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The Tenants 2009

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Global Film Initiative, 145 Ninth St., #105, San Francisco, CA 94103
Produced by Sèrgio Bianchi
Directed by Sèrgio Bianchi
DVD, color, 103 min.

Sr. High-General Adult
Crime, Economics, Ethics, Film Studies, Gender Studies, Latin American Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Social Sciences, Urban Studies, Violence

Date Entered: 10/11/2012

Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, MALS student, City Univerity of New York (CUNY Graduate Center)

The opening sequence of Sèrgio Bianchi’s The Tenants eloquently sets the tone for the rest of the film. The claustrophobic homes of the Brazilian city look somehow beautiful in the setting sun despite their working class austerity and the ominous musical score that accompanies the image. A group of kids sing a child’s song about violence in an alley, a culture of violence which constantly confronts the protagonist of the film, Valter.

The film demonstrates how violence in a society affects an individual even when he is not a direct victim or perpetrator of that violence; its mere existence and potential demands engagement. Three loud obnoxious criminals move into the house next door to Valter and his family and become the focus of Valter’s attentions, but it is the pervading violence in the society at large in São Paulo which is the real subject and is constantly referenced in the film. When we are first introduced to the family the daughter is watching a scene on television of domestic violence. As they put the children to bed a newscaster tells the story of a young girl stabbed and murdered. References to the young girl appear throughout the film, including a sequence where Valter watching his daughter innocently dancing with friends takes note of a man leering behind her and the dance becomes sexualized and he fears for her safety. Iara, his wife, echoes the sentiments in the very next scene when she expresses her concerns about the murder to her husband. Hints are made that the criminals next door might be involved in the girl’s death but of course that would be much too simple. Her story is just one of many.

Stories of violence are told and seen throughout the film and Valter is only able to respond to them in his daydreams. Valter and Iara are prisoners in their own home. Always looking out the window at the tenants next door, they are unable to respond because they are afraid of either engaging in the violence themselves or becoming victims of a violent response. Iara calls on her brother at one point to attempt to address the situation further alienating Valter whose manhood seems to be questioned because of his unwillingness (or inability because of his need to protect his family) to respond in kind to the turbulence that surrounds him. That does not negate Valter’s occasional desire to respond violently to the events that surround him. The attraction of violent remedies as well as the repulsion to them is stunningly demonstrated with a sequence of Iara looking out the window at the culminating vicious resolution of the film, making eye contact with Valter as an eerie smile slowly creeps across her face.

The Tenants explores issues of class, community and gender as well as philosophical questions of violence while depicting one man’s struggle to protect his family and maintain his humanity in a world spiraling out of control. The performances of all of the actors are incredibly nuanced (Marat Descartes as Valter, Iara is Ana Carbatti and Umberto Magnani as Dimas—the neighbor who owns the home taken over by the three criminal tenants—as well as all of the supporting actors of the film). The score is hauntingly beautiful and evocative, and the film is wonderfully shot. It stands up to multiple viewings, each time revealing different elements both of technical filmmaking acumen and philosophical insights.