Berlinale 2022 review: By Flávio (Pedro Cabeleira)

By Flávio is an entertaining short film with two convincing central performances that unfortunately is marred by an unsatisfying resolution.”

By Flávio, Pedro Cabeleira’s film from the Shorts program at this year’s Berlinale, teaches a lesson that deep down everybody knows: how people portray themselves on social media is not aligned with reality. While not the most original thought, the way Cabeleira uses it to give us a look at the toxic influence of social media and how in the end reality is more important, coupled with inventive use of mixed media and simplicity in its storytelling, makes By Flávio an entertaining short film with two convincing central performances that unfortunately is marred by an unsatisfying resolution.

By Flávio opens with a young woman in a bikini posing on a beach. She strikes all the right poses, knowing exactly how to look the most sexy. Once the photographer comes into frame it turns out to be her young son, the titular Flávio (Rodrigo Manaia). His mother Márcia (Ana Vilaça) is acutely aware of how things work on Instagram and how to ramp up the ‘likes’. While quite pretty in her own right, she doctors her photos to get them just right: make her legs a little longer, her ass a little rounder, her boobs a little bigger (Cabeleira shows her editing by having her phone screen in an oval inset while going through the steps, showing how easy it is to distort reality). Soon enough she is messaged by famous rapper Da Reel Chullz (Tiago Costa), although with 90K followers ‘famous’ is subject to inflation, it seems. Carefully curating his bad boy image on Instagram (including impressive tattoo work by the makeup artist), he tries to hook up with Márcia, which puts her in a pickle: what to do with Flávio? With nobody willing to take the boy for the night, she decides to take her son with her to the mall date so she can keep an eye on him from a distance. But she will find out that Chullz isn’t who she expected.

What ensues is a fascinating cat-and-mouse game between two people who both have acquired a following of sorts by pretending to have a more interesting life than they really do, and now are trying to use that to get what they want. From Chullz’s point of view it’s pretty clear what he wants, but when at a down moment in their date Márcia whips out her phone to take a photo of the two of them, intending to put it online, it becomes clear that she wants to use him as much as he does her. Eventually she will come around and make decisions that are not good for her but for her son, but in an insightful moment Chullz, adamant at not having that photo taken, explains that his social media is just output and he’s not at work.

The biggest flaw of By Flávio is probably its resolution, in which the balance between protagonist and antagonist that was set up early in the film is restored. But the interesting part was actually midway through when the lines between protagonist and antagonist started blurring, as Márcia’s narcissism was juxtaposed with a level of honesty in Chullz that was initially obscured by his ‘gangsta’ bluster. At that point the film made some interesting observations about social media’s negative influence on how people behave in the real world. The issue is actually the titular kid, because having him as a plot device almost necessitates Márcia’s turn at the end. This doesn’t fully negate By Flávio‘s value, but does leave the film with a weaker ending than it deserved, despite the sweet irony of the final scene.