Weird scenes inside the streets and favelas of a South American city

ART / A dreamlike celebration of street art and protest in the heart of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s 6th largest city.
Director: Marcos Pimentel
Country: Brazil

Skin opens as it intends to continue – in a dreamlike stream of consciousness, allowing the images of a Brazilian city’s graffiti and street art float by, an ever-present background to the flow of daily urban life.

On a sidewalk below a colourful mural, a young woman slowly and elegantly performs a series of yoga asanas – the dog, the salute to the sun, the serpent – as cars and people pass by, oblivious to both her and the artwork.

The film flows on with the traffic, taking its viewers on an odyssey of art and culture, gender and identity, toxic masculinity and positive femininity, race and sex, politics, and protest.

Skin, a film by Marcos Pimentel
Skin, a film by Marcos Pimentel

Gentle tide

Within minutes one is washed away on a gentle tide of emotion and association. For the meditatively inclined, the images become as the beat of a metronome, deepening and soothing the currents of the mind, transporting one in the manner of Terence Malik’s movie The Tree of Life.

There is some kind of logic – we move from images of eyes, women – clothed and naked, abundant breasts, through slogans, religion, politics, and various balances of power (or rather imbalances.)

The rich will have no peace while the poor suffer injustice…

Housing is a human right…

The favelas [slums] live!

Jesus will come in 2070….

The images move from the sublime to the ridiculous, the obscure to the profane.

Thomas Pynchon’s strange mystical novel, The Crying of Lot 49 – read so many years ago as a university student and fundamentally misunderstood – comes to mind and is revealed in its deep intelligence on this journey into the subterranean depth of the human heart.

Within minutes one is washed away on a gentle tide of emotion and association.

The most raw

A message on a bare concrete wall offers Black meat for sale – call 911. For a moment, one is confused – is this the Brazilian urban equivalent of an escort’s calling card left in a European city’s public phone booth? No…. the subsequent series of images underline the degree to which the anger and frustration of the Brazilian underclass against Bolsonaro’s military-#police state#, and its war on the poor, is expressed through slogans, graffiti, and art.

Some of these images and messages are redolent of England’s (Bristol) based urban artist Banksy. Others are unique to Brazilian culture.

This is art at its most raw – and in many ways, alive. It is often transient, like the dancers, street gymnasts, and Qigong adherents that pepper Marcos Pimentel’s beguiling film, subject to demolition or disappearing beneath verdant foliage.

It is a film that moves in a way the mind does not immediately understand, like a Hieronymus Bosch canvas.

The skin, to which Skin is devoted, is the living reflection of the beating heart of a city that reflects so many of the world’s current pressing issues.

Here is the enduring tension between the poor and rich; the one percent and the rest of us.

There is the greed that feeds nature into a grinder to produce useless pieces of green paper at the other end.

And beneath a concrete flyover, puppet politics – where a giant Donald Trump literally strings a red-nosed clown of a Bolsonaro along…

All human life is here, under, in, and on the skin of the city.

Skin, a film by Marcos Pimentel
Skin, a film by Marcos Pimentel


There is something hypnotic about Skin, which was made with the help and participation of the street artists responsible for this incredible oeuvre of works.

The credits pay tribute to the «talent, inventiveness, opinions, good humour, courage and generosity of the artists that use the streets to express themselves».

It is a heart-warming message from a touching film that celebrates the sheer exuberance and irrepressibility of human beings. Some of the images here may be – to borrow some titles from an American rock band of another era – like weird scenes from a gold mine; that people are strange is self-evident through these images and slogans.

And that life beats to its own rhythm – weaving a presence that has meaning beyond the cruel, dry, frozen messages of so much of today’s politics and consumer culture – is simply wonderful and uplifting.

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Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworth
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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