The spotlight isn’t for everyone. Some people thrive in it, while others freeze up. Others are a mixture of the two. You might not know which one you are until opportunity knocks. In an always-on world where anyone can post photos or videos, someone actively *wanting* to stay out of the limelight is seen as strange or odd. People have all kinds of reasons for staying in the shadows just as much as the ones who run from them, forming the basis of writer/director Carlos Conceição’s (Serpentarius) Name Above Title (Um Fio de Baba Escarlate), a beautifully anachronistic exploration of the rise and fall of social media heroes through the lens of a serial killer.
With barely a line of dialogue, Conceição’s Name Above Title follows a nameless man (Matthieu Charneau) who happens up a woman (Joana Ribeiro) having just attempted suicide, and who, upon hearing her last words, kisses her. The act, captured on camera, is viewed as an act of tenderness by the world and it rockets him to stardom. The truth always eventually comes out and his truth is a doozy.
This is Conceição’s second feature and the first I’ve seen of his work and it is compelling. With the exception of a few vocalizations and words uttered by Ribeiro’s dying woman, there is not a single line of dialogue. Everything is communicated through body language or inference. Rather than alienating, it unexpectedly draws you into the story further added by strong performances from the cast and a strange charisma from Charneau. We shouldn’t want to get close to him, but he exudes such confidence and strength that, despite knowing he’s a ruthless, cold killer, we can’t help but watch what he does and how he goes about his new out-of-the-shadows life. Styled like a mix between Lewis Smith’s Bobby Fantana in The Heavenly Kid (1985) and Freddie Mercury of Queen, Charneau prowls the streets of the unnamed location, constantly scanning the horizon for the authorities or new prey. The original title does translate to A Scarlet Little Thread and that’s not a coincidence considering the man’s favorite way to murder women. Interestingly, Charneau portrays the man as becoming more confident, more brazen than he might otherwise be once attention is paid to him. This is where Conceição begins his slide toward an indictment of social culture and the feedback loop any popular reaction generates.
First, a warning: Conceição isn’t all that interested in things being concrete and you know this upon meeting the man’s first victim who looks exactly like Ribeiro. It’s not your brain playing tricks on you, the actor plays every woman the man kills. Considering how the film recycles actors, this could be a means of keeping the cast small (it was shot in 2020, after all) but the more likely concept is Conceição showing us the world through the man’s eyes from start to finish. With this in mind, all of the oddities, the anachronistic moments, the flourishes, or decisions begin to make more sense. I mentioned the man’s styling before, something taken from the 1960s or 1970s, yet the characters use Apple smart phones (guessing either Conceição didn’t get the memo or there are different rules for International films). Similarly, the entire film is shot in 4:3 aspect ratio with rounded edges, a format introduced in the mid-1950s, and the blocking and Vasco Viana’s (Sunbeat) cinematography is such that it exudes a certain on-set-versus-on-location quality as the sky looks matted rather than real. Each of these little details stacked upon each other imply a specific vision or view and, while the obvious idea is that this is all coming from the writer/director, the most likely perspective is that of the man himself. This world is seen and constructed in his own twisted way so that time and space meld into a version that mimics what he values. Consider that he smiles when he notices the cameras recording the kiss rather than being shocked or dismayed. He doesn’t hesitate at all or consider what this newfound attention will do to his extracurriculars. Instead, he seems to welcome it as though it will garner him extra freedom. Within this view, the third act makes the most sense, something which I cannot get into for fear of spoilers. Without context, the only explanation for it is additional commentary on Conceição’s perception of social media celebrity that comes and goes as quickly as the tide. It is a sharp pivot, almost neck-snappingly so, concluding the otherwise sober narrative like a surreal dream.
How one walks away from Name Above Title strictly depends on how they receive the ending. The first two-thirds of the film are dazzling in the sense that the styling and execution pulls you in, the format of the images seemingly retro amid a very modern era. It’s the ending, though, that will determine what you think the film is about, if anything. Does it hammer home or bounce off? Personally, it’s the type of ending that felt confounding until given time to ponder and process. Name Above Title doesn’t glorify suicide or murder, but uses both as a means to question modern celebrity culture. If anyone can be famous without talent, if we are so willing to uplift the vapid and talentless over those who put in the work, what does it say about us as a society? What does it say when we’re willing to make being a fan of someone or something our personality? What does it say when our personality is only that one thing? There’s an exploration of symbiotic duality that’s not as fully formed as one might desire, but it’s there and ready for discussion.
Screening during the 2021 Nightstream Festival.
Head to the official Name Above Title Eventive page to watch the world premiere of the film beginning October 9th, 2021 at 10:30pm.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.