Endearing and visually stunning, André Ristum’s O Outro Lado do Paraíso portrays a beautiful piece of Brazilian history, the dreamlike years prior to the coup d’etat of 1964. The years of the progressive educator Paulo Freire, who would end up in prison, and of photographer Sebastião Salgado and his family, who would exile to Europe.
After becoming President of Brazil in 1961, Joao Goulart set into motion an agrarian reform and union struggle that was abruptly interrupted by the business elites and with the backing of the U.S. The coup d’etat of April 1, 1964 cut short the dreams of a whole generation, shutting the country in pain and darkness.
O Outro Lado do Paraíso is a magical realist portrait with likeable characters that exhibits great art direction and production value. The sepia tone photography conveys warmth and good feelings, as it focuses on the story of a boy and his family, as they migrate from Minas Gerais in the countryside, to build a dream city, Brasilia, erected from scratch.
During the premiere of the film at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in México, we had the opportunity to talk to André Ristum about his inspiration, the production, Plan Cóndor, the archival footage, and the resemblance of the country he depicts in O Outro Lado do Paraíso to today’s Brazil, heir to the progressive policies of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and that recently impeached its President, Dilma Rousseff.
It is based on a book by Luiz Fernando Emediato. How was the adaptation to film?
Emediato and Nilson Rodrigues made a co-production contract and tried for two years to write a script based on the book with many writers, but they failed to develop a screenplay they liked.
Then they saw my first film Meu País [My Country, 2011] and they invited me to direct the project. I read the existing script and asked them to invite someone I wanted to work with, Marcelo Müller, a Brazilian screenwriter who wrote Infancia clandestina [Clandestine Childhood, 2011]. Later on we invited Cuban screenwriter Senel Paz [Strawberry and Chocolate], whom Emediato knew, to supervise the writing process. Marcelo also knew Senel from the International School of Film and Television of San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba, where he teaches screenwriting. The collaboration worked out, and we were able to write the script with the additional help of José Rezende and Ricardo Tiezzi. We were a total of four screenwriters, but I worked only with Marcelo.
The film takes place in Brazil during the 60s, when a progressive president was overthrown by a coup d’etat. Something very similar to what happened in Chile in the next decade.
Brazil was the first country where a military coup under what is known as Plan Cóndor happened, an operation that took place in Latin America at the hands of the CIA and the US. They staged a series of military coups in South America: Argentina, Chile, Paraguay… Brazil’s is not as well known internationally, because it was a quieter coup sort of speak. At the start there wasn’t as much violence as in Chile or Argentina, where they killed thousands of people on the first day. In Brazil it grew over time. Right after the coup people were arrested, but with an attitude as if it was not a real dictatorship. ‘Let’s put the country in a good position to hold elections in two years,’ they said. So it was a slightly different coup than the others, but it was the first and they used it as a training ground for those that would come later.
As part of the historical recreation you use archival footage and music of the time like an Italian song by Rita Pavone. How was the job of recreating the 60’s in Brazil?
I wanted to show the music of the interior of Brazil at the beginning of the film, when it happens in Minas Gerais, and then I chose a more international music when the story takes place in Brasilia, where the European music was in vogue. I used Rita Pavone because she was very successful during those years. And I’m half Italian, so I chose her.
In regards to the archival footage, the script already called for it. Originally we had the idea of including a little bit, just inside the television screen. But as we were editing the film we discovered the documentary Brasília, Contradições de uma Cidade by Joachim Pedro de Andrade, the color images that appear in the film. It is a documentary he made in 1967 and was banned for a long time. We used those images to illustrate how Brasilia was back then. The images were very close to our color palette, and even though it’s documentary material, it was filmed like fiction. So when we edited it together with our images we realized they fit very well. We have scenes in Brasilia and Taguatinga that are by Joachim Pedro de Andrade.
We also used black and white archival footage filmed the day of the coup and the day after. I made a documentary in 2004 about the coup in Brazil [Tempo de Resistência], so I knew lots of materials with scenes of the coup. But for this film I was looking for something different, something that would show the people on the day of the coup. What we were looking for was how the coup changed the lives of normal people who were not involved in politics, what happens to the family in the film. We found some unpublished material by Jean Manzon, a reel that read ‘Brazil 64.’ We transferred it to video to see what it contained. The editor and I were fascinated, and decided to incorporate 3 or 4 minutes of this material in the film.
The characters migrate from Minas Gerais to Brasilia, a very peculiar city erected in the middle of nowhere.
Brasilia was the dream of Juscelino Kubitschek, president of Brazil from 1956 to 1961, who dreamed of making a capital in the center of the country. And he managed to build his dream. He chose a very good location and hired two of the most famous Brazilian architects, Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa. They built a whole city in 10 or 15 years. Cities like Taguatinga and many others around Brasilia were inhabited by the hordes of workers who came to build the new city. Brasilia was a crazy dream. It is now a city that is barely 50 years old.
And you had to completely reproduce Taguatinga from scratch for filming…
Because it doesn’t exist any more. They destroyed everything. The little wooden houses no longer exist. It is a city of one million inhabitants today.
And you did it in a studio, or how was it?
In a studio 30 minutes away from Brasilia, a film town that had a very large open area where we built some 15,000 square meters to reproduce the city. We needed to recreate the main street, the cinema, the house where the family lives…
You worked with the same cinematographer before. What was your plan for this film?
I have made three films with Hélcio Nagamine. This work is very different from my previous film, Meu País, which is grainy, with desaturated colors and high contrast. For O Outro Lado do to Paraíso I wanted the colors of Brazil, and we decided to do it in scope for the landscapes, because we wanted to see them very large on the screen. We kept the primary colors — blue, red and yellow — very strong. The cerrado [tropical savanna] is the type of vegetation in that part of Brazil, and the soil is almost red. All very strong and with an omnipresent sun. We didn’t even have one rainy day during the shooting. It was sunny every day. There were days of up to 36°C, very hot. So we wanted to communicate the intensity of Brasilia, the federal district, that has very strong colors.
Luiz Fernando Emediato talked after the screening about the similarities between the Brazil of today with that of O Outro Lado do Paraíso. How is Brazil politically right now?
It is very complicated because there are a lot of protests against a President who was elected by a democratic election. Some part of the population is very dissatisfied.
What’s the reason behind the protests?
They are protests against President Rousseff because the economic situation is very difficult. They are saying that the economic policy was very bad during the last four years and we are now paying for the mismanagement. Luiz Fernando said that he feels the same segment of the Brazilian society is protesting, the elites, who do not accept the President and want to push her out.
Do the elites want dictatorship?
No, they just want change, they want someone else. The country is very bad economically. The right to protest is part of democracy. The corruption scandals in Petrobras are something very serious. Everything is mixed up, it’s a very big feijoada.
Sao Paulo has traditionally been the center of film making in Brazil, but your film was made in Brasilia. How was the production of O Outro Lado do Paraíso?
I live in Sao Paulo but this film was produced in Brasilia. Funding was amazing, 95 percent of the film was financed with public funds. The budget was nearly $8 million reais, slightly less than $3 million dollars.
I hear you are already working on a new project with Luiz Fernando…
Yes, many projects. On my own I’m getting ready to shoot a new film the second half of 2015 titled La voz del silencio. A very urban story about two characters, about human relationships in a big city like Sao Paulo where people are distanced from each other but maintain emotional ties. And with Luiz Fernando we have another film that we are developing, a bigger production, a political story of economic profile about corruption. We want to film it in 2016.