Sometimes in life, when things are looking completely hopeless, we just have to throw up our hands and laugh. Luis Rocha Melo and Estevão Garcia’s Que cavação é essa? provides that much needed tone of humor towards a situation that, especially as of late, has been without much hope. This situation is, of course, the struggle to preserve and maintain the memory of Brazil’s audio-visual history, but the laughter that Que cavação é essa? brings to this subject comes from the incredibly unique, almost unheard-of approach that Melo and Garcia take towards it.
Que cavação é essa? might be described as a spoof-film or it might be described as a mockumentary, but regardless, the result of watching the film is to become greatly aware of what were some of the key issues facing Brazilian film preservation in 2008 (most of which unsurprisingly still persist today). The film opens with a perfectly staged (ironic) take on a Brazilian silent-era lifestyle film, a work which we’re told to believe is a newly restored revelation from Brazil’s silent era. The film then turns, perhaps as a viewer would with a DVD extra, to another documentary about Brazilian film preservation and restoration. All with a tone of utmost silliness, this ‘documentary’ delves into the “heroic and brave” lifestyle of film preservationists, featuring none-other than the current Director of the Cinemateca do MAM, Hernani Heffner. But despite the film’s silly voice-over and the subtle play acting of Hernani, his words remain heartbreaking factual: “More than 90% of the films made in this [silent] era are lost…If today people are still extremely unaware of Brazilian Cinema’s early film history, in 20, 30, 40, 50 years’ time, people will be completely unaware of our contemporary cinema”.
Reacting to a hopeless moment through laughter is usually cathartic, but it’s rarely a surprise when tears soon follow. For some, Que cavação é essa? might provide a similar emotional rollercoaster, but there’s no denying how good it sometimes feels to be able to laugh, even if just for a little while.