Karol, a Polish man in his late 20s (played by Mateusz Nedza), lives a simple but careless life with his mother and younger sister. He shuns responsibility and abhors the thought of a regular job. The money he needs he makes through occasional exploits as a small-time criminal; and he spends his ample free time hanging out with his loser buddies and with bedding women.
One day, a phone call from Brazil shatters his comfortable little microcosm of sleaze: journalism student Bruna, a recent one-night stand of his (played by Bruna Massarelli), informs him that she is pregnant with his child. After a lot of hesitation and some not-so-careful consideration, he packs his bags, flies to Brazil, and turns up unannounced at Bruna’s door. He is there to accept responsibility, and to help, he says. But Karol speaks no Portuguese and very little English, and he has a number of unpleasant habits and character traits. So he very quickly becomes a burden rather than a help.
Man Proposes, God Disposes is a film that is a bit odd and a bit rough around the edges, but also very interesting. It is a passion project of a number of people who all saw this very-low-budget project through, often by fulfilling multiple functions in the production. Bruno Haidar, for example, is a young Brazilian lawyer with a passion for film, and he not only plays a small role in the film but also worked as a manager in the production. The film’s Canadian Director, Daniel Leo, was also the co-writer and the cinematographer for this project. He has no traditional background in filmmaking but has always had a passion for photography.
At a Q&A, the team reiterated what has been said a lot in recent years: that advances in digital filmmaking have made really good technology available for far less money than even 10 or 15 years ago, including high-end non-professional digital cameras as well as drones. But improvisation also helps when you are working on a tiny budget. For example, the crew made a DIY camera stabiliser from PVC-tubes, following instructions from a Youtube video.
Many of the actors, most of them in their mid-20s, had only done plays and short films before, so Man Proposes, God Disposes represents their feature film debut. There are a number of strong performances in this film, including the ones by Bruna Massarelli, Erick Mozer, Mateusz Nedza, and Martyna Byczkowska.
But the film’s main strength is the cinematography by Leo. This is an unbelievably well-shot film, which becomes clear from the very start, with an opening sequence that is reminiscent of the Trainspotting opening – an opening sequence that is also greatly benefiting from the film’s great score and general sound work by Maurício Zani. Everyone who has seen this film will have to agree that Daniel Leo is an extremely talented cinematographer, and someone whose aesthetic vision could prove a benefit to many a film project.
As a director, Leo was aiming at a blurring of the lines between reality and dreams in the film, and some careful editing work by Lucas Moesch is helping to translate this vision without ever allowing the film to become confusing. Still, I am not sure if Leo was brave enough in his directorial choices in this respect.
That does not mean that his directorial achievement is not remarkable. Considering the extremely low budget nature of this project, it is more than amazing what Leo and his team have pulled off here. They always had to adapt to new challenges; which is not necessarily a problem, as actor Mateusz Nedza pointed out. Quoting one of his teachers, he remarked that, if you are telling a story, and you know “what” you want to tell, the “how” becomes less important. In other words, if you are certain of the “what”, you are able to improvise in regard to the “how”; not only allowing you to adapt to new challenges but also to new artistic perspectives that might open up as the story develops.
Unfortunately, the writing is not up to the high standards of the acting and the cinematography. It is difficult to pin-point exactly what the problem is, but the story does feel like something is missing. The dialogue certainly is a little rough around the edges, and the character development (and especially the development of the relationship between Bruna and Karol) is not as clear-cut and well-paced as one would hope for.
Consequently, this feels a bit like a “6 out of 10”-film. But the acting and the cinematography (not to mention the achievements in getting this project of the ground and seeing it through to completion) easily justify rating this film at or above 7 out of 10. This drama is well worth watching, and you should especially check out this film if you are interested to see what high standards of cinematography are possible in spite of a low budget.