate, highly observant film that borders on the documentary and is driven by quotidian details, coincidence and meaningful silences. “João lives in a confused, fictionalized form of reality – just like all of us – in which the real seems absurd and the everyday abstract” (Davi Pretto). While João imagines that he has one foot in the grave and is haunted by the ghosts of his past, he nevertheless stubbornly continues to celebrate life.

Pretto will soon expand his cinematic oeuvre with “Thriller South,” which takes place during the time of slavery, and the horror film “Field Exercise,” which depicts the Brazilian army in the present day: Not only will he work with the genres historical film and horror for the first time, but he will also work with a professional cast. During his residency at the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program he will deepen ties to the local film scene and continue to work on both of these screenplays.

Text: Maike Wetzel

Translation into English: Amy Pradell

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Filmography: 2016 Rifle (feature film, digital cinema 2,39:1, color, 88‘) 2014 Castanha (feature film, DCP, Farbe, 95‘) 2014 Bagagem / Baggage (short film, 12‘) 2012 De Passagem / Passing through (short film, 12‘) 2009 Quarto de espera / Waiting room (short film, 10‘)
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