A Review of Marco Dutra and Caetano Gotardo’s drama, All the Dead Ones
Exploring the changing tides of a nation, All The Dead Ones is an uneven, slowly plotted tale of two very different families at the turn of the century. While its message is a strong one, the plodding style of the film prevents it from ever really taking off.
The year is 1899. The slave trade is no more. The city of São Paulo is rapidly transforming thanks to the coffee boom, built on the back of free labour. This freedom is much to the chagrin of the Soares family, who have taken a severe economic knock, moving out of the plantation and back to a regular, old house. This is symbolized in the opening scenes by the death of Josefina (Alaíde Costa), who was once their slave but continued as their servant.
The matriarch, Isabel (Thaia Perez), is distraught; now no one is available to wash her feet! The father is away working on a coffee farm to keep the family afloat, leaving the two daughters, Ana (Carolina Bianchi) and Maria (Clarissa Kiste), to fend for themselves. The latter has joined a convent, while the former believes she can see the dead slaves from her former plantation, apparently existing just out of the frame. These women are adrift in this new world, which is rapidly under construction both literally and metaphorically to become the country we know today.
Their struggle is contrasted with that of Iná Nascimento (Mawusi Tulani), a former slave looking for her husband. These two narratives collide when Maria becomes fascinated with African cultural rituals, including their apparent ability to help people communicate with the dead. She invites Iná to come over with the belief that she will be able to help Maria and Ana. The rest of the film deals with the result of this conflict, as directors Caetano Gotardo & Marco Dutra deliver a turgid examination of a changing nation that knows what it wants to say but cannot find the right emotional heart to go along with it.
There are clear parallels to the current situation of the country, which is becoming more nativist under Bolsonaro. All The Dead Ones’ fascinating swerves into the current day suggest that the problems of the past still persist in contemporary Brazil. Slow immersions into magical realism, subtle at first before becoming its central metaphor, help it from being just another dull period drama. Yet, this theme — which could have energized the story — is introduced rather too late to save the film. It also presents a logistical problem, as we barely see São Paulo at all; the majority of the film takes place in stuffy houses. If All the Dead Ones had committed fuller to this theme, it would have quickly come to life. As it stands, this is a dead one.
All The Dead Ones plays in Competition at the 70th Berlin Film Festival, which runs February 20th, 2020 – March 1, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.