• First Film Competition

SOFIA FOI

SOFIA WAS

Pedro Geraldo

Sofia, 23, has a face like a doll’s, short hair and a red cap jammed tight on her head. Forced to leave the flat where she was staying, she decided to kill time on the campus of the University of São Paulo where she goes as a tattoo artist rather than a student. With extreme simplicity, the film traces the wanderings of this secretive, mysteriously stubborn character, determinedly inscrutable and resistant with a tragic sensuality. Sofia Foi moves forward in ellipses and evocations through the day and night, meeting friends and classmates. These equally solitary and enigmatic figures appear as statues, observing and immobile, like the champions of a strangely muted, silent revolt. Through Sofia, Pedro Geraldo depicts the outlines of youth that’s marginal and vulnerable, made insecure,
astray on the edge of a menacing world, lost between the fullness and emptiness of a campus that fails to protect. Filmed in fixed shots with beautiful hiaroscuro and greenish tones, the hidden recesses of the university are disturbing. The director sets up a serious, sombre sound and visual regime that heightens Sofia’s isolation. Her cryptic face and inscrutable eyes, filmed in close-up, are at times transfigured by sublime superimpositions; they represent the nostalgia of a love brutally cut short, a disappearance yet to come. The film is shaped by absences, in which seems to lodge the face of a death watching us:
Sofia was

Louise Martin Papasian

In the film we follow Sofia’s character throughout 24 hours, embodied and inspired by Sofia Tomic, who is also the film’s co-writer. How did you meet her and how did the idea of making this film come about? Could you tell us about how you built Sofia’s character together ?

About 10 years ago I met Sofia when we studied cinema at the same university. I was really impressed by their voice and presence — Sofia always sings for their friends. After 2 years, Sofia decided to study Architecture at the University of Sao Paulo. At that time, I was reading Um melro dourado, um ramo de flores, uma colher de prata a long Cyril Neyrat interview with Pedro Costa about In Vanda’s Room, and although my film has little similarities with Costa’s film, I felt inspired when he said about believing in the presence of one person and how this belief was enough to turn into a film. I would visit Sofia to spend time together and one day I proposed we make a film. I had in mind the university campus as the film’s landscape and that death was not unfamiliar to this space. I was very moved when two fatal incidents happened on the campus with young students. My interest developed into trying to see them through a sensorial approach. What could have been the last moments of their lives? Back then, Sofia was in a moment of housing vulnerability after coming out. We decided to start a process of reflecting on what parts of Sofia’s life could be in the film, events that were important for showing this specific moment: how to make income with tattoos, the constant moving from a house to another, absence from university classes and so on. A special moment for us was when Sofia defined what would be her clothes and belongings for the film. We truly felt like she was the protagonist of some kind of cartoon or even a superhero movie.

Sofia Foi combines direct footage and staged performance recordings. What is the reason behind this choice?

At first, we didn’t have a script in the traditional sense. I gave Sofia a blank notebook where she could write her feelings and memories of recent events. This was mainly used to define our choices in the editing and post-production. Also, Sofia made a list of places and situations that they’d like to be in contact with. Together, we decided to develop the narrative while shooting the film. We rented a camera for one month and filmed for 13 days, respecting each other’s moods and feelings. The first day of shooting was the tattoo event sequence that happened during the lesbian visibility day at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo. I was still getting familiar with the camera and Sofia was truly working. We started with an observational approach, being open and attentive to the event. Topics started to appear in the conversations and I understood better the distance between Sofia and the camera. After that, we defined the rest of the film in chronological terms. Sofia reenacted the arrival for the tattoo event, the preparation for it and we created paths to what could happen after that. It was only after being open to chance that we felt ready to fictionalize our narrative. At the same time, it became obvious for us that we had to make a fiction as a way for things not to happen in real life.

Despite Sofia’s various encounters, her journey appears to be a lonely one, immersed mostly in darkness. Could you comment on this?

In the tattoo event, Sofia finds a space of support and intimacy, where personal feelings and memories are allowed to be discussed. Suddenly, she decides to isolate herself from it, without much explanation. As a way to deal with things we can’t really grasp,  the film becomes elliptical. During her night drift, Sofia encounters people that enhance the lack of a support network. To achieve the sense of isolation, we had to follow a very strict separation between Sofia and the people who came across her path. Sometimes, we removed any appearance of spontaneity from some encounters and sequences. Another approach was to give attention to the landscape through framing and this became a good addition to Sofia’s feelings, especially those related to harshness and stagnation. While we were wandering along her through the campus, it was natural to look for dark corners, spaces without much visibility, where Sofia could be somehow dimmed until total disappearance. For me, it was really important to trace how Sofia was seen and perceived during this particular day of their life. Also, it was crucial to explore the ambiguity between wanting to be seen and the desire for being invisible. 

The camera pays particular attention to space and body details, accentuated by the use of the 4:3 format and to which the HDV medium lends a specific texture. What ideas guided you in the direction of photography?

The most important concept related to the image making was finding the right distance between the camera and Sofia. There were moments that we needed to get closer to her, especially in intimacy scenes and tattooing sequences. Both requested tactile attention from the camera and the viewer. In other scenes, it was really important to perceive the landscape as a presence that witnessed Sofia’s dislocation. The 1,33 aspect ratio helped to create this sense of fixity of the architecture, increasing the feeling of its verticality and imposition. Since the first day of shooting, the framing was mostly focused on centralizing Sofia’s figure, but in some sequences the 4:3 format has placed Sofia to its margins, as another way of giving importance to the space and marking her displacement. Between proximity and distance, the HDV camera suited really well in capturing the texture and colors of the different materialities we were in contact with, like the tattoo ink, the skin of the characters,  their clothing, and the aspects of the landscape.

The film resorts to overlays in both image and sound, often used as editing solutions. What led you to this formal choice?

The editing process was divided between two persons. First, I did a rough cut of the film that was very dense, too respectful to the raw material, and I felt that something was missing. Then, I invited Manoela Cezar to join the editing and we began a process between Brazil and Portugal, where I lived by that time. Her approach on image has always been connected to dream-like sensibility and she was the one who brought the image overlays for the process. They are in the film as a way of mixing the different temporalities we intended to have, spliced between the linear timeline of Sofia’s 24 hour day, flashback with a romantic partner and a recurrent dream sequence. As a result, the overlays also work to convey a sense of an overwhelming accumulation of Sofia’s feelings and experiences that marked this specific period of her life. 

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • First Film Competition

Technical sheet

Brazil | 2023 | 67’

Rights holders
Ladaia
André Bulascoschi
andre@ladaia.com

Pedro Gerardo
pedrocgeraldo@gmail.com