Here is an astonishing work of survival and resilience from Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós; their docufiction film packs a pulpy punch, yet is also rooted in an urgent political reality. Informed by the 2018 Brazilian general election, this combustible portrait of life on the margins is an engrossing, volatile ride through Sol Nascente, a crime-ridden slum on the outskirts of Brasília.
Sharing their names with their characters, nonprofessional locals Chitara and Léa are cast as swaggering half-sisters who watch over a formidable all-female gang. The women steal oil from an underground pipeline and sell the black gold to a motorcycle squad; they create a fortress of their own, rebelling against the disenfranchisement that breeds under the authoritarian government. While their nocturnal escapades offer the visceral thrills of a gangster film, real life is also intimately woven into the narrative. Like her character, Léa is also freshly out of prison, the threat of incarceration still haunting her every footstep.
Working with non-actors is a delicate process, and what makes Dry Ground Burning especially absorbing is its willingness to allow fictional storylines to organically emanate from Chitara and Léa’s lived experiences. The film feels like a collaborative effort, and its sense of collectivism is echoed in the invigorating sequences where people sing and dance together. The queer dimension of the bond between the women in Sol Nascente offers another avenue of liberation.
In the end, reality does tragically step in, taking the fictional elements in an unexpected direction, but the possibility for catharsis remains. In a world marred by political hopelessness, Dry Ground Burning literally and figuratively sets the landscape on fire, and out of the ashes there is hope for a new order free from oppression.
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