Rewatching Eduardo Coutinho


Rewatching the films of Eduardo Coutinho, like I did yesterday thanks to Flaherty NYC, is very emotionally demanding. Being in the theater, seeing him and listening to him once more brings back his presence as absence: for Brazilian cinephiles, seeing a new Coutinho film was a ritual one could count on, but no longer can.

Today, his presence acquires a different meaning: the films are sadder, more premonitory, and like Fernanda Torres says about trying to play a real character in Playing (Jogo de Cena, 2007), they rub in our faces all we’ve failed to become. It’s hard for me to listen to Eduardo Coutinho’s voice today, and the difficulty only restates how necessary it is. We must listen to Coutinho today, more than ever.

It was a surprising conclusion to rewatching one of his films, because I’ve always seen Coutinho as the most influential Brazilian filmmaker of the past couple decades – and the enthusiasm with which his film was presented last night at Anthology Film Archives tells me that he is the filmmaker the world needs now, not only Brazil. However, this feeling comes from the parallel disappointment that the aforementioned influence might have been grossly misestimated, and that all the precious things he discovered, revealed and taught have been slowly forgotten – under the sign of Bras Cubas. One of the elements that caught my attention as I rewatched Playing is something that’s been said about his work time and time again, but that seems to have claimed a terrifying political subtext: his ability to listen. 

It’s no wonder that, since his death, the world seems to be defined by a general inability to listen. Coutinho could listen. He would let people talk. He refused to judge them, oppress them, correct them or define them. He listened to them and showed interest in them, encouraging them to show him more about themselves. There’s a clear ritualistic, “balming” (like one of the characters in Edifício Master says) dimension to this process, which allowed for a true encounter to take place, during the conversation but also during the projection, that now seems to have been conveniently shunned from the polis, with results way too clear for me to enumerate.

The world is harder without Coutinho, but he’s made a lot of things easier for the world. Our job is simply to not forget.