“You guys wanna go see a dead body?” This classic coming-of-age premise from STAND BY ME gets an update and twist in the new Brazilian film KILL ME PLEASE, which made its US premiere at SXSW. Directed by Anita Rocha da Silveira, hailed by Variety at the film’s Venice world premiere as part of the new generation of ‘Latin American Genre Auteurs,’ this delicate drama drips in style and atmosphere, eschewing any sort of moral landscape. Instead, the cast of mostly preteen girls navigate the urban wasteland of abandoned construction sites and soulless cities that seem to echo their own internal struggles with acceptance, love, independence and body issues.
Visually alluring, KILL ME PLEASE paints beautiful pictures of decay and rotting corpses, calling us to the shadows to play. Fifteen-year-old Bia becomes obsessed with a series of unsolved murders and with the graveyard Facebook pages of the victims. As she is drawn more and more into the world of darkness, she finds more in common with the dead girls than her own group of friends. It’s a refreshing, unapologetic love letter to melancholic curiosity, something every teen passes through. “I was mostly inspired because when I was 20 years old, one of my best friends committed suicide,” says writer/director Rocha da Silveira, “first I was very angry and very sad, but then I start reading a lot and I come across a sentence from Georges Bataille ‘To be young is to want to die without stopping living, to feel everything extremely’ and this sentence was something that guides me.”
I had a chance to sit down with Anita Rocha da Silveira at SXSW where we talked in the lobby of the Four Seasons over smooth jazz about death and suicide and being an adolescent girl. With her three previous shorts all concerned with death, especially HANDEBOL, basically an early version of KILL ME PLEASE, Rocha da Silveira will readily admit an early fascination with morbidity. “My other memory from my very young years is that story that Michele, the girl with the red hair tells in the film,” she says, “the actor that was killed in that neighborhood. It’s one of Brazil’s most famous murders. The bathroom is our equivalent of the Blood Mary. But the story really happened, I think in ‘92. I think it was the first time I was in touch with death.”
The neighborhood was first occupied in the sixties but has begun to expand very quickly, horizontally. Says Rocha de Silveira, “that really fascinates me, this idea of a place with no history, no background.” With an emphasis on security inside the self-contained complexes, the exterior neighborhood is not what the director would call safe. “There’s a lot of stories there of people that disappear,” she says, “a lot of rapes in this neighborhood because people don’t walk on the streets.”
Despite these almost post-apocalyptic settings, the color of the film is absolutely vivid. It’s fantastic that a film about something as dark as death and understanding killers and rapists, plays on screen so brilliantly. Even in night scenes, passing cars offer flickers of light like diamonds in moonlight. You can tell right away that this movie is not one that will look like you might expect with its title. “On my third short film I decided to go to a really saturated universe and put colors that were much more extreme,” Rocha da Silveira says, “people die, but why I can’t have some colors and a bright universe?” She constructed a color scheme with her Cinematographer, using purple. “In Brazil, purple is the color of the widows,” she says, “when a widow dies the coffin goes with a purple thing – and this is the only one that’s different. And also purple as the color for the vampires, down to the reds. And so, from the purple we started to go to the blue and go to the pink, and really put colors, especially in the dark in the film.” This palette allows the film to reflect the vivaciousness of the girls in it. They’re fresh and they are experiencing life to the fullest. And even if it’s a dark subject, they’re ready to dive into it and experience it.
One of the joys of the film for me was seeing a Rio that is not the City of God. These are middle class girls with very middle class problems, universal issues of body image and love and jealousy. It feels very specific, and very earthy, but mostly, very real. Rocha da Silveira says casting was an exhaustive process, but the most important one they did on the film. “If I find the right girl with the right minds,” she says, “everything will be okay.” In addition to casting age appropriate actresses, the director also looked for girls with a lot of intelligence, and a bit of edge, and she surveyed all the potential actresses about their favorite music, films, etc. “Valentina that plays Bia, she was fascinated about all films, and her favorite film was “The Shining.” She added “most of the girls didn’t have any taste, a very popular film was “High School Musical” and music from Justin Bieber, I was like, ‘Ugh, really?’”
Despite being at the center of the film, Bia leaves KILL ME PLEASE very much the way she came in. Yes, she is wiser, and permanently changed, but Rocha da Silveira is very good about not drawing everything together in a pretty conclusion. These are girls on the precipice, their life is about flux and reaction. This is one more learning experience for them all. “When I was writing I had this idea of a virus that one girl is contaminating the other,” she explains, “not only Bia, more people are going through this process, that’s about being a teenager. I pick telling Bia’s story, but more people are going through this time of life and discovering there’s different kinds of way to explore their bodies and live a more interesting way.”
The depth of character really plays into the group dynamics. In one scene, at a bus stop after a party where the somewhat pudgy (but still completely gorgeous) Renata has gotten all dressed up and strikes out miserably, the other girls just completely ignore her. “I wanted to put also in the film some of this cruelty of being in a girl’s group,” the director says, “because I think among teenage girls there is a lot of jealousy.” The girls fight, viciously, and say awful things to each other, but they also show complete support, love and trust. There is an intimacy KILL ME PLEASE offers to the viewers; girls exploring their bodies, open to new experiences, and only having each other to trust which is especially powerful. It is as if we are given special admission to secret life. “In Brazil, girls are much more together than the boys, in a more physical way,” she says, “they sit in each other’s lap, and hug much more, and walk hand in hand, and that’s okay. So, I think the emotions come across much more intense for the girls when discovering sexuality.”
KILL ME PLEASE made its US premiere at SXSW and then followed that screening up with New Directors New Films. It also screens next week at the Wisconsin Film Festival.