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(O GLOBO) 'One of my greatest idols is Glauber', says director showing in Berlin a film with John Malkovich as the philosopher Seneca

The story takes place in Rome in the early years of the Christian era, the location is the Moroccan desert, and the cast — which includes John Malkovich and Geraldine Chaplin — came from different countries. But both the staging and the narrative style of “Seneca — On the creation of earthquakes”, one of the attractions of the Berlinale Special, a parallel exhibition of the 73rd Berlin Film Festival, is inspired by Brazilian Cinema Novo. The new film by German director Robert Schwentke, known for popular productions such as “Red — Retired and
Dangerous” (2010) and “GI Joe — Origins” (2021), combines theatrical and cinematographic elements to talk about the relationship between the philosopher Seneca and the Emperor Nero.

One of my biggest idols is Glauber Rocha (1939-1981). He was very important for my formation. I have all of his films,” says Schwentke, with enthusiasm, to GLOBO, in one of the lounges of the Berlinale Palast, the main cinema on the German exhibition circuit. — Glauber's style was very important for “O Capitão” (2017) and now for “Seneca”. Especially for the dance sequences, which are very Glauberian. There are also the folkloric elements and political allegories typical of his cinema, which I found very appropriate for the type of story I wanted to tell, involving the political life of an ancient world that seems to persist to this day. Released in 1969, “The dragon of evil against the holy warrior” opened the doors to a world unknown to Schwentke.

It was the first of Glauber's that I saw in my life. I didn't speak for a whole day, because I had just seen something that was so particular, in terms of cinema, and that worked so beautifully, exactly because it broke standards and rules established by the industry. Glauber found a formula that is unique, just his own, and no one has been able to match it — says the 55-year-old director, explaining that his filmography is the result of his eclectic taste, which encompasses “both 'Mad Max 2' and Manoel de Oliveira". — I gravitate towards the works of directors who have found new forms for their content, such as Nagisa Oshima and Alain Resnais.

“Seneca” returns Schwentke to the terrain of language experimentation. The story places the viewer in Rome in the year 65 AD, a period in which the philosopher, played by Malkovich, acted as a mentor and closest advisor to Nero (Tom Xander). The emperor is shown as an egotistical, cruel and capricious figure, who tires of the philosopher and uses an unsuccessful attempt on his life to condemn the adviser to death. The tone and movement of the actors through the minimalist sets, adapted to the Moroccan desert landscape, where it was filmed, is extremely theatrical.

I was aware that “Seneca” would polarize opinions. Which, in particular, I think is good. The kind of film I like to watch is what challenges me as a viewer. The one I can't even like the first time, but I can't get rid of it, and I watch it again, and I end up loving it, because it broke a pattern in my head - says the author of the “Divergent” series. — Both “The Captain” and “Seneca” are the continuation of something I've been doing my whole life: not repeating myself. I made a thriller, a black comedy about cancer, Hollywood movies. But even Americans are all different from each other.

The new film is the result of research into original texts by the philosopher. Some sequences are inspired by the annals left by (Publius Cornelius) Tacitus, Roman historian and politician. The result is described by the director as a tragic comedy about the failed attempt of a man, Seneca himself, to achieve immortality through language, the
exchange of ideas.

It's a film about what happens when intellectuals and sensitive people compete against true barbarians, who just want to win. What fascinates me about Seneca is that he completely resembles the elites that were in power at the time – says the director, who wrote the character with Malkovich, with whom he had worked on “Red”, in mind. — He is extremely versatile, fearless. He brings a lot of humanity to everything he does. As it is an extremely theatrical film, it was a chance for both of them, because of their background in theater, to work with this combination of languages, not very common in cinema.


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