Directors of Photography:
Roberto Henkin, Sergio Amon
Running time: 13 minutes
Original title: Ilha das flores
This short film appears to be a documentary, but it doesn’t really matter whether the characters are real individuals or not. The very loose storyline follows the journey of a tomato and examines the implications of human intervention while trying to capture exactly what it is that makes us human. The conclusions are rather pessimistic.
Isle of Flowers is set, if such a simple term may be used here, at a tomato plantation in Porto Alegre, where a worker named Suzuki (the recurring, matter-of-fact narrator informs us that he is Japanese) picks the vegetables. These tomatoes will be sold to a supermarket, where Mrs Anete, a perfume saleswoman, will buy them. When she prepares the tomato soup, she deems one of the tomatoes unsuitable and throws it in the garbage. One of Porto Alegre’s garbage dumps is situated on an island called the Isle of Flowers, where pigs and humans vie for a chance to retrieve items from the garbage in order to feed themselves.
The film’s importance lies not in its ability to trace the very banal journey of a tomato from the plantation to the garbage dump, but in its evocative presentation of human desperation at the heart of consumerism. Isle of Flowers uses the red vegetable as a red herring: The film, via many detours, finally deals with the poor of Porto Alegre who have to scavenge for food; they find themselves, in the scheme of things, situated even lower on the socioeconomic ladder than pigs. Everything has a price and can be exchanged for money, as the film clearly indicates, and since a pig can be bought for food, it is worth more than the poor scavengers, who cannot.
The Isle of Flowers, moving as it does from one train of thought to the next, is comical in its apparent digressions but ruthless in its depiction of the lives of human beings. When mentioning Jews, all we see are images of the Holocaust. A human being is defined, for example, as an entity with a highly developed brain and opposable thumbs. These traits are accompanied onscreen by an image of a mushroom cloud (a consequence of the workings of the brain) and the forbidden apple, picked by the opposable thumbs.
My only qualm with the film is its definition of the family as a unit that consists of a father, a mother and two children. While traditionally true, this convention is purely arbitrary and wholly simplistic. But this flaw does nothing to detract from the film’s enlightening and thoroughly entertaining perspective on the impact of exchange.