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Friday, November 23, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.
'Bel Borba Aqui': Brazilian artist literally paints the town
By Rachel Saltz
The New York Times
Bel Borba, the artist hero of the documentary "Bel Borba Aqui," makes Salvador de Bahia in Brazil his canvas. He paints on its buildings, puts sculptures on its streets, creates tile art on the walls of its poor neighborhoods. As he says more than once, he and Salvador have a special relationship.
The directors, Burt Sun and André Costantini, set out to explore that special relationship and to deliver a double portrait of the artist and the town. (The movie's sub-
title is "Um Homem e Uma Cidade," or "A Man and a City.") And they do so, but it's shallow. They skim along the surface, following Bel Borba around town, watching him go about his business and making his art — a mix of the modern and folkloric — often in sequences cut to catchy Brazilian music.
It's fun to watch for a while, but then you realize that's all the movie has on its mind.
Sun and Costantini have come to celebrate Bel Borba, not to appraise him or provide context to understand him. He emerges as a protean artist too busy to be plagued by self-doubt.
"I'm a hero," he says, and the filmmakers seem to think so, too. Yet we're left to imagine the hero's formative struggles, and we learn almost nothing about the history of Salvador.
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