Tom Mes checked in from Rotterdam to see the international premiere of the Brazilian film Rânia.
"I have this bad thing in my chest", Rânia says. "It only goes away when I dance." And dance Rânia does. And not just her. For the 85-minute duration of Roberta Marques’s film, the camera lingers on women’s bodies dancing, walking, lazing at the beach, sleeping in the daytime after a night on the town — their savage grace emphasised by their various states of undress, revealing skin textures and forms that range from the slender and toned figures of young Rânia and her even more nubile best friend Zizi to the pale and sagging parchment flesh of a bathing aged matriarch.
Rânia is part of a dance company. While her mother spends her days arched over the kitchen table sewing clothes and her father sits in the same rigid position over his fishnets, Rânia is all movement, eager to dance, to move and to get away.
Her constant companion Zizi already has a life behind her in spite of her young age, having once left Brazil for Italy to become a professional dancer but "ending up on the street" instead, before returning home under the wing of handsome but temperamental dance company owner Dede. Zizi is a pole dancer, as world-wise and confident with her sexuality as Rânia is unaware and searching for her true self. Partially to emulate her best friend, Rânia soon starts dancing at the same nightclub. Meanwhile, an alternative mother figure in the shape of an enigmatic dance instructor tries to keep Rânia on the straight and narrow.
If this sounds like the story premise of a million melodramas, that’s because it is. But for something to be cinema, more important than what you tell is how you tell it. The same story was recounted not so long ago as the Christina Aguilera/Cher vehicle Burlesque, which went through all the codes, leaving no cliché unturned and no histrionics unindulged. Marques’s film plays more like one where most of the dramatic crescendos have been excised in favour of a more subtle approach. Not a character study, but a figure study. We stay so close to Rânia that much of the context remains out of sight. All we learn is what drifts into her orbit for brief moments: her parents whose hulking bodies seem as fixed into their positions as the rusted hull of the ship that ran aground just off the beach where Rânia and Zizi spend their spare time; a pubescent brother eternally dressed in a drab t-shirt; a nightclub owner and his piercing gazes.
Marques manages to suggest a lot through limited, almost entirely visual means. The casting of Zizi and Rânia, for instance, speaks volumes about their relationship, with the sultry Nataly Rocha forming an effective and evocative contrast with the fledgling Graziela Felix. Purely in her physical presence and attitude, she reminds Rânia of the world that’s out there, the foreign places waiting to be discovered and danced through. When the opportunity arrives to tour with her dance troupe, all that stands in the way is the agreement of her unyielding parents.
But that bad thing in her chest is a powerful motivator. Regardless of anyone’s opinions or intentions, restless Rânia just want to dance, dance, dance — all the way to who knows where.
Rânia (Roberta Marques, Brazil 2011, 85′)