Film Review: Bel Borba Aqui

Exhilarating, dazzlingly colorful portrait of an artist with the ability to literally transform the world around him.

Art of the most joyously accessible, truly creative kind is featured in Bel Borba Aqui. It’s all the work of the artist Bel Borba who, 35 years ago, forsook the traditional gallery art route and turned his entire town of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, into a living, breathing one-man show.

Written and directed by Burt Sun and André Costantini, the focus is squarely on the 55-year-old artist, who is luckily a fine camera subject, with an expressively weathered face and eyes that sparkle with an irrepressible love of life. And why shouldn’t they? I doubt if Borba has ever been bored for one second, so brimming over with inventive visions is he. This artist can transform discarded Coke bottles into fantastical animal street sculptures, simple chalk wall drawings into kaleidoscopic mosaics, pigs’ heads found in his beloved central market into half-human clay portraits, and the entire rusted-out skeleton of a gutted building into a haunting gallery of human faces. The man is obviously his own best company and, as he avers, his work means much more to him than sex or drink.

Borba cites “intuition, instinct and spontaneity” as the three most important elements in his art. To these, one might easily add “love,” especially for the way his work has transformed his humble, traditional beach town, and the beneficent effect it has had on its residents. He’s also anything but a reclusive, exclusive artiste, happily granting interviews to anyone interested enough to seek him out, as he remembers all too well “the times when I would have given a finger to be a little bit known.”

The film is an exhilarating ride through Borba’s world, filled with color, yummy-looking food he naturally whips up himself, and throbbing, vibrant local music, much of it hummed by the artist himself as he blissfully goes about his days. The doc is a lot of fun and truly inspiring, although one would have liked to learn more about his actual background as the son of lawyer parents who forsook their profession to enter art school and have his first exhibition at the age of 18. Borba is known as the Picasso of his country for his unquenchable creativity, and the comparison is apt. The filmmakers seem in love with his actual process, and we see him breezily yet intently doing his thing with an impressive variety of tools: acrylic paint, oil, metal, ceramics, digital. The results nearly always bring a smile to your face. Refulgent with a pure love of humanity, Bel Borba represents the exact opposite of the artistic spectrum from the traditional tortured persona of a Jackson Pollock.