Limite has shown me my seemingly limitless capabilities of procrastination. The prospect of reviewing this visual puzzle unnerved me. Compounded, no doubt, by its praise as the Un Chien Andalou of Latino Cinema. Buñuel’s short is purposefully and immediately surreal. An eye sliced by a straight razor. Hands crawling with ants. Impossible geography. Limite is a whole other kettle of fish.
The surrealist nature of Mario Peixoto’s first and only film are not as readily apparent. Un Chien Andalou is a collision of our wildest dreams, the kind that begs discussion to find what caused such strange visions. Limite is our nightly dreams, those that sway through the subconscious and remain hovering in our heads long in to the day, unsure if they are memory or imaginary.
The ‘protagonists’ suffer much the same insecurity of reality. Beginning in a boat bobbing on an endless expanse of ocean, they drift from their present (if it is the present) circumstance to moments of importance for them. These moments are removed from us, neither elaborating on how they came to be in their situation, nor further understanding their character.
However, Michael Korfmann’s comprehensive study On Brazilian Cinema: From Mário Peixoto’s Limite to Walter Salles states ‘In a series of flashbacks, [the characters] reveal to each other their stories and what they were trying to escape when they took flight on the ship. The first woman (Olga Breno) escaped from prison with the help of her jailer but her life remained unhappy in the new town where she was trapped in a monotonous job as a seamstress. The second woman (Taciana Rey) was unhappily married to a drunken silent film pianist (Brutus Pedreira), who is shown accompanying Chaplin’s The Adventurer in the town’s small theatre. The man (Raul Schnoor) was a widower who had a love affair with a married woman. When he visited his wife’s grave, he encountered his lover’s husband (played by Peixoto himself) who told him that she had leprosy.’
But this is closer to interpretation than reality. For each viewer, a different story can be discerned, as in a painting, there is no definition. Korfmann later returns to state that Limite does not have a story in the traditional sense, nor an ‘insight into any kind of psychological state’. This picture ‘thinks in pictures, movements and angles, trying to intertwine the diverse visual fields by using certain symbolic themes and variations’.
For decades, Limite entranced a privileged few who visited its vault, to countless others it remained a legend. Now, it is a cult piece, a dictionary of silent avant garde technique, exhausting the lexicon available at the time and arranging sentences of unique angles, hand held cinematography and extreme close ups of intricate objects into startling prose. Peixoto was no doubt inspired by greats from Fritz Lang to F. W. Murnau, Sergei Eisenstein and Pudovkin, but it is fascinating that a novelist would be one of the few to push the boundaries of cinema and discover an experience entirely of image.
His script was incredibly detailed listing 220 shots of explicit images, camera positions and angles. The final cut sticks very close as this extract will prove –
‘Shot 73: fusion close up – hand of the woman who has fish and some vegetables in her basket – camera follows her and, once again, close up showing the basket and all of her purchases – woman keeps on walking – camera moves with her’. These instructions were for cameraman Edgar Brazil, the genius behind the camera inventing equipment to capture Peixoto’s vision.
Limite‘s visual flow of images in dreamy handheld cinematography cannot help but evoke a similar feeling to Malik’s existential epic Tree Of Life. If a philosophical free flow film is not for you, avoid Limite. It does nothing to apologise or make the passage easier. It is a selfish film, every decision for the artist expression and not the audience. This is a precarious balance and often fatal in lesser hands, but Peixoto belongs to the likes of Lynch, Jorodowsky, Bunuel, Malik. Filmmakers able to create a startling new vision, an ‘oscillation between a fluid memory stream and solid, concrete objects and episodes, which emerge as fixed points in the continuity of time’.
To end, I will describe the beginning, not of the sequence of the film but the film itself. According to Peixoto in an 1983 interview, it began with an image. ‘I was passing by a newspaper stand when I saw a magazine with a photograph of a woman on the cover, with arms wrapped around her chest, handcuffed. A man’s arms. And the magazine was called Vu (no. 74, 14 August 1929)… I carried on walking and I could not get the image out of my mind. And right after that, I saw this sea of fire and a woman clinging to the remnants of a sinking ship.’