Q&A with Brazilian actor/director/screenwriter Selton Mello
On Wednesday, November 28th, 2012, the Latin American Institute screened the film O Palhaço ("The Clown") as part of the Brazilian Film Series. Selton Mello, who co-wrote, directed and also starred in the film, was present for the screening at UCLA's James Bridges Theater. Diego Jesus, a researcher at UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, interviewed Mr. Mello following the screening of the film.
How did an interest in the circus world lead you to co-write and direct 'The Clown'?
It was the other way around. I started with a desire to talk about the necessity of thinking about our identity, about our talent, and about the dilemmas we face in life. I thought it would be cinematographic to report these issues from a clown's point of view. So I conducted a year’s worth of research—reading literature and talking with circus artists. It was all handled with extreme care in order to portray the circus in the most respectful way. I wanted the circus artists to feel well represented, free of clichés.
You had the opportunity to work alongside Paulo José, one of the most important actors of Brazilian cinema. What was that like?
In the beginning it was very frightening, but he made me feel very comfortable around him. He's one of the greatest actors in Brazil and one of my top partners in the movie. He very humbly gave his knowledge away on a daily basis. He is a great actor indeed.
'The Clown' has been a commercial success in Brazil, but you’ve also described it as an aesthetically refined art film. These two things don’t often go hand and hand in Brazil.
I've always dreamed of making a film that had both. I am used to watching big blockbusters that bare no reflection on life whatsoever. And then there are some movies that really elaborate, cinematically speaking, but are not very attractive to the general public. I wanted to make a movie that bared a reflection and opened some room for imagination, but at the same time was not difficult to understand either.
'The Clown' was submitted as Brazil’s Academy Award submission for best foreign film and has been screened in major cities outside Brazil. What is your expectation for the film as it gains international exposure and acclaim?
It is a great honor to represent my country. Being able to show my work at such a prestigious university like UCLA, with so many interesting and intelligent people in the audience is a great experience. Everything I am experiencing right now is already fabulous, even if our film isn’t selected as one of among the top five for the Oscar race.
What portrait of Brazil do you hope 'The Clown' depicts?
The Clown has a very delicate plot that nourishes your soul. I think that Brazilian cinema is not only what we have been seeing on the screens lately. I find it very important to display a fairytale about identity—such a universal and touching subject.
So, does your film steer away from the stereotypical aspects of Brazilian culture often depcited in Brazilian Cinema?
In a way, yes. This movie is about "the other side." We have many faces and The Clown is one of many. The feeling that the film will showcase another side of Brazil and represent our strength is gratifying.
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013