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Up Against Them All
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by Collin Souter

"Up Against a comparison...but it's still damn powerful"
4 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2004 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) Last year, “City of God” lit up American screens with its multi-layered, multi-generational storyline, raw intensity and its energetic style. It made such a lasting impression that Academy members awarded it with a few surprise nominations. Now comes “Up Against Them All,” a film from the same country, the same producer and one with many of the same stylistic choices. Other than those similarities, the two have little in common, which almost makes it unfair to compare the two, but it’s inevitable. “City of God” wrote a lot of new rules for Brazilian cinema and “Up Against Them All” prefers to play by them and re-exemplify why they work. By the way, that’s a good thing.

Director Roberto Mareira’s tale of crime and redemption follows a seemingly idyllic family and the secrets buried within their religious confines. Unaware that her husband Teodoro (Giulio Lopes) works as a hired assassin, Claudia (Leona Cavalli) has an affair with Julio, the son of a local butcher. When Teodoro gets hired to kill Julio, Claudia flees the household without leaving a trace of her whereabouts, which leads Teodoro on a quest to find her. Meanwhile, their daughter, Soninha (Sylvia Lourenco), makes the most of her parents’ absence and their empty house.

From there, the story takes many unpredictable twists and turns as more characters come into play and more secrets become revealed through flashback/flash-forward storytelling techniques. Like “City of God,” Mareira’s film centers not just on its characters, but on its specific time and place. Set in the oppressive outskirts of Sao Paulo where violence has become a way of life, “Up Against Them All” centers on characters who are very much products of an environment in which social segregation has lent itself to brutality and hopelessness.

By minimizing his crew to a mere 15 people without using any studio gear, Mareira gives the movie its immediacy and realism. He stays true to his guerilla filmmaking roots by shooting “Up Against Them All” digitally and adding little to the production design in the neighborhoods in which he filmed. The performances also do not carry any false notes, which stems from the fact that the actors worked loosely from the script by improvising many of their scenes. The overall effect gives the viewer a sense that they’re eavesdropping rather than just observing.

Of course, none of this is in any way pleasant. Though not quite as powerful as “City of God,” “Up Against Them All” nevertheless represents an uncompromised vision and has a way of staying with the viewer. It’s a beautifully crafted tale of religion, crime, sex and disorder in a household that seems powerless from outside influences. Here’s hoping that this renaissance of Brazilian cinema has a way of influencing its own outsiders.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this review can also be found in the 2004 Chicago International Film Festival guidebook, also written by Collin Souter.

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originally posted: 10/08/04 23:17:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/26/04 hong kong boy not bad 4 stars
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