THE HERB OF THE RAT
Júlio Bressane, director. Brazil,
The Origin of
Review by Diego
A nation on a one-genre
film diet produces the malnourished cinematic bodies of its lack of experimentation.
Brazil, ever so eager to accept the Hollywood junk it consumes and yet so "guerilla"
in the cinema it produces with its own hands, shows what such "avant-garde
anemia" does to a pair of experimentally-inclined hands in Júlio
Bressane's A Erva do Rato (The Herb of the Rat, L'Herb du Rat.)
Based on stories
by uber-aclaimed Brazilian writer Machado de Assis (1839-1908), The Herb
of the Rat observes a man dictating prose to a woman, who is always already
his. She writes his words down, at times overcome by their beauty or a personal
reaction that she quickly muffles. They treat this like work, but it seems that
its only goal is the process itself. This is a game of monologist designation
and mimesis: he speaks, she copies it. Soon the woman puts down her pen and
becomes muse for his photographs, losing all function but that of captured object.
A rat eventually
shakes up the order of things, gnawing its way from the photographs to the insides
of the woman's vagina. And then, no matter how many mousetraps the man sets
up around the house, he is no longer needed. The woman finds pleasure within
her own body. And since all the woman ever was was a "other" body
to project to and refract from, the man finds a way to sustain the rules of
his game without her.
history of raw, makeshift mentality filmmaking (Glauber Rocha) -- at times corrupted
by hefty budgets and festival prize hunger (Walter Salles) - hasn't been able
to keep up with its own unorthodox drives. Like the undergraduate film student
so eager to capture the world, yet so reluctant to read up on it. Or the ivory
tower academic whose theory adheres to her every pore, yet never had the opportunity
for a tête-à-tête with her object of study. Bressane's experimentation
in The Herb of the Rat, then, feels relentless in intent and shortcoming
in execution, as if attempting to creating a(n)other grammar but unable - out
of oblivion -- to use a different alphabet. He seems to take the task of cinematic
deconstruction via partial incision, not structures. There is a kind of perfection
to the costumes, the camera angle and its lifelessness that renders moot the
unconventional length of the takes and the silences.
The Herb of
the Rat could still conceptually be a fantastic illustration for the work
of feminist theorist Luce Irigaray with its suggestions of latent independence
for female jouissance. But the actors move about and exchange dialogues in the
manner of telenovelas, stiff and predictably. As if Bressane's experimentalism
rested on shallow waters: on switching signs, not re-imagining them from scratch.
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