It tells the story of forty-year-old Daniel (Antônio Saboia), who has been suspended from active police work and is under internal investigation for committing an act of violence; a mistake that put his career, honor, and freedom at risk. He lives in the gloomy city of Curitiba, south of Brazil.
At the beginning of Private Desert, the truculent Daniel divides his days between taking care of his father, a retired ex-military man who suffers from dementia, and the virtual love for a woman with whom he has a relationship online: Sara (Pedro Fasanaro).
When nothing else seems to hold him back and Sara stops answering his texts, he decides to drive to her town Sobradinho (northeast Brazil), going on a journey of over 1500 miles to track her down.
There he begins an insane search for his beloved, asking the residents within the town if they knew of “this woman” by showing them a picture of Sara and putting up posters on the walls. His frantic search continued until he received a phone call from a man, Fernando (Thomas Aquino) stating that he knew Sara and that he could put the two in touch but under very specific conditions.
The journey forces the main character (Daniel) to confront his affections and sexuality.
Private Desert was Brazil’s Oscar nomination for Best International Film 2022, won the Best Film and Best Acting awards for Pedro Fasanaro at Mix Brasil 2021; Best International Film TLVFest 2021 – The Tel Aviv International LGBTQ Film Festival, and received the Camilo Award (given to the best LGBTQ-themed feature film) and the Transfusión de Huelva Award, at the Huelva Festival – Cine Iberoamericano, in Spain. Most recently, it won the awards for Best Film, Best Actor (Antonio Saboia and Pedro Fasanaro), Best Supporting Actress (Zezita Matos), Best Supporting Actor (Luthero Renato de Almeida), and Best Soundtrack at the 25th Edition of Cine PE.
Kino Lorber has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Private Desert, from its world sales agent Intramovies. Produced by Grafo and Fado Filmes, the film had its world premiere at this year's Venice Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award in the Venice Days section. Kino Lorber will bring Private Desert to U.S. and Canadian theaters in 2022, followed by a release on all major digital platforms and home video.
“Private Desert exemplifies the harmonious balance of personal, political, and formally daring filmmaking we’ve come to expect from contemporary Brazilian cinema,” said Kino Lorber SVP of Theatrical Wendy Lidell. “Its thoughtful portrayal of an unexpected queer romance bucks stereotypes while offering an incisive look at the state of masculinity in modern society.”
With distribution by Pandora Filmes, the feature is in Brazilian cinemas now.
The film director Aly Muritiba spoke to Wsimag about his childhood, cinema, love and his Private Desert.
Where were you born and how was your childhood?
I was born in 1979, in a small town with 19 thousand residents called Mairi, in Bahia (northeast of Brazil). My childhood was crazy [laughs]. My mother is very religious, a woman with strong faith; she is catholic. I was raised in a universe of Catholicism and until my adolescent years I was very attached to the youth popular pastoral, my mother wanted me to be a priest.
My father, during the entirety of his life, worked as a truck driver and my mother was a housewife.
My parents had 3 children, all boys, of which I am the second. It was a typical childhood of a poor boy from Brazil’s countryside. I remember spending the whole day on the streets, playing football but I had a unique interest which set me apart from the other boys. From a very early age, I enjoyed reading and I spent a lot of time at home reading books.
What did you like to read?
I read what was available to read. There was no library at home. My mother had some old books, classics of Brazilian literature. As a young child, I read the classics from the late 19th to 20th century. As a teenager, I began to read biographies of political personalities and became very interested in this subject, influenced by the youth ministry (catholic church). I read the biographies of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and others. The priests spoke a lot about these leaders within the church. We had a Swiss priest, Father Hans, he was amazing and he was not very “Christian” but very “socialist”. He was a big influence in my life.
Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, I was very influenced, as a citizen, by three figures from the Catholic Church: Father João, who was Italian, Father Hans, and a black nun. The Brazilian hinterland (Bahia) is predominantly white, formed by descendants of Portuguese and Dutch, Christians with a small black presence. My little town was not different until this black nun arrived. Her name was Sister Vana who was also A super revolutionary, with strong links to social issues. Later on, she dropped out of the sisterhood; fell in love, got married, and later separated.
I was very influenced by these figures, and I think that's why when I left Bahia, I decided to study history in São Paulo (USP - Universidade de São Paulo).
How did cinema come into your life?
It was a very crooked path. I enjoyed movies when I was younger and spent many afternoons watching movies. I never imagined that a movie was something an “ordinary person” could create or achieve.
