Limite (1931) Review

Limite (1931) Director: Mário Peixoto


Limite (meaning “border” or “limit”) is a beautifully shot experimental silent film created by Brazilian director, Mário Peixoto -the only film he ever made. He self-financed the project with the help of his wealthy family. He was 22 years old. It has sometimes been called the greatest Brazilian film. The slow-moving, experimental cinematography of Limite is as extraordinary as it is powerful. The film has survived as a single nitrate through the 1950s and 1960s amidst political strife and it was restored in the 21st century. Limite exists publicly today thanks to the terrific work of the Criterion Collection. In some versions the film is backed by the music of Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, or Igor Stravinsky, and the effect is both haunting and mesmerizing.

Limite was first screened in downtown Rio de Janeiro. It failed to gain any momentum among the general public and it was shelved for some 50 years. Today, it is regarded as something of a legend. Peixoto never completed another film in his lifetime. He lived rather reclusively in an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and made two incomplete movies in the 1930s. Peixoto died in 1992.

Like Jean Epstein, Vigo, the German Expressionists, the Soviets, and the Surrealists, the plot of Limite is minimal. It was inspired by a haunting André Kertész photograph that Peixoto once saw on the cover of a French magazine while on holiday in Paris. The film opens the same way it ends: with the scene of a handcuffed woman staring at the camera. The bulk of the movie follows one man and two women stranded in a boat floating on the open ocean. Each of their pasts are told through a series of flashbacks. One woman is a former prisoner, another fled a troubled marriage, while the man is coping with his past infidelities and a failed relationship. The imagery of the three people with little hope of survival is the central theme. They have all reached their “limite” of existence and, in many ways, Limite is a film about the boundaries and limits of the cinematic art.

Surprisingly, Limite lacks a great deal of academic pretensions, despite being a challenging and engaging experimental movie. I thoroughly enjoyed this cinematic experience. A new restoration of the film was publicly released in Brooklyn, NY in 2010.

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