High-Rise (2009)

An eye-opening documentary with an interesting use of sound, about morbidly rich penthouse-residing Brazilians and why they choose to literally live the high life. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Gabriel Mascaro
2009 | Brazil | Documentary | 66 mins | 1.85:1 | Portuguese
Not rated – likely to be PG

Plot: Interweaving resident interviews and vistas from above, this documentary analyses the dominant Brazilian classes through a dialogue with the inhabitants of nine penthouse apartments in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Recife.
International Sales:
Memento Films / Figa Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Class, Wealth, Society
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

While Gabriel Mascaro has been an indie darling at the festival circuit with fiction features like August Winds (2014), Neon Bull (2015) and Divine Love (2019), more rarely seen are his early documentary works. 

High-Rise is one of them, running at no more than over an hour, but it packs quite a fair bit.  It’s a kind of no-frills ‘high-concept’ documentary, centering on a sole subject matter without much structural or thematic complexity. 

The topic: morbidly rich high-rise dwellers living in huge penthouses that overlook the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Recife.  Mascaro interviews a select few (who don’t find being interviewed a ‘disturbance’), questioning their motives for literally living the high life. 

‘Disturbance’ is a trigger word for many of these people—they hate noises coming from their outside environment, and they desire absolute privacy.  Go down to the beach to swim?  Nah, they have their own pool!  And gardens, and many, many other things. 

High-Rise is eye-opening inasmuch as it reveals both the compassionate and the arrogant in the upper-class.  Some find turf wars and gunfights way below them in the streets exciting; others feel they must do more for their community even if they admit to flaunting their address.  Power, status, dominion—these are ‘tangible’ ideals the rich possess and will never let go. 

Mascaro also makes interesting use of sound such as setting calm ambient music against the disruptive metallic clanks of construction noise.  At the end of the film, we board an ascending elevator—as it reaches the top, the whirling sound stops, as if the film projector has also stopped rolling.

Grade: B+


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