I had never stopped to think about filmmaking either!
When I was 27 years old and already working in a prison (Aly worked as a jail guard - in a prison in Curitiba, Parana state - for 7 years) - my brother-in-law, at the time, was the one who was completely passionate about films. He had a super extensive collection of science fiction films from all over the world. He completed his master's degree on this subject in fact. I remember one day he gave me a script to read which he had written. This was the first script that I had ever read and it was a very interesting science fiction script with a very crazy story.
I never thought that ordinary people could write movie scripts and that stuck in my mind. He said to me: “Yes, anyone can write a script for a movie”. I remember he gave me a book, The Script Manual (Syd Field), if you do the book exercises, you will write a script!
I started doing some and it was at that moment that I had the first contact with partaking in even amateur, cinematographic.
I was still working in the prison, I was fed up with working there and talking about “crime, crime, crime’. The repetition of “gun, bullet, shot, target” every day, the same talk. When a film school was created in Curitiba, and it was free of charge I thought to myself: I'm going to take the entrance exam and study cinematography. I was looking for another environment and different kinds of people in the hope that they wouldn’t talk so much about guns, bullets, or death. This was in 2007.
From 2008 onwards I started to film the first short movie and between 2008 and 2013 I made many short movies. My first feature, which is a feature-length documentary, called Agente (Agent) it was part of a collective feature film experience.
Agente was a feature film directed by five young directors from Paraná but in this period from 2008-2013, I was still working as a prison guard and sometimes making films. I led this “double” life because what paid my bills was working in the prison and the cinema paid for trips to places, I would never go if not for movie making.
How did you select the actors to act in the Private Desert film?
I had a very big challenge of finding a suitable actor to play Sara/Robson, who is a non-binary and fluid character that performs both the male and female roles. I wanted that person/character to be able to comfortably perform both roles.
I didn't want anyone “pretending” or feeling discomfort towards the role, so for me, the person who lived these characters needed to be a fluid person too. Identifying with the character is key and I didn't want a gay man or woman pretending to be that character; I wanted someone who transitioned well and seamlessly.
We started looking in the Northeast because this actor or actress needed to be from there. Then one day, a friend of mine who worked on my previous film (Ferrugem) told me about Pedro (Pedro Fasanaro) with whom she had made a workshop at Globo TV.
She ended up being accepted because it was a series in southern Brazil and she is from Curitiba and he, because of his Potiguar accent despite having stood out a lot, was not accepted. I wanted to meet him and when I saw Pedro's Instagram, I was delighted. Visually speaking, he was who I was looking for!
Does Pedro Fasanaro represent two characters: Sara/Robson?
Yes, indeed. I would even say he performs three characters!
We have Robson who is this boy, a little more sensitive but who has a touch of masculinity and has to “perform” because he works at Ceasa (a big food marketing), a male universe. Then there is Sara who is super feminine. At the end of the story, we have the two characters merged and when this character leaves, you’re left with (who? Sara, Robson?) glammed up, in high heels and tight pants with short hair, no lipstick, but with eyeshadow. He is someone else, someone different, a kind of the third person.
What was it like to get funding to make the Private Desert?
I have the impression that this film was only made because its funding came out before the change of government occurred. We had applied for an audiovisual background notice in 2017 and it only came out in 2019. The change of government did not influence the release of money so that the film could be made. All the bureaucracy, the papers were already signed. If it were today, perhaps, this film would only be made here in Brazil through regional public notice, with very little budget or through streaming and we would have many editorial concerns.
But the current situation here in Brazil, with the extinction of the Ministry of Culture [the Ministry was extinguished by the current president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro on January 2, 2019], with the Secretariat of Culture trying all the time to paralyze Ancine [the Brazilian Film Agency], I have the impression, I'm not sure, that films that deal with non-normative narratives, like the Private Desert, face more difficulties.
What is a Private Desert for you?
I think that not just for the movie, the metaphor of that name is very related to loneliness. I am terrified of being alone, I don't even need to go to therapy to understand this [laughs].
I need to be surrounded by people and feel loved by others. My biggest fear is being alone. For example: during the first three months of the pandemic, I almost went mad.
The personages, even in my previous films are always somewhat melancholy, taciturn, or lonely. In honesty I think that it's part of my nature to reflect on my biggest fear; loneliness and attempt to sublimate it by making films about lonely personages.
Private Desert talks a lot about loneliness and about the inability that we have to communicate with each other or show emotion. Daniel’s first genuine smile is seen after 4 days on the road, which is towards the end of the movie. In my opinion, this speaks loudly about loneliness and the fear of being alone.
Do you think the pandemic, in a such way, integrated us via a screen as we are doing now in this interview? Do you think has it sharpened our senses?
I think the pandemic made us recover a very large community census. We only realized how important it was to be together because of this pandemic. We were isolating ourselves more and more and more.
We were maintaining these relationships mediated by mobile phones and video conferencing even before the pandemic and imagining that this was enough to keep us connected.
The pandemic came to prove to us that what we need is people on our side; skin touching skin, eyes looking into the eyes, that these 010101 algorithms are not enough for us as a species, as human beings. We joined in community, tribe, clan, city because we are very fragile. The tool we have is empathy. And it was thanks to empathy that we survived as a species.
We were in a daze and then I think the pandemic isolated us in such a radical way that we started to crave closeness, started to value the most dazzling, banal, and fortuitous encounters that we previously ignored. I speak for myself, but I also speak for my friends.
After we were able and courageous enough to go out, to sit on the grass in the park, (which was possible at the beginning of the pandemic) and have a chimarrão [a typical drink - tea, from south of Brazil], this became the coolest pass-time in the world! OMG! I'm here drinking chimarrão, sunbathing, chatting for hours, how I love it, how I love this person! So, I think that despite the awful things about this Covid-19 period, it also served as an awareness process for those who are sensitive to reality.
Movies, for example, we spent almost two years watching a lot of audiovisual content. We were at home, everyone subscribing to streaming, but we saw a lot, but “we saw a lot”: alone!
The first screening of Private Desert in Venice was the first public screening of the film and also the first movie screening for most of the people over there due to lockdown. It was something that wouldn't have had the full impact it had if the situation had been different: Pre pandemic. Even though I believe the film is very emotional, engaging, cathartic because love is cathartic, plus you add all these ingredients: love, sex, trip, desire, meeting, tear, Bonnie Tyler, Odair José [Brazilian singer], with a year and a half locked at home?! Impossible to not get emotional, impossible. But the reaction from the audience was beyond emotional.
How is Daniel's love the first time he meets Sara, does it change throughout history?
Daniel's love at this point in the film is romantic love, which is love based on your perception of the other. It's the love of idealisation and that's why he is so disappointed. If only he had gone to that meeting, to that dance, to that car, without idealisation and expectations, he would accept whatever presented itself in that moment. However, he is madly in love.
When we are in love, we project to the other what the other is, has, that he or she can offer, and this is the key to disappointment. I've suffered a lot with it when I'm falling in love… I dream with trips, to have children, dogs… [laughs].
Do you have children, family, dogs?
I have two children. A son who will turn 19 and a daughter who will be 14 years old next month. I have an ex-wife, Ana, who is a great friend of mine and is the mother of my children and I have a girlfriend, plants, and dogs [laughs].
What is a total eclipse of the heart?
Wow, you ask questions that no one asks! It knocks me down [laughs]! Look, the natural phenomenon of the eclipse, a common description of the eclipse is: There are two celestial bodies that when aligned end up overshadowing and influencing the other which greatly transforms the environment, including us. Every time an eclipse occurs (whether it be solar or lunar) this completely changes our cells and the way we behave because we are composed of mostly water. The changes of the celestial bodies alter the composition of water in our bodies.
I think the meeting between Sara/Robson and Daniel has a bit of an eclipse in the beginning. Daniel was trying to eclipse the figure of Sara/Robson, imposing that figure of his idealisation. Failing to transform her into what he idealises, he ends up being transformed and influenced by her. In a very simplistic metaphorical way, they are like two celestial bodies that when they aline transform and then like with eclipses, the celestial bodies misalign and follow their own trajectories in space, which is what happens with Daniel, Robson/Sara throughout Desert Particular.
About Aly Muritiba
Muritiba's films have won more than 200 awards at festivals around the world, have been selected by top festival's such as Sundance (Rust, 2018), Venice (Tarantula, 2015), San Sebastian (For My Dead Lover, 2015 / Rust, 2018) and Cannes Critics' Week (Pátio, 2013).
His latest feature film Jesus Kid received three awards at the Gramado Festival in 2021: Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director.
For Tv and streaming platforms, Muritiba directed: O Hipnotizador Season 2 (HBO), Carcereiros Season 2 (Globo), Irmãos Freitas (Turner), Irmandade (Netflix) and O Caso Evandro (GloboPlay).