In his early twenties, Brazil’s Mário Peixoto wrote, produced, directed and edited Limite, which would remain his one film. It became legendary once Sergei Eisenstein praised it. Actually, he did no such thing; the Portuguese translation of Eisenstein’s remarks was a hoax: Peixoto’s own invention.
Combining moody languorousness and feverishly dazzling experimentalism, Limite is mostly god-awful: long, stretched-thin, silly, adolescent. It is bursting with so much commitment and cinematic flair, however, that one wishes that Peixoto had continued to make films. In Limite, his imagination regarding camera position and distance exhilarates.
Early on, the film’s manner stresses silent cinema’s kinship to dreams. Three young persons—two women and a man—occupy a small drifting boat. The woman whom the camera first introduces—Edgar Brasil is Peixoto’s cinematographer—appears to be alone; once the man is introduced, he and the woman appear to be alone in the boat. We are surprised again when the second woman is introduced. The absence of conversation among the three solitudinous souls joins the silence of the silent film to suggest the muteness of a dream.
Each of the boat’s occupants mentally leaves the confines of the boat in flashbacks to her or his recent past.
Visually, much impresses and delights. Limite proves as sensitive to gathering stormy weather as will Jean Renoir’s Une partie de campagne (1936). Skies indeed provide memorable shots, including, near the end, a gradual descent from a featureless sky, one whiting out all discernible form, to the visible earth below.
Other exquisite shots closely observe aspects of Nature, especially intricately leafed trees and other plants animated and sparkling in sunlit breeze.
But Peixoto also overdoes a good deal of imagery including vertical stripes and bars (one of the women has escaped from prison), feet (in and out of shoes), male scalps (giving new meaning to the term “overhead shot”). Similarities between the male protagonist’s unruly hair and various patterns in Nature become ridiculous—and tedious. A passage in which the camera is rapidly thrust forward to highlight the single stream in a series of waterfall fountains—it’s possible that the same fountain was used over and over again—is as hysterically overwrought as the melodramatic flashbacks.
There is nothing wrong with this film, though, that Peixoto might not have outgrown.
Peixoto died in 1992.
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