Carolina Markowicz returns to the circuit to release her second feature “Toll” (“Pedágio”), cementing another world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, this time in its Centrepiece strand, billed as championing “compelling stories, global perspectives,” before heading to San Sebastian for closing night honors in its Horizontes Latinos competition later this month.
Paris-based Luxbox handles international sales and has provided Variety with an exclusive first look at the riveting trailer.
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After high praise for her feature-film debut “Charcoal,” Markowicz, among Brazil’s top-tier cineastes, returns with another compelling societal study, this time with an eye on a complicated mother-son relationship that leads to a keen understanding of just what people are capable of under the influence of their fragile, yet righteous, morality.
Produced by Karen Castanho, Bianca Villar and Fernando Fraiha, founding partners at Brazil’s Bionica Filmes (“Welcome Violeta”), Luís Urbano and Sandro Aguilar from O Som e a Fúria, with support from Globo Filmes (“Divine Love”), the film follows Antonio and his mother as he struggles to get out from underneath her discouraging perceptions and far away from the zany conversion camp she insists on enrolling him in.
Boldly displaying the hypocrisy of deep zealotry while allowing the teenager great agency over his outcome, in true Markowicz fashion, nothing is what appears on the surface and the plot blasts on with darkly humorous satire and invigorating twists on universal circumstances.
“When you think about a gay boy, or a queer boy, who’s not accepted by his family, you can come to feel as if he’s a victim, but that’s not necessarily so. I don’t want to build things that are so bi-dimensional,” Markowicz relayed. “When you look at this mom, she’s not evil. She’s a product of this society, of this culture. I want people to understand her as well. I want people to understand him, because he has his power. He doesn’t see himself as a victim. He just wants his mother to understand who he is and that his problems aren’t outside the home.”
Like coming to the table at a slightly dysfunctional reunion, Markowicz has pulled from prior projects to curate the perfect, familiar, ensemble cast. “Charcoal” alums Maeve Jinkings (“Neon Bull”) and Aline Marta Maia play the well-meaning yet highly fallible mother, Suelen, and her judgemental coworker, Telma, respectively and Kauan Alvarenga, who led Markowicz’s Cannes Queer Palm award-winning short film “The Orphan,” returns to anchor the film, playing the playful and maligned Antonio.
“I really enjoyed the idea of having other lives, other universes presented by the same cast. I believe they have the perfect chemistry and ability to become other people. It’s crazy how this communication between the verbal, the feelings…everything goes so smoothly between us,” Markowicz told Variety. “I really think we create chemistry when we work together. The most important part of any film is feeling the truth in it,” she added.
The trailer opens with Antonio, in typical teenage fashion, taking part in extracurricular activities and showering his mother with dutiful affection. A sly and jazzy tune slips over the scene, a sense of space is paramount and Markowicz captures it with a sweeping shot of the Brazilian countryside, against the town’s architecture, factories boasting smoke stacks out in front of natural wonders. Hilltops, lush and green sit under dark skies that effortlessly take in the white tufts of pollution.
“I always think about the location as a character, because it influences our behavior and how we live. I really believe it’s something that builds personality. I was always in love with the city, Cubatão, a city between the big city and the beachside of São Paulo. It’s a poor city, but at the same time very rich people pass by because there’s the toll station. It’s one of the most industrial cities in Brazil. Everything is so contradictory,” Markowicz explained.
“A beautiful green setting, but when you enter the city there’s a plaque that proclaims: Cubatão, a symbol of ecology. It’s so completely melted by pollution that you can’t read it. This describes a lot about the city and the film. I like the idea of the city being oppressive, for me it’s a metaphor of the mother-son relationship in the film,” she added.
The teaser continues as Suelen holds a prayer candle on the terrace while Antonio confidently hawks perfume on social media, the neon hues of a strobe light in his room play off his skin, a sheer pink pullover falling down around his shoulders.
In rapid succession, we see a glimpse of imminent danger, lapses in judgment and a revolving push and pull between a mother so certain in her betrayal and a son firmly evolving into an adult on his own terms, both attempting to maintain their strained version of a relationship in the face of unwavering social pressure.
Recently awarded TIFF’s Emerging Talent Award, it’s been a whirlwind number of years for Markowicz. With an optimistic eye on the prize, she admitted that “it’s very nice when you receive something telling you that you’re on the right path, especially from a festival that’s so important, that I respect so much. It makes me want to keep going, keep thinking of ideas and characters. I’m very happy, very honored.”
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