For his tenth feature, “Jogo de Cena” (Playing), documentarian Eduardo Coutinho placed an ad in the paper calling for Rio de Janeiro women over the age of 18 with stories to tell to come to an audition. Naturally, everyone has a some kind of story to tell, but the subjects he selected were all particularly driven to perform, either because of a burning need to recount something that happened to them in the past or because they harbor aspirations toward acting. “Playing” is composed entirely of interviews conducted on a bare stage, monologues of women’s stories in tall type, of heartbreak, of faith, of children lost or estranged, of departed lovers, of missed parents and their stand-ins. Coutinho’s twist is that half of the women we see aren’t the owners of the stories they tell. They’re actresses interpreting the accounts, some of whom, like “Central Station”‘s MarÃlia PÃªra, might be recognizable to audiences here.
Coutinho isn’t the first, or the second, or the hundredth director to poke his finger through the gauzy fabric that separates fiction filmmaking from fact and wiggle it around. But “Playing”‘s seemingly simple premise makes for an intriguingly layered and sometime plainly fascinating film in which your assumptions about whoever’s on screen are constantly being undercut. Some stories the film revisits, revealing that their first telling was a dramatization, while others toggle between the teller and the reteller. My favorite tale was delivered by a woman with seeming absolute conviction who, at the end, turns to the camera and adds a “she said” that’s almost an affront. We’re never shown the original source.
It’s the act of performance that most attracts Coutinho how do you play a real and ordinary person? Do you imitate her, interpret her, add to the material she’s given you? The actresses often tear up where the subjects won’t, something they’re forced to defend afterward Coutinho dissects their choices with them, wanting to know why, for instance, one of them cries when describing the death of her son when the child’s own mother didn’t do so in the original interview. These talks yield a discussion of crying on camera that may sum up the film as a whole tears are seen as an undeniably authentic display of emotion, one actress points out, which is why so many players on television and film like to show them off. But that’s not true to how people actually cry real tears, she explains, you blink back and try to hide.
“Playing” currently has no U.S. distribution.
[Photo: “Playing,” VideoFilmes, 2007]
+ “Playing” (TribecaFilmFestival.org)