Hot Docs

Skin Review: The Art of Protest

Hot Docs 2022

4 mins read

Skin (Pele)
(Brazil, 75 min)
Dir. Marcos Pimentel
Program: Markers


One of the most beautiful films of this or any year, Skin (Pele) is a city symphony, an evocation of what life is like in Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest municipality in Brazil. Marcos Pimentel’s film uses no narration, so we hear no dialogue at all. For 75 minutes, the audience is liberated from the tyranny of language and linear narratives.

What we get instead is the freedom to see, feel, listen and understand the residents as they go about their daily lives. If that sounds boring, it’s not. In fact, there’s an embarrassment of riches because if there’s one thing Pimentel’s film demonstrates, it’s the innate artistry, enthusiasm and resilience of these citizens. Though much of the film is shot in Belo Horizonte’s poorer areas, what’s conveyed is an optimism towards life shared by those without money—and those few who are well-off.

Skin begins in one of the city’s numerous tunnels, where the walls are covered in graffiti, as people walk by on their way to work, or perhaps not. The dominant visuals in the film are those of Belo Horizonte’s graffiti artists and over 40 are credited in the film’s final sequence. Many of their pieces are absolutely compelling, addressing the street directly with bold graphics and vivid colours. There are singular figures staring at us accusingly, like angry streetwise gods, demanding that something be done about the world. Others are pleased, looking beneficently at the welcoming crowd of city inhabitants. We see duos, too, with their process of negotiation being an object of respect or hilarity, depending upon the people viewing it.

The graffiti, which is omni-present in the film, is influenced by the best graphic art (and its precursor, the comix) one is likely to encounter. We have fish-men, dancers, fantastic young lovers and so many more, all rendered in brilliant colours. Most importantly, we have texts. “In Marx We Trust, In God We Trusted,” followed by “Jesus Loves You,” to “Housing Is A Human Right.”

The sound design by Victor Coroa complements Giovanna Pezzo’s cinematography. We hear traffic, rain, babies crying amidst a soundtrack reminiscent of minimalist composers like Glass and Adams. As the audience, we see people performing tai chi, yoga and capoeira on the streets. People walk past their neighbours taking selfies. A photographer persuades women to be shot by him, their bodies alive against a graffiti-ladened wall. It’s never quiet, we discover: there’s industrial sounds, disruptive people, thunder and lighting.

Protest is in the air. The city dwellers are angry at the system. Bolsonaro is attacked, depicted as a clown or worse. Marielle Franco, a black LGBTQ+ politician who opposed Bolsonaro and was assassinated, is evoked half-way through the film, her righteous anger and legacy placing the film in a leftist agenda. We see graffiti: Black Fury, Nappy is Beautiful, Power to Black Women.

If you want to know what life is like in Brazil, look no further. Pele—yes, Skin in English—but Pele is the greatest footballer in the world (arguably)—is a film of poetry, politics and emotion. It’s a film that should be seen.

Skin premiered at Hot Docs 2022.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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