Limite (1931, Mario Peixoto)

It says quite a bit about Mario Peixoto’s avant-garde silent picture that for a 10 minute stretch near the beginning the picture starts to distort, crackle and melt, eventually overwhelming the frame in what it turns out was irreparable print damage, and yet I couldn’t be sure at the time if this wasn’t merely a strange artistic flourish from Peixoto.

Limite starts on a boat with three unnamed characters (one man and two women), feels like it’s never going to leave the boat in a what was probably a purposefully interminable opening, before zipping around in a series of flashbacks to bring clarity to why these people end up together in the middle of the ocean.

Of what traditional story is available is extremely difficult to follow; there is only one actual bit of dialogue between characters so what’s there is locked away in the images. The ocean is clearly a central motif, possibly for the character’s desire to escape a mistreating society. The film’s first image is of one of the female characters staring intensely at the camera with her hands cuffed and chained.

What else the rest of the images tell us is nebulous and no doubt requires multiple viewings to unpack. But on a purely aesthetic level, Limite is a very beautiful film. Peixoto – in what was his first and only film at 22-years of age – seemed determined to film in angles no one had ever really thought of. The dreamlike flashbacks and the way in which characters float through scenes is reminiscent of Tarkovksy; the extreme close-ups and the way the camera circles its characters is proto-Malick.

The showreel of beautiful images and sequences are scattered in what is a very long, trying film. At two-hours it’s hard to justify such a bloated runtime – many scenes linger far longer than necessary, making it feel even longer than it really is. Limite seems to beg rewatches, but I would be more inclined to catch a ten-minute highlight reel of the best shots on YouTube. (5)

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