The friction between truth and fiction and the power of performance to dissolve the difference between the two have long been subjects of some fascination to Brazilian director Eduardo Coutinho. His breakthrough 1984 film Twenty Years Later, for example, is a hybrid of narrative and documentary footage shot two decades apart. What Coutinho began in 1964 as a straightforward retelling of the murder of a labor organizer winds up, 20 years later, as a meta-exercise reflecting on the role this unfinished feature played in the lives of its cast when shooting was shut down by the Brazilian government. It's film as hall of mirrors, and so is Playing, Coutinho's most concentrated exploration of the question, "what is real?" An advertisement in a newspaper invites women in Rio de Janeiro to come tell their stories on camera. These interviews take place in an empty theater with a camera rolling. Later, the stories these women tell are reiterated by a series of actresses, shot in the same empty theater. Who is "acting" and who is "telling" is left unspecified by Coutinho as he interweaves the monologues- identical sentences spoken by two different women, in two different ways, jam up against each other in a series of jump cuts, and unless viewers instantly recognize the actress Fernanda Torres, say, they will have a hard time deciphering the real from the fake. Coutinho's aim is to explode those two categories, and if that sounds like a rather dry intellectual stunt, rest assured, his methods make Playing moving and surprisingly suspenseful.
Eduardo Coutinho is one of Brazil's greatest documentary filmmakers. He has made video documentaries, including Santa Marta: Duas Semanas no Morro (1987) and Boca de Lixo (1992), since the '80s. Playing is his 10th feature film and his fifth partnership with VideoFilmes. He worked on the television show Globo Reporter during the '70s and completed the classic Twenty Years Later in 1984 after starting in 1964. He shot five films in six years: Santo Forte (1999), Babilônia 2000 (2000), Edifício Master (2002), Peões (2004), and O Fim e o Princípio (2005).