Bingo: The King of the Mornings – Interview with director Daniel Rezende – words Paul Risker
The Brazilian Oscar and BAFTA submission Bingo: The King of the Mornings is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Daniel Rezende.
More known for his editing work with director Fernando Meirelles on City of God (2002) and Blindness (2008), he also edited Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and Terence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011). Turning his attention to feature directing, he looks back to 1980s Brazil and the struggle to reconcile fatherhood with artistic recognition.
Augusto (Vladimir Brichta) is an actor hungry for a place in the spotlight. While starring in soft porn and soap operas, he finally gets the chance to conquer the crowds when he is cast as “BINGO”, a television host clown. With his irreverent humour and natural talent, the show proves to be a big hit, but a clause in his contract forbids him from revealing his true identity.
Speaking with Flux ahead of the UK theatrical release, Rezende reflected on how his career was sparked by the pursuit of answers to questions. He also discussed the contradictory nature of the filmmaking process as a mix of preparation and spontaneity, and his preference for stories with an open ending in a closed ending.
Was there an inspirational or defining moment that led you towards film as a career?
I think that when I was a kid I used to watch TV all the time. While my cousins, my brothers, my friends would go to the swimming pool or play soccer, I was watching TV, and I guess I was always asking the question: How do they do what they do? What happens behind the camera? When I grew up, I decided I wanted to answer those questions, and decided to be a filmmaker.
How did the expectations of your feature debut compare to the realities of the experience?
I expected to make a movie that I would love to watch, in that matter, I’m completely satisfied and happy with it. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, but every time I can still enjoy it, so that’s a good thing. But I did also want to make a movie, which we don’t very often make in Brazil, which is a character driven movie about pop culture, and to talk about how irreverent and subversive we are. I think we’ve accomplished that and so that expectation is also fulfilled.
Filmmakers have told me that editing is the best training ground for a director. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how your editing experiences, specifically with directors including Terrence Malick, Fernando Meirelles and Walter Salles have shaped or influenced your perspective on filmmaking?
I think a director needs to know about every single craft of filmmaking, and film editing definitely helps a director to know what he will need in the cutting room. I agree with the fact that you make the movie three times: One with the script, one when you shoot and one when you edit. You can make three different films, a good example of which is when I cut Elite Squad 1, when we changed the main character of the movie. The main character wasn’t Capitão Nascimento, Wagner Moura’s character in the movie, it was about one of the cops, who entered the police, so we changed the main character of the film in the editing room. We didn’t have to change any of the scenes to do that, but we ended up changing the plot of the movie, so there’s a lot of things you can do in the editing room. When you have a lot of experience in dealing with the footage, it of course helps you to understand what you can and cannot use when you’re on set, or will have to use in the cutting room. I did learn a lot with the directors I’ve worked with, all of them, and they were all different and were all very good. Mostly with Fernando Meirelles, who was the first director I worked with, he would be my mentor. I learned from him that to be a director, not only do you have to know what the story is you’re talking about, how you’re going to that story, and have to relate to it somehow, but you have to choose wisely your crew and the people working with you. They have to be co-authors and you have to take the best of them, and feed them with your vision. If you do that, then I’m sure that will be on screen.
What does Bingo: The King of the Mornings mean to you and why should it exist?
It’s a movie about a guy trying to get validation and recognition for his art, and I chose to tell the story about this guy who wants to find his place in the spotlight, but when he does, he has a mask, and nobody knows who he is. So that’s his biggest conflict, and what leads him to his tragedy. I also relate to it because there’s a very beautiful father and son story. This guy confuses love, he’s a son of a famous actress and he thinks that his son will love him if he’s recognised for his art, but in that path he ends up getting away from his son. The tricky part of it is he’s the host of a kids show, so he plays with a lot of kids, but he’s getting away from his son, who he’s so connected with. There are a lot of elements that would be in the movie that I would love to watch.
It is an inherent struggle to talk about our feelings, and film could be contextualised as creating an intimate dialogue that helps us to better understand ourselves and our world. With the themes present in Bingo, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this idea as it relates to the film and your perspective in cinema more broadly.
Even though this is a movie that talks about an era that was subversive with a lot of political incorrectness, which I wanted to bring that out and to contextualise that of the 80s for us to see nowadays, it’s a movie that’s fun, and funny, and entertaining. I worked really hard for it to be a movie that would connect with you emotionally, and I think people will connect to this guy because every single person in this world, it doesn’t matter what they do, want to be validated, as a father, as a son, as a friend, as a professional, as a lover. We all want that and so, the fact in the movie we see an actor trying to be validated, I think everyone connects to that. I wanted to have a very emotional movie that would talk about this guy and his reward for his art, which is applause. He doesn’t want to be a celebrity, he just wants to be recognised as an artist, and in the movie no one can know who he is. Nowadays especially, when people want to be validated all the time, with social media and all this fake life that people lead, we’re all actors, playing on social media that we have amazing lives. It’s all fake and we’re all seeking likes and followers, and I think that will connect to people. I wanted to make sure that the movie had this emotional connection between this guy, his journey and his relationship with his son, which he’s losing while he tries to get what he wants.
In the film, a difference between American and Brazillian humour within the context of children’s entertainment is addressed. While comedy is universal, it culturally breaks down to become individually distinct. How do you compare and contrast the American sense of humour to the Brazilian or South American humour? I ask this because someone once remarked to me that the way South American audiences respond to cinema is very different to North American audiences.
I’m not sure how the humour is different, but the way that we approach things is different. One of the things that the movie tries to say, and especially in the 80s, is that Brazilians don’t follow rules so strictly. That’s one of the best and one of the worst things about our country – we don’t know how to follow rules properly. In a good way, in a horrible way, and I think that’s the thing Augusto brings: “Feed me and I will make this get even bigger cause I’ll bring more swagger to it.” So it speaks completely to our culture. If you tell us: “Leave this place, go to this place and do this”, we will do it, but we will do it in a better way if we swagger – that’s the Brazilian way of doing it. I don’t think there’s a difference of humour. We watch American comedies all the time and they’re really funny. Maybe our comedy does not translate as well, but I think what’s different in the movie is just the way we look at how to behave in certain situations. Our swagger is a little more sexy and groovy, I would say.
Interviewing Eliza Hittman she spoke of capturing the small moments within or surrounding the big events. There is a moment in your film where the lack of personal recognition dawns on Augusto. Is part of the storytelling process discovering a series of moments that form our memory of the story?
I believe that life is made of small moments. We usually just tell the big moments, but life is made of a huge amount of small moments, and I think good cinema is the cinema that even though you’re talking about big subjects, it’s the subtleties and the things that you barely see. That’s what makes me want to be a filmmaker. There’s a lot of things we put in the movie and I personally put a lot of my personal memories into this. All the toys that the little kid would play with are toys that I used to play with. I spent my entire childhood and teen years making mixtapes and in my memory the orange tape player was the one that I used to use a lot, so there are a lot of things that were put in the movie. For example, I personally chose every song for the soundtrack of the movie because they were songs in my head that Augusto would listen to. All of this would build his character and the movie was all about his character and him seeking recognition. So we worked a lot on the acting and precision, the time of looks between Lucia and Augusto for example. All the small things and small moments were things that were important to me to tell the big story, and I do believe that’s really important, and I try to bring that to the movie.
Continuing on from the last question, whether such moments as the one mentioned here are intentional, is there still an organic magic, in which something happens on set where that moment grows?
We worked a lot in pre-thinking the scenes, rehearsing a lot. All of the scenes were really thought out in the script, but I was always open to improvisation, and so there are things for example, Vasconcelos the cameraman character, the laugh that he has which is really fun, he stole from our second AD, who is actually in the movie, Wally, Lucia’s assistant. He laughs exactly that way, and Augusto Madeira, the actor who plays Vasconcelos, he stole that in the moment and then did the first take that way. As soon as I cut the entire crew was laughing because we all knew that laugh, then Augusto came to me and said: “I just did it because I knew you would cut and wouldn’t use it.” I said: “What are you crazy? Of course we’re using it. You just created an amazing thing for the movie.” The same actor who enters the dressing room singing “Bingo is happy”, I can’t remember the exact lyrics in English, but the line “just don’t ask him what he puts in his nose”, he came up with that right away. It wasn’t scripted, he just came to me and asked: “Could I enter singing a song?” I said: “Yes, of course, please don’t even sing it to me before, just let me find out on camera so it surprises me.” Even when we went to locations, we would change what we were thinking because of something. When he’s in the church at the end performing and he takes his mask and wig off, if you look at the curtains behind him, the shape the production designer did meant when the DP went and put blue lights to put some colour in it, you saw Bingo’s hair in the curtains. So, I framed it in a way that he actually takes his wig off himself, but when the camera comes you see Bingo again, and of course he’s still performing, even though he’s taken off his mask, he’s on a stage performing the same way as Bingo. So these kind of things, we just saw the curtains and I said: “Vladimir, can you just stay right here” and then we saw him with the wig behind him using the curtains and the light from the DP. This is an example of some of the things that happen in the moment, and you have to have your eyes open to see those things.
You’ve said: “It is not easy to define “Bingo” by picking out only one matter.” Could we look at the form or structure of a film as a shell or wire frame structure, beneath which lies its soul – the themes, ideas and the characters?
I think we can, and in this movie for example, having to define it as one thing, it’s a guy who wants to find his place in the spotlight. When he does nobody knows who he is, but the movie is so much more than that. We have the father and son relationship, and all the pop culture and the backstage of the 80s, as well as the political incorrectness which is a representation of the decade. I don’t believe the movie could be set in another decade because Augusto is the representation of the 80s. I think in every good movie, it’s about one thing, but it has a lot of layers. With this movie it’s a rock star who has a rise and fall, as a clown in a kids show which is already subversive by itself, but it has so many layers. It’s funny and emotional; I think it’s a shell with many layers.
Speaking with Carol Morley for The Falling, she explained: “You take it 90 percent of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So, the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it.” If the audience are the ones that complete it, does it follow that there is a transfer in ownership?
I don’t like to see films that are 100% done by the director. Carol is completely right when she says you make a film, and I love films that you take home. You have the experience for an hour and a half, two hours, sometimes more than two hours in the theatre, but I like films that you go home and complete the film with your own experiences. That takes more time and it’s one thing that I wish Bingo will accomplish, that you go home and you remember your childhood, or an experience in the past, and you remember how many times you wanted to be recognised or validated. Even in the ending of the movie, it’s a movie that completes itself, but leaves it open for you to understand or judge, or to think of why he took that choice, and why is he in the place he ended up in? What exactly happens between him and his son? The movie says he is trying to reconnect with his son, but you don’t see it. I like movies that have open endings, but are complete. There are some movies with open endings yet they don’t complete themselves, and I think that’s the biggest mistake in filmmaking. I like films that complete themselves, but then you can go home and think it could be this way or that, and I think Bingo has a little of that, which is a good thing for a film. Even as a film editor, throughout my whole career, it’s generating ideas by putting a couple of shots together. You put two shots together and generate an idea that could be on shot one or two, or not even there. So it’s always trying to generate ideas or feelings, or emotions, and you can see it one way, and he’ll see it another way; that’s the beauty of filmmaking.
Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
I believe that, and if it hasn’t happened then I’ve failed as a filmmaker. I do believe that a film should be an experience that you will take with you. Of course, there’s different types of movies. There are films that you just go and then you forget them. You have fun while you’re watching them, but as an audience and as a filmmaker I’m not interested in. I usually say, making a movie is so hard and so much work. You put in so much energy for so long to try do the best movie you can make, that if one person goes home and keeps the film with themselves, then it was worth it.
BINGO: THE KING OF THE MORNINGS is released in UK cinemas 15th December 2017.
Bingo: The King of the Mornings – Interview with director Daniel Rezende – words Paul Risker