Judge Alice Nelson is kicking out a tenant who thinks the use of Cheese Whiz is an acceptable decorating technique.
Our review of The Tenants (2005), published April 14th, 2006, is also available.
Who needs neighbors?
São Paulo Brazil is home to over 11 million people. From the point of view of The Tenants, it appears to be a crowded enclave of houses that look as if they've been built one right on top of the other. In fact, the homes are so close, if your neighbor sneezes you'd be able to offer a "gesundheit" without leaving the comfort of your living room. Where I live there's lots of wide open spaces, that kind of living would suffocate me. This film shows us the other Brazil; the one not featured in the brochures touting Carnival. It's a portrait of a family, working hard to get by, and the tenuous nature of their lives in the face of ever increasing violence.
Facts of the Case
Valter (Marat Descartes) lives with his wife Iara (Ana Carbatti) and their two children in the home his father built brick-by-brick. Located in a poor area of São Paulo, Valter works hard during the day and takes classes at night, while Iara is a stay-at-home mom. When the owner of the house next door rents it out to hooligans who disrupt the peace of the close knit neighborhood, and violence begins to erupt throughout the city, Valter fears he will no longer be able to protect his home or the family he loves so dear.
It doesn't matter what country you live in, we can all relate to the fear that engulfs us when we witness violence which can easily enter our own lives. The Tenants is set in Brazil, but the plight of this family could be just as appropriate if the setting was any American town. The film illustrates, in a starkly realistic manner, what life is like for someone on the fringe of poverty, dealing with the kind of violence that festers in neighborhoods where people have no sense of hope. Valter fights that hopelessness every day, and when directly threatened by violence has to use every bit of strength not to give into the bleakness.
As slowly as it progresses, The Tenants never feels like drudgery. Instead, it feels like life, when we're doing what we have to do to get by. The intensity picks up when the thugs move in, but they're merely backdrops in Valter's story. Often on the verge of breaking down, he knows he has to keep it together to protect his family. Valter is no super hero, so he doesn't take on the bad guys and whip their asses. Instead, he feels powerless, and this fact tears him apart.
Directed by Sergio Bianchi, who co-wrote the film with Beatriz Bracher, this script captures Valter's desperation. Bianchi isn't afraid to let his characters hold a shot without speaking a word, giving his actors the freedom to portray these characters as real people. You believe Descartes is Valter, that he lives in a rundown neighborhood, and loves his wife and family. If we didn't believe, the film wouldn't work.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Bianchi captures the ugliness of São Paulo in all its rundown glory. For example, the opening scene is striking in its honesty, such that in the center of all this concrete dreariness is one large green tree, growing despite the poverty that surrounds it. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix provide clear dialogue, enabling us to hear the lilting quality of the Portuguese language. The subtitles are easy to read, but often go by so fast you may miss part of what is being said. Thankfully, this doesn't cause us to lose the essence of the film. The lone extra is a DVD-ROM discussion guide, just in case you have to watch The Tenants for some artsy-fartsy film class.
Having a few kids and a husband of my own, I can relate to Valter's fears about the safety of his family. You know you can't plan for every contingency or protect them from every danger, and that realization can often be paralyzing. The Tenants expresses fear in an all too real manner, cracking the illusion of true safety, even in the confines of your home.
Not Guilty, or as my Portuguese brothers and sisters might say, "não
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Global Film Initiative
• Discussion Guide
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