Film Review: “Elis”

Katharine Gordon
Contributing Writer

While never failing to offer exciting opportunities for watching up and coming international films, Beirut’s Metropolis Empire Sofil theater recently featured five films, from August 30 to September 3, as part of the 2nd Brazilian Film Festival in Beirut.

Presented by the Embassy of Brazil in Beirut, Brasiliban, and the Metropolis Association, the festival offered insight into the cinema of Brazil that ranged from “Under Pressure”, an intense medical drama, to “Elis”, a cliché, but beautifully filmed biopic about one of Brazil’s most beloved singers. Other films included “Grace and Glory”, a look into sexuality and the struggle of coming to terms with estranged family, and “Where I Grow Old” in which two sisters attempt to settle in a new place, discovering their mental and personal “growing pains”.

The first in the series, “Elis”, a film by Hugo Prata, follows the life and career of Elis Regina Carvalho Costa, a renowned Jazz and pop singer. While gaining recognition in 1965 for taking the TV Excelsior competition title, she went on to have a whirlwind career. She was a television co-host, a live performer, a recording artist, and later on, an active spokesperson against the ills of the music industry. She died tragically at age 36, a shock to all who adored her music.

What Prata presents is a look into her personal life and the events that led to her untimely death. In other words, it is a classic biopic. The film is indeed beautifully shot and undeniably striking, particularly in the scenes of Elis performing. The scenes shot in her luxury sea-side home were gripping. In one, the sea serves as a backdrop, framing her slender silhouette as she slowly smokes a cigarette. Of course, we see scenes of her performances in which she seduces both the virtual audience and those seated in the theater. For those who know and appreciate her music, the film is not lacking in renditions of Elis Regina’s most famous songs. Her music is as addictive as the spontaneous and nose-crinkling laugh of the actress who plays her, Andréia Horta.

The plot however, fell flat. The spontaneity, originality, and talent was dimmed by the predictable nature of the film. Prata’s take on a biopic is generic. His construction can be described in clichés: rags to riches, a girl who comes from nothing, making it big in the city, etc. We know how the film will end when it begins: a downward spiral ending in death and mourning by those characters who we follow alongside the main character throughout the film.

She starts off a poor “southern girl”, is recognized for her talent by two men who give her an offhand chance, makes it big, and then succumbs to the pressure of her career. It would be refreshing to see this structure turned on its head especially in the case of well known stars whose lives are notoriously known. Subverting this linear narrative could have allowed the plot of the film to match the creativity of Elis’ herself. This would have changed the viewing experience entirely.

“Elis” is a visually appealing and entertaining film. It is worth seeing, but if you’re expecting something radical and genre breaking, then you may be disappointed. What you will get is some extremely addictive Brazilian music, gripping scenes of Elis’ performances, intense emotional displays of love and self-destruction, and insight into the life of one of Brazil’s most talented singers.

No doubt we will continue to see more international contributions to the Beirut film scene, including a third Brazilian festival in 2018.

Leave a Reply