The Cambridge Squatter does a really difficult factor: It takes what essentially is a neighborhood interest story and elevates it into something universal and urgently up to date. The local-interest story is that of homeless people in Sao Paolo in Brazil who occupied the titular hotel, however while you mix them up with a few refugees, then you’ve gotten a story about homelessness in the larger sense of the phrase, and it is between these two meanings that fourth-time director Eliane Caffe intelligently shuttles in a politically charged film whose warmth, vibrancy and good intentions outshine its flaws.
Cambridge Squatter was a winner of a San Sebastian Films in Construction award in 2015 and, now complete, deserves to meet its promise on the pageant circuit. Releases in Brazil and Spain have already been scheduled.
Rather unpromisingly, early scenes present immense glass and concrete facades of abandoned buildings in Sao Paolo, of which there are apparently many, however the place it’s illegal to squat regardless of town’s homeless drawback. The immense former Hotel Cambridge is occupied by dozens of homeless individuals, a multicultural number of human fauna, with the movie focusing on the tales of a just a few. These embody Hassam, a leathery-confronted, hard-smoking and terminally charismatic Palestinian refugee who recites poetry of breathtaking energy and wonder, residing together with his nephew Kalil, who does not speak a phrase of Portuguese, and Ngandu, in exile from the Congo for presumably political reasons, we infer, involving the commerce in blood minerals equivalent to coltan, used within the manufacture of cellphones.
While the non-Brazilians are non-actors, among the Brazilian residents are played by promenade actors. They include the picturesque, charismatic Apolo (Jose Dumont, a daily of Caffe’s films), who delivers some of its most deliciously surreal traces of dialogue and who is establishing a theater group whose work will be shown on the weblog the inhabitants have created to raise social awareness; an aged, retired circus performer, Gilda (Suely Franco); and the redoubtable Dona Carmen, the residents’ spokeswoman and chief, respected by all (in one of the movie’s curious elisions between fiction and life, she is performed by real-life homeless persons’ activist Carmen Silva).
The resort is to be repossessed in 15 days. The film details the preparations for this momentous event — which involve, later, the dramatically shot possession of another property, as police in riot gear fire on all of them, with Dona Carmen instructing the residents to throw coconuts out of the windows at them. The backstories of a few of the characters deliver human interest: a little bit of footage of life down a Congolese coltan mine fleshes out Ngandu’s story (that is clever, and the movie could have done with more of it); and there are photographs of Hassam sitting within the urban wasteland which would now be his dwelling, had he not left Palestine. Skype calls home, usually tense, are recorded, which suggest that though life is hard for those in exile, it is tougher for those who’ve remained.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom and politics. At one other degree, the hotel is an instance of cultures co-current like a big household, with the day-to-day tensions which that suggests however fundamentally residing in peace. In the makes an attempt at resistance, within the multilingual humor and in a budding cross-cultural love affair, there is a gently inspiring, really feel-good angle to it which is appealingly credible, unforced and unsentimental. Globalization has led to many evils, it appears to be saying, but our fellow-feeling will prevail.
The Cambridge Squatter (the Portuguese title, which interprets as It Was the Hotel Cambridge,” is altogether extra evocative, and it’s arduous to see why the English title is within the singular) is riskily poised between documentary and fiction, though clearly rooted in actual facts. It’s a technique that doesn’t at all times come off. Sometimes it has the look of uncooked fly-on-the-wall; generally, particularly through a few of its clearly rehearsed dialogues, it appears to be like a little bit too stagey, lending the undertaking an unfocused, unsteady feel via some sections; and at other times, the political message is laid on with a trowel.
But within the parallels it draws between the homeless of Sao Paolo and the homeless of the world — refugees all, in the the scriptwriters’ view — this uneven movie delivers a potent combination of empathy and food for thought, not in contrast to a coconut thrown at the institution’s head.
Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (Latin Horizons) Production firms: Aurora Filmes, Tu Vas Voir Cast: Jose Dumont, Suely Franco, Carmem da Silva Ferreira, Magaly Silva, Jussamara Leonor Manoel Director: Eliane Caffe Screenwriters: Eliane Caffe, Luis Alberto de Abreu, Ines Figuero Producers: Rui Pires, Andre Montenegro, Amiel Tenenbaum, Edgar Tenembaum Director of photography: Bruno Risas Production designers: Carla Caffe, Escola de Cidade Editor: Marcio Hashimoto Composer: Lucia Pulido Sales: Fandango
Not rated, 100 minutes