‘Dry Ground Burning’ Review: Feminist Gangsters, Brazilian Style

Extreme chic is back in fashion in Hollywood these days. There have been many sexy thrillers that dramatize the history of radical politics or make provocative hypotheses about the future of activism. Nothing compares. This is a Brazilian feminist gangster movie that fuels the Brazilian political system.

Directed by Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós, Dry Ground Burning is a riot film set in the Solnacente region of central Brazil. Chitara (Joana Darc Furtado) is the leader of an all-female crew that steals oil from underground pipelines and, as a kingpin, makes deals with petrol dealers who sell their products at discounted prices. Chitara’s half-sister, Rhea (Rhea Alves da Silva), an attractive androgynous woman with a dark mane, joins the pack after her eight years in prison. The two brothers nonchalantly talk about their playboy father and Leah’s 12-year-old son, who got pregnant by a murdered ex-con.

Meanwhile, compatriot Andreia (Andreia Vieira) launches a campaign against professional cop candidates running for public office. Her party, the Prison People’s Party, represents people with criminal records, the working class, indigenous peoples and blacks – those who have experienced the worst under the policies of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government. The movie was in production.

Most people aren’t familiar with the Pimenta and Cairos movies, so I can’t help but draw an association between “Dry Ground Burning” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” You are your own savior, but you are also everyone else’s savior.

But if “Fury Road” is a constant joyride, “Dry Ground” erupts between smoke breaks, distinguished by moments of grim stillness and a collective exhilaration of exhilarating, industrial sound design and body. Toggle between scenes with intense tension. A rowdy member of an anarchic political party shouts profane campaign jingles. The sodium-lit nightscape, full of steely gun-toting women, recalls Michael Mann’s glossy crime drama (“Heat”).

But “Dry Ground Burning” is not far from reality. Pimenta and Queiroz sprinkle touches of his science fiction throughout the film, but their approach is steeped in rebellious documentary methods and influenced by the contributions of real-life locals. The cast is made up of regional non-professional actors playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves. For example, Silva joined the production when released from prison. To clear the streets for the motorcade scene, The People’s Prison Party was officially registered as a political movement.

Pimenta and Queiroz have invented a world where Brazilian women at the bottom of society’s totem pole take matters into their own hands. They do so without fear or self-pity, and in killer style. And it’s not just artist types and famous actors who realize these possibilities, it’s the people who are most empowered to imagine themselves differently.

dry land incineration
Unrated. Portuguese, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 33 minutes. at the theater.

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