A terrified young woman is staring at a disturbing monstrosity, a kind of Pagan spirit that has sprung out of a river. Such is the opening scene of Pajeú, named after the creature, a fantastic character which follows the meanderings of the river and drives the story. Eager to get rid of a nightmare that is infecting her life, Maristela is looking into the story of Pajeú, the now forgotten figure buried in the depths of the city of Fortaleza. The film goes through successive urban transformations leading to the burying of Pajeú, a mystery imbued with supernatural elements. It constructs a soberly staged paranoid universe. The nightmarish visions, intensified by an electro soundtrack with metallic tones, express the young girl’s angst as she slowly sinks into a depressive state: withdrawal to isolation, feelings of paralysis, death anxiety, melancholia. The border between dream and reality fades. Pajeú cleverly intertwines genres. The amazing feat of the film and its economy of means is that the quest of the young woman, played remarkably, gives us an opportunity to hear the stories of the people of Fortaleza, and also the city’s history, introducing an unexpected documentary element into fiction. Pajeú becomes the echo chamber of generations which are worried about the destruction of their environment, their powerlessness against uncontrollable urban metamorphosis, their environmental concerns and the obliteration of their history. When Maristela grabs the mike in the final solitary karaoke scene, it is to sing in a discordant voice about dispossession… until total disappearance. (Claire Lasolle)
- Fatima Muniz
- Yuri Yamamoto
- Pedro Diogenes
- Victor de Melo
- Guto Parente
- Victor Costa Lopes
- Vitor Colares
Interview with Pedro Diogenes
Pajeú is a vanished and forgotten creek that flows through the city of Fortaleza (Brazil), which is your birthplace. How did you discover Pajeú Creek ? Has it been the starting point of your film?
The city of Fortaleza has always been the setting, character and inspiration for most of my films. And this happens because Fortaleza arouses strong and contradictory feelings in me. It’s a city that always surprises me both positively and negatively. A city that delights me and disappoints me at the same time. Many of these concerns come from the connection that Fortaleza has with memory, or with the lack of memory. Fortaleza is a city that grows and disappears at the same time. And Pajeú creek is a symbol of that. The creek disappeared. It lost strength through the incessant fight against pollution and real estate speculation. And the starting point of the film came from the following concern: If the stream, which is responsible for the birth and settlement of Fortaleza, vanished from the city, what other stories, people and possible cities are buried every day?
The film shows the research process on this river, intertwining a fictional narration with documentary elements. How did you conceive this structure and the scenario?
The film seeks to show that our relationship with the environment interferes directly in our lives and that the disappearance of a creek also means the disappearance of people. That’s what brought me the will of making a documentary film that speaks of the Pajeú Creek, conducted by a character who could relate to other characters, immersed in the urban reality, among the elements that inhabit the spaces, promoting conversations and exchanges, showing multiple views about the Creek, without losing the potential of human interaction in the encounters.
The investigation is led by Maristela (wonderfully played by Fatima Muniz), who could be also interpreted as your alter ego. How did you work with Fatima to build this character ? And more in general, how did you work with the people who have a role in the film?
The character of Maristela was born from a creative partnership with actress Fatima Muniz who brought much of her personality, experience and emotions to the film. She participated creatively in all scenes. One of the challenges was having a character that would transit between fiction and documentary while maintaining tension. The fictional scenes were discussed and rehearsed with the participation of actor Yuri Yamamoto, however the documentary scenes were improvised at the time of the shooting. Some of the characters she meets during her journey were chosen in a previous research, while others (like the people in the beach scene) were only known at the exact moment of shooting.
The narration is enveloped by a mysterious and surreal atmosphere, dotted with dreamlike and sinister apparitions of a creature emerging from the waters of Pajeú Creek. Why did you opt for this treatment?
As a child I heard about the Pajeú creek a few times, either at school in history classes (Fortaleza was founded on the riverside of Pajeú), or in conversations with older people. But the creek did not exist. In my head there was a ghostly idea: a creek that disappeared. So Pajeú always reminded me of something dreamlike. In addition to that, there is the fact that we are living a surreal moment within our country's history when nightmares become reality and reality becomes a nightmare. And for this reason, Pajeú, in addition to the relation between fiction and documentary, also works with the mixture of dream and reality.
The music has an important role in the film, especially in the scenes at the bar (that, in a kind of way, could remind your previous film, Inferninho, co-directed with Guto Parente). How did you work on that?
Music is a wonderful way to connect the viewer with the feelings of the characters. In Pajeú, the music sung on stage has a great dramaturgical importance. Singing to reveal what cannot be said. Singing like a form of shout! The original score also plays a fundamental role in the conduction of the narrative. It was composed by two artists from Fortaleza: Vitor C. and Diego Maia. Guto Parente worked with Victor Costa Lopes on the editing of Pajeú.
Could you tell us how you collaborated together?
Editing was another moment of Pajeú's invention. New paths were discovered during the editing process. New possibilities in the relationship between images and characters. And this is due to the work of the editor Victor Costa Lopes, who had already edited my previous film, “My Own Private Hell”, which I co-directed with Guto Parente, who is also the one of the editors of Pajeú. I started making cinema in 2005 alongside Guto Parente and since then there have been many partnerships between us in different ways.
In the film, during the research on the river, it’s said that “We put the fragments together as if we were trying to reconstruct ourselves as well” and the protagonist feels as she was in “pieces and fragments, dancing between memory and forgetfulness”. Could you comment on this ?
Brazil is facing a terrible moment with democracy being threatened by a far-right government, which is an enemy of education, of the environment, of the arts, science, indigenous people, women, black people and the poor. We are all in pieces. We are all lost in the middle of such violence, lies, prejudice and destruction. Brazilian cinema itself is an example of the destruction we are going through. Our sensitivity, our humanity, our relationships are being slaughtered. Like the characters in the film, we are all in fragments struggling to be able to reconstruct something.
Interviewed by Marco Cippollini
The city of Fortaleza has always been the setting, character and inspiration for most of my films. And that happens because Fortaleza awakens strong and contradictory feelings in me.
Pedro Diógenes, born in 1984, graduated from the Audiovisual School of Fortaleza in 2008 and between 2010 and 2016 he was a member of the collective Alumbramento. Pedro has written and directed multiple feature films, made 10 short films and worked as a sound technician on another 60 films. His feature film MY OWN PRIVATE HELL (2018) premiered at the IFF Rotterdam 2018 and was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Rio FF 2018. His latest work is PAJEÚ (2020), which was selected for FIDMarseille 2020. He is currently part of the group Marrevolto Filmes.