The images that mark this beginning of the year are strong, as alarming as they are symbolic. We all saw them, they flooded the screens around us like an overwhelming flood, spreading through the newspapers, pushing their way through already numerous disasters. A monstrous boulder breaks off a slope and crashes into a river, engulfing nearby speedboats, killing ten people. A hill erodes tree by tree at speed, generating a green and brown wave that in a few seconds envelops a centuries-old house and, as if it were a model, dismantles it, dismantles it, destroys it.
I am like many, I return again and again to these impressive recordings – in a perhaps morbid impulse, but not only, in a less reprehensible impulse that remains unfulfilled. As if there was something else there to understand, something to decipher. Its aesthetic is well known to us in these times of immediate witness to calamity. They place us between the trembling hands of those who record the images, oscillating between the ground and the larger event, sharing the astonishment and hesitation of those who do not know whether to protect themselves or contemplate the horror. The amateur recording produces, as cinema has already learned to assimilate, a powerful effect of realism and drama.
In both cases, however, there is a nuance that is not typical of the videos we are used to. In the usual recording of these atrocious occurrences, the extreme event crosses common life, imposes itself on tranquility, hurts the ordinary by its contrast. In these recent cases, no. In all his available recordings, everything is already a fuss before the fatal denouement happens, everything already crumbles vastly before it topples and bury the chaos. They are tragedies announced, including by the scandalized voices of those who produce the images. They are tragedies preceded by words that could at least mitigate them, at least prevent the worst from happening.
To think of them in this way is to remove them from the scope of fatality, from the unpredictable and irremediable natural disaster. Both the Capitólio and Ouro Preto episodes do not conform well to the definition of accidents. In a country in a state of normality, inspections would have vetoed the continuity of tourism in an eroding canyon, steps would have built a barrier that prevented the hill from investing against the city. In a country in a state of normality, such images would not exist: they would only be sinister imminence, risks to be watched.
But it is not because of this specific official irresponsibility that I insist on returning to the images, on examining them against my will. Something greater they reveal, something that becomes an emblem of a much larger situation. What we see in them is a metonymic record of the country, an emphatic portrait of the moment we live as a society. Like an ominous stone, the country is detaching itself from any stable base, or is eroding in a green and brown flood that could devastate us, that could reach each and every one of us. Before our wide eyes, it’s not a stone that collapses, it’s not a hill, it’s a whole country that comes down oblivious to the cries of alarm.
For some years now, it has been our scandalized voices that have narrated the images, that have screamed fear and death, that have warned of the risk of an even more violent fall. We are all witnesses of this capital disaster, stupefied also by the persistence of the unaware, or those indifferent to the extreme gravity of the situation. Perhaps now we have little left but to shout our indignation again, and try to help the present and future victims of this public calamity that Brazil has become. But from its sad ruins we will build, in a day that is approaching, a more human and more sensitive country.