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Not By Chance
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Presumably, adventurous American filmgoers attend foreign films not just to see great movies, but also to gain insight into other cultures. But if you judged Brazil's film industry only from the five recent offerings made available for preview from the inaugural Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival, you would simply assume that this South American country prefers to follow universal (some might say conventional) storytelling traditions that transcend borders. Falcons — Boys of Traffic is indicative of the limitations inherent in this approach. Brazilian rapper MV Bill co-directed this documentary about the Rio de Janeiro shantytown that inspired Fernando Meirelles' City of God, hoping to show us the scourge of crime on the community without glamorizing it. It's a commendable goal, but the film's uninspired point-and-shoot interview style doesn't add much to our understanding of the connection between lawlessness and poverty. The festival's fiction films run the gamut of genres but share a certain narrative familiarity. Stray Dog follows the forthrightly sexual odyssey between a slackerish writer (Julio Andrade) and a gorgeous model (Taina Muller) whose ennui is slightly more nuanced than the quarter-life crises clogging U.S. independent cinema and Ethan Hawke novels. Basic Sanitation — The Movie trots out a warhorse comedic premise — filmmaking novices band together to make a humorously awful feature film — with all the stale barbs about the creative temperament you'd expect. Meanwhile, in the overheated softcore thriller No Control, director Cris D'Amato condemns Brazil's now-abandoned death-penalty system in a story that involves a disillusioned theater director, a gaggle of mental patients and a crazy seductress, and which generates many unintentional snickers. The standout here is director Philippe Barcinski's Not by Chance. Though it superficially resembles Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "death trilogy," Barcinski's story walks its own path, telling parallel tales of two men — a pool player (Rodrigo Santoro) and a traffic controller (Leonardo Medeiros) — who lose their bearings after a car accident kills the women closest to them. In the 21 Grams version, these men's tragedies would provoke a chain reaction of emotional side effects and increasingly convoluted circumstances. But Not by Chance is subtler: The mourners never meet, and their individual journeys are smartly contrasted, allowing each man to stumble and recover on his own timetable. It's the one film in the LABRFF that not only echoes contemporary cinema but puts a unique mark on it. (The Landmark; Fri.-Sun., March 7-9; www.labrff.com)