Creator José Junior, ‘Under Pressure’s’ Julio Andrade Unpack Activist-Inspired Globoplay Original ‘Living On A Razor’s Edge’

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Brazilian activist and sociologist, Herbert de Souza, inspires the latest Globoplay Original series “Living On A Razor’s Edge,” (“Betinho: No Fio da Navalha”) featuring in Berlin as part of the European Film Market’s Berlinale Series Market Selects, an exclusive advance on anticipated titles with farer-reaching potential.

The title, teased at Content Americas, was created by José Junior (“Anti Kidnapping Unit”) and is directed by “Under Pressure” star Julio Andrade – also tackling the role of protagonist – and Lipe Binder (“Written In The Stars”).

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Produced by AfroReggae Audiovisual, in partnership with the Formata Produções e Conteúdo and Globoplay – the powerful streaming service of Brazilian giant Globo – the mini-series examines the life, times and ties of de Souza, lovingly called Betinho, who inspired generations to kick-up against the system, urging equality and better conditions for those long-suffering the torment of an unjust regime and an unreasonable social pecking order.

A riveting  journey through a dictatorship that had forward-thinkers hiding in plain sight to avoid brutal punishment, it’s a story of reinvention borne out of necessity rather than desire, a sobering ode to revolution.

“I had the honor of meeting Betinho in 1993. At that time he was a social movement “pop star”. It was Betinho who invited me on my first international trip in 1996. That same year, he was godfather of our capoeira workshop and, despite being frail, he went to the slum to meet his godchildren. I’m so in love with Betinho that months after his death in 1997, I created the Espaço Vida e Arte Betinho (Betinho Life and Art Space) in the Vigário Geral slum,” Junior told Variety.

“In 2016, I was in a meeting with Marcio Fracarolli from [Brazilian distributor] Paris Filmes, and when he saw my portfolio with only action series, he asked why I didn’t tell a Brazilian character’s story of success against all odds. At the time, I thought that request was nonsense. I reflected on it, matured and came to the conclusion that I should tell the story of my hero and idol,” he added.

He went on: “Since his story was too long to put into one film, I looked for partners to translate this man’s life as completely as possible. So, we combined the creative work of AfroReggae Audiovisual with the executing force of Formata and presented it to Globoplay.”

“They gave us all the support to tell this story in a way that would do justice to the life of its character.”

Junior also makes a shout-out for “three women who were fundamental and carried this project on their shoulders”: Tatiana Costa, head of content at Globopla; Dani Busoli, CEO at Formata; and Clarissa Lobo, production manager at AfroReggae Audiovisual.

The eight-chapter episodic explores the unshakeable and the fragile, while speaking to the strength of bonds and to those that disintegrate under pressure. Betinho’s a very human sort of hero that excels in rhetoric and conviction while fumbling interpersonal relations. He’s a full-picture visionary, whose flaws and strengths are counted in equal measure, producing a captivating and heartfelt story of human fortitude.

“Julio Andrade has a wonderful line. He says that ‘Betinho is the true hero, he’s our hero, who doesn’t wear underwear over his pants.’”

“To show your virtues, it was important to highlight your defects. He wasn’t a good husband to his wife and much less a good father to his first child. Not that he didn’t want to be, but he had a cause that he considered bigger than himself and his own family. Betinho is my idol, he’s the man who inspired me to join the social movement, and not doing an uncritical series was our main challenge. Daniel de Souza, Betinho’s first son and associate producer, was fundamental. Without him, this series would have a different vibe. Daniel brought up information that was never published anywhere,” Junior mused.

Cutting to the gravity of a life in exile, the heavy sacrifice displayed as he leaves home, family and a part of himself behind to escape certain torture is highly palpable.

“Unfortunately, Brazil doesn’t know its own history.  Many of these activists gave up their lives in the name of a greater good. For me, non-recognition and forgetfulness are as serious as the dictatorship. This story should be told in classrooms. This recognition should include replacing the names of the country’s usurpers who killed the natives, robbed the nation, and supported every and any types of oppression, in public facilities and street names. True heroes should be exalted. On April 21, we obtained authorization from the Rio City Hall to place a bronze statue of Betinho on Botafogo Beach, an achievement in our quest to promote the country’s true heroes,” Junior relayed.

Intimate shots pull the viewer into the narrative’s minutiae, running at full-pace. Characters are framed close, claustrophobic at times, as they act out the dire plot with the same courage needed to fight against certain oppression, their looks of anguish and reverie amplified ten-fold. In one scene, we see a close-up of Betinho’s vein as a needle pokes into his skin, the sting of the injection felt well offscreen.

“Since the project began, we wanted to talk about the man, about Betinho’s private life. His story is recorded, but his private life was what interested us. The scene with the needle, which goes deep into the vein, was very symbolic. The blood, whose owner we don’t know, that’s entering a person? That was Betinho and his family’s daily life. I actually pierced the vein, I wanted to do it because Betinho did it so many times in his life, and I wanted to show that. It was a curious scene, because the nurse who did the scene with me was more nervous than I was, so it was difficult to do it in one shot,” Andrade remarked.

Tapping into Betinho’s overflowing charisma while holding space for the melancholy nature of his illness and the certain obstacles that confronted him while he strived to better his community, Andrade presents as a dead-ringer for the activist through the ages, the series setting out to document a large portion of his harrowing journey.

“My biggest concern was bringing Betinho’s spirit to the set. I think the moment you’re on set and you’re going to shoot a scene, it’s a magical and unique moment. You have to be very focused and prepared,” Andrade admitted.

“The issues of pain, suffering, and illness, they also involve a lot of technique. When you’re a character who has a time span of five decades, there’s a gradation there too, in the way you walk, your muscle pain, your breathing,” he added.

“With the issue of suffering, the disease and the struggles he had, every scene that included pain made me emotional, but I was very moved by love. Betinho had this with him, he didn’t show that he was a sick guy, he never asked for help, he dealt with his medical issues on his own. He didn’t show any suffering, and that was something we were careful of,” Andrade admitted.

He concluded: “You don’t associate Betinho with pain, you associate him with love, hope, positivity. That was the measure, you work with the pain in love. His desire was always life, what Betinho sums up, is life.”

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