This image is from the official website for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Renata Ferraz and Maria Roxo’s “Rising Sun Blues (Rua dos Anjos),” which premiered at the 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival on Wednesday, is a film within a film, but it is more than that. It is a film about itself, its own authenticity and power. As each intimate scene unfolds, we watch the two women as they record and discuss the very film we are watching.

Ferraz, who said in a Q&A after the screening of the film that she began making the film eight years ago, wanted to examine the connection between sex work and acting. In the film, she describes this inspiration in an interview conducted by Roxo, the only former sex worker who ended up in the final product. Ferraz wanted to learn the art of sex work herself and record her male clients to include in the film, but despite receiving hundreds of responses, none of them agreed to show their faces on camera. Instead, the film focuses entirely on Ferraz and Roxo themselves. It details their friendship and individual histories, from Roxo’s childhood in Mozambique and battle with morphine addiction to Ferraz’s despair over the pitfalls of the healthcare system that left her unable to have children. The scenes are sparse, with the majority of them taking place inside a film studio with few props. Several chairs or a large rug might be all that exists in a scene beside the characters. Many scenes are shot through a perforated cloth that hangs from the ceiling, obscuring certain moments in the film or casting patterns in the shadows across the characters as they speak.

The opening scene is especially enigmatic and representative of the layered nature of the film itself; we see the back of Ferraz’s head looking into what appears to be a mirror, out