Brazilian Cinematographer Azul Serra came to prominence recently shooting three episodes of the hit Netflix series The Mechanism (2018). It is a series he shot just prior to this, Aos Teus Olhos or Liquid Truth, which is getting people talking on the international festival circuit right now.
A good-looking male swimming instructor in São Paulo is accused of acting inappropriately toward a six-year-old boy in Carolina Jabor’s highly-relevant and tenderly crafted Liquid Truth. Thematically the film evokes comparisons with Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012, cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen DFF), but the similarities end there. Liquid Truth is bright, fresh and one of the best films to come out of Brazil this year.
Daniel de Oliveira is excellent as Rubens, the accused swimming instructor. It’s a job the character loves. His swagger has its charm, and clearly hits the mark with his attractive young girlfriend. But it stems from a self-confidence and naivety that gets him into trouble. The ‘truth’ in the title is as slippery as the water in which Rubens teaches. The film is a simmering social commentary on truth, so relevant in our new world of ‘fake news’.
Cinematographer Azul Serra’s faded colours of the swimming complex are reminiscent of a different time, and the effect of rippling water seen from below, bending the image above, beautifully symbolise the effect that social media crusades can have on reality.
Liquid Truth is a film which carefully balances our sympathies and Serra brings visual clarity to the murkiness of the story, using the water in the swimming pool, open sky and big glass windows alongside the pool as visual metaphors. There’s a sense that the situation ought to be clearer than it is, and this tempts the audience to become complicit on one side or another. This, in turn, deceptively suggests that the problem is a simple one.
Translated from Aos Teus Olhos and adapted from a stage play, Liquid Truth won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film at the Rio International Film Festival and the accolades the film is receiving are well-deserved for a film shot in only three weeks.
Serra creates a microcosm situation that veers grossly out of control. His camera observes with wide-shots, teasing the distance and borderline voyeurism of wondering if you’re about to catch someone or something in the act.
South American cinema is high on morality and Liquid Truth is no exception. The film refreshingly treats its audience with intelligence. Sexual abuse is a sensitive and serious matter. No one would want to disbelieve a child. But what if the story isn’t true?
There’s also a sense that the filmmakers created an ending implied to tease the audience, open to interpretation. “It’s an open ending,” said Director Carolina Jabor when speaking with Stephanie Taylor from FF2 Media. “It’s a way to let the audience decide. I released the film in Brazil. I had a Q&A and I was very impressed with how people analysed the characters.”
With subtlety favoured over cliché drama, an unresolved ending is perhaps to be expected, like a dive that cuts away moments before the splash. Here, truth is not a solid but a liquid.
‘Spotlight on Brazil’ is a initiative from Australian Cinematographer Magazine in association with the Associação Brasileira de Cinematografia (ABC).
James Cunningham is the Editor of Australian Cinematographer Magazine.