Originally published as part of a weekly quarantine column at Cinema Tropical in May 2020.
Since the beginning of quarantine, filmmakers, production companies, and organizations like Cinema Tropical have accelerated experiments with streaming and VOD platforms to distribute both newer and older works that until then either disappeared after they left theaters (or festival tents), or relied exclusively on informal circulation. Considering the near absence of DVD and blu-ray releases for independent Brazilian cinema, these platforms can provide access for audiences and researchers who often had to rely on interpersonal connections to even be able to watch some of the most important films of the past couple of decades – not to mention the almost-always precarious treatment given to the history of.
If this has been the scenario for feature films, the scarcity of resources hits short and medium length films even harder. Standing outside the standards defined by most distribution systems – and, in the case of medium-length films, even most festivals – these films have relied on initiatives to secure a wider circulation that have been so exceptional it more often than not feels like sheer luck.
It is great news, then, to see Affonso Uchôa’s latest film, the medium-length Seven Years in May / Sete Anos em Maio (2019), which won the main Burning Lights award at Visions du Reél and premiered in New York at Veredas– getting a wider global release than most Brazilian films get these days. Following the success of his previous film, the outstanding Araby (co-directed by João Dumans, 2017), Seven Years in May was just about to be released in theaters as a double bill with Grace Passô’s and Ricardo Alves Júnior’s great Vaga Carne (2019), but the lockdown pushed the release to a variety of digital platforms.
In Brazil, it can be seen through Embaúba Filmes’ own VOD channel and the SP Cine Play streaming service; in Argentina, the film will be released on VOD this Friday by co-producers Un Puma; and every other territory can rent the film with English and Spanish subtitles for a small fee at the Spanish VOD platform Márgenes.
In Seven Years in May, Uchôa uses collaborative methods to render visible the structure of mass incarceration in the state of Minas Gerais. Shot with a group of young men and women in Contagem, the film is built as a tryptic, where each part employs a different mode of narrative construction combining documentary, reenactment, and fiction. In the first part, reenactment allows the young men to play the parts of both victims and perpetrators. In the second, the veracity of an oral account shot in a single long take is put in question by editing strategies conventionally associated with fiction. In the third, the fictive and the real coalesce into a collective performance driven by a perverse sense of play. Within 42 minutes, Uchôa’s latest work is even more radical, and no less beautiful, than Araby, requiring from critics and scholars an entire new vocabulary at the edge of representation.