NJ Film Fest to show ‘Pacarrete,’ Brazilian movie with moments of whimsy and tragedy

Pacarrete review

Marcelia Cartaxo plays the title character of “Pacarrete.”

Wearing a bright red dress and smiling, Pacarrete — an elderly woman played by Marcélia Cartaxo — dances with a broom as she sweeps the street outside her home in the opening scene of the Brazilian film “Pacarrete,” which will be shown at the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick, Feb. 15. Jaunty, slickly produced music — sounding like something that might be heard in a glamorous old movie — is heard.

But the time is now, or something like it. And the Allan Deberton-directed film, which is based on a true story, doesn’t end up being the quirky tale it initially appears to be.

Though it certainly has its quirky moments. You see, Pacarrete is a retired ballet dancer and teacher who wants to participate in the upcoming celebration of the 200th anniversary of the city where she lives: Russas, Brazil. This is a big event, and city officials want nothing to do with her. To them, she’s just a crazy old lady with a booming, grating voice; they go to great lengths to avoid her.

Yet she persists, and the film ends with a sequence that can be seen as representing either triumph, or her total descent into delusion.

Along the way, she deals with neighborhood children who make fun of her, but she also has people in her life who are kind to her. At one point, she has a bout with depression — a segment of the movie that is as dark and disturbing as other parts of it are light and playful.

Pacarrete also represents a devotion to old-fashioned artistry, and an old-fashioned way of life, that seems out of place in the modern world. As we hear the host of the 200th anniversary celebration encouraging people to use the right hashtag with their social media posts about it, Pacarrete seems like an alien creature, lost in her own hometown.

And so “Pacarrete” ultimately has a lot to say about a lot of things. Still, the element of it you’re most likely to remember is Cartaxo’s utterly convincing performance as a character who, in a lesser actress’ hands, might seem too eccentric to be believed.

Pacarrete, which is in Portuguese (with English subtitles), will be shown at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m., as part of the New Jersey International Film Festival. Visit njfilmfest.com.

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