A Cidade dos Abismos, a film with a trans protagonist is highlighted in Lisbon

From personal experience, Priscyla Betim developed the argument of The City of Abysses, feature film with a timeless setting, signed alongside Renato Coelho. The film follows Gloria, a trans woman, Bia, a middle-class young woman from São Paulo, and Kakule, an African immigrant, who witness a murder on Christmas Eve. We had the opportunity to chat with both of them to learn more about the production.

The path from experimental shorts to feature films

Priscyla and Renato’s career as filmmakers is based on the idea of ​​making films with as few people as possible. As the director explained, “making films demands a lot of people involved in the team and what we wanted was to try something simpler and more spontaneous”. According to her, Renato “already researched the filmmaker’s work Jairo Ferreira and her work with Super 8 (camera from the 1960s/70s)” and, similarly, in her Masters, she started to research the work of Jonas Mekas.

The city of the Abysses priscyla Betim Renato rabbit

Screenshot interview/personal file Yasmine Evaristo

At first, pair decided to make short films that embraced experimental cinema. So they spent “a decade developing short films in analogue format, art films and experimental films”. In addition, said Priscyla, their creation and execution process did not require a script, however, when thinking about the feature, the script became necessary. She stated, “I wasn’t inexperienced, but I had only written screenplays during college, as documentary film gives you more freedom.”

Renato told us that he “got used to making films with few collaborators”. About the financial, he said that “most of the time it was without raising funds by public notice, with their own money and in an artisanal way”. That’s why he “thought he would never make a feature with a traditional narrative”. However, Priscyla’s previous contact with productions in this format facilitated the transition.

New format, new challenge

the city of the abysses


For Priscyla, “developing a script and a narrative without abandoning the format that became characteristic of what we were doing a decade ago” was a challenge. Renato added, “doing something with an experimental footprint and at the same narrative” scared, but at the same time motivated the production.

The two also pointed out as a challenge to work with a large team, as “although the functions were delimited, in practice everything was done in an eventually collaborative way. Shooting on film, with several actors, locations demands time, money and a lot of work”. However, everything went well and Priscyla told us that she was “very happy because her team was like a gift”. Renata Jardim, producer of The City of Abysses, was appointed by the two as responsible for bridging the gap between them and the people on the team.

Seventies and Eighties Aesthetics: the memory of authorial cinema

the city of the abysses


Asked about the similarity the film has with national cinema classics from the 1970s and 1980s, the pair told us about their aesthetic choices. “In the first feature, there’s a lot of wanting to put everything that we love and that influences us,” said Priscyla. Then she quoted Luiz Rosemberg Filho, the director to which the film was dedicated and completed, “there are choices that were conscious and others that were not”. Namely, the author says that she acted as a director, but also as a movie buff who wanted to honor those she admires.

There is in the film “a reference to Brazilian cinema from the 1970s/80s”, they said, but also to other multi-artists such as the poet Roberto Piva, the singer and songwriter Arrigo Barnabas and the filmmaker Andrea Tonacci, who lent them a camera to shoot two sequences. “The same camera the director used in Bang, Bang (1971), giving materiality to this feeling”. ‘

strong musical elements

Arrigo Verónica the city of the Abysses


Throughout the film, we are taken by various musical manifestations, whether through chants or recited poetry. The protagonist of the film, Gloria, is played by Veronica Valenttino band lead singer Veronica Decide Morrer and is on the scene alongside Arrigo.

According to Renato, the proposal was to “dialogue with different cinematographic genres, in a more inventive way, to break with expectations”. Priscyla added that this expectation, “of only one genre, is diluted in a film that is half police, half strange musical with experimental elements.

We were certainly curious about Barnabas’ participation and the directors contacted us that “he was initially invited to make the soundtrack, alongside Vitor Kisil, but then ended up appearing and butts. He later performed the song with Verónica, using his unmistakable style.” Renato told us that the “experimental dodecaphony present in the scene was fantastic to be witnessed”, in addition to that “there is a strong sensibility in him for seeing images and writing.” Pryscila emotionally reported that “it was amazing to see him composing in front of us, as we spoke something completely abstract and Arrigo converted it into poetry, lyrics and music.”

In the same way, the songs interpreted by the actors representing the immigrants were brought by themselves, according to the filmmakers, “what we asked was for them to sing something that reminds them of their land, their life, of some sad moments or happy and they brought those sensations and experiences to the film.

Diversity of ‘The City of the Abyss’ Cast

The city of the Abysses priscyla Betim Renato rabbit


Lots of diversity in the cast of ‘The City of the Abyss’

Towards the end of the conversation, we asked Priscyla and Renato to talk to us about the casting of The City of Abysses and once again we noticed the emotion and collective relationship of the team. The film talks about trans women, immigrants, people who live on the fringes of society “so there is nothing fairer than building these characters based on the personal experiences of these people”, said Priscyla. For the director, “the space for exchange and listening that was created valued the final product”, demonstrating how much her work sought to be fair and to look to the stories told, even if fictional.

Another prominent participation in the production is the priest Julius Lancellotti which has in its passage through the screen one of the most exciting lines. Interestingly in the script, the priest had “only a tiny sermon, so we looked for him and when we presented the proposal he opened the church doors for us to record”. The two said that they were initially concerned about Júlio’s participation because he was not an actor, as there were few analog reels to record. However, the priest was aware of this limitation and, even without a defined speech, he chose to “speak something from the heart”. As a result, one of the most beautiful sequences in the film and tears from behind the camera.

For those who haven’t watched the city of the abyss, the film will be screened at the festival of Camboriu Spa, on Show Crash and no London Festival.


Yasmine Evaristo

Visual artist, draftsman, majoring in Letters – Publishing Technologies. Member Abraccine. Film researcher, mainly in the fantastic genre, as well as representation and representation of black people in cinema. Devotee of the holy trinity Tarkovski-Kubrick-Lynch.

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A Cidade dos Abismos, a film with a trans protagonist is highlighted in Lisbon

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