Luanda Fernandes speaks about the similarities between the Marathi movie Court and Brazilian film Justice
The affirmation of intimacy can occur sometimes less by confession, than by an exchange of gazes in which two people connect through the same thought, but for several reasons, are prevented from verbalizing. Sometimes this small miracle transcends the visual interaction between two people and takes the form of works of art, which take place in very different contexts, whether spatial or temporal and establish a tacit relationship. It is not, obviously, about the influence one exerts on the other, nor it is about plagiarism. It is as if they respond in a manner somewhat similar to a disturbing or sublime state of affairs. As a Brazilian living in Mumbai, I am constantly searching for this tacit intimacy between the two countries.
Recently, I got to know two cinematographic works that exchanged these gazes full of intimacy, identification and meaning. These are the Brazilian film Justice, by Maria Augusta Ramos, from 2004, and the Indian film Court, by Chaitanya Tamhane, from 2014. These two films, more than a common procedure, share an ethos: They are careful and quiet observational records that are based on the predominance of still camera and naturalism and that transit between fiction and documentary, waving to the tradition of cinema verité.
This ethos transcends the formal option though. It also underlies the plots of the two films. Court explores a specific case in which a poet, Narayan Kamble, is accused of inciting workers to rebel against their degrading working conditions through suicide, which would have led a worker to commit suicide. The evidence is scarce, which shows the manoeuvre to frame what the state and its police arm understand as subversion. The judicial rite works here as a mechanism to interdict the undesirables. In Justice, the quiet and attentive camera of Maria Augusta Ramos follows the trial of five cases in the Court of Justice of Rio de Janeiro. Although different, the cases refer to theft and drug trafficking. While it is not a question of subversion of a political nature as in Tamhane’s film, the accused are equally undesirable and liable to be interdicted by the judicial rite. In developing this argument outlined by the two films, some common issues are stressed, particularly the question of image and representation: both at the center of the understanding of cinema and the judiciary.
Cinema and judicial rite would seek the truth. In both films, the option for a non-intrusive camera is guided by the proposal of not being noticed. It matters little if one film records real cases and the other, a fictional case. In both cases, there is a deliberate intention to make the cinematic apparatus invisible and to create a dramaturgy of the real.
In Maria Augusta Ramos the question is whether it is possible to record without interfering in the reality with the very presence of the cinematic apparatus. Because the mere placement of the camera in front of the scene creates a fragment that changes the recording of reality itself. On the other hand, this fragment of reality imposes a strangeness on what was considered familiar, ordinary, finding a truth that appears almost by accident. The judicial rite in its search for truth stages a theater of the absurd, erected on the war of versions, and above all, the unequal distribution of powers and the consequent fiction of impartiality and neutrality.
This theatre is staged in Court, by its turn, with cinematographic apparatus devoid of all its excess, assuming a silent and almost ethnographic posture. It is as if the events unfolded by themselves. The question that arises here is different: how can we reproduce the temporality of lived experience? Here the long shots, the time dilation seek to approach a real experience of the passage of time, fragmentary rather than chronological, in which boredom, expectation, memory, and experience of the present life are assembled in a more complex and diffuse way, different from the temporal organization of the classical narrative that advances by actions and events.
The trial’s theatre of the absurd is even evident in the prologue of Justice in which a defendant in a wheelchair is accused of assault whose denunciation describes movements that he is unable to realize by his flagrant reduced mobility. In Court constitutes the very principle of the film that proposes the trial of man by the supposed effect of his songs. The absurdity is still evident in the two films from a very similar procedure: the record of the banality of life that happens while the freedom of individuals is judged, determined, defined, in a rite full of arbitrariness.
Justice goes further in this direction by capturing the heinous overcrowding of Brazilian prisons, the invasion of privacy during the visits of the prisoners’ families and the war cries of violent factions of the incarcerated deepen the differences with the world of the free. The two films draw a marked contrast between parallel lives, the exceptional deprivation of liberty and the ordinary meal of the lawyers and the judges’ family. The characters stroll in the streets of cities brings Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro even closer: In their exteriorities where vegetable lives explode and in their interiorities where human lives are interdicted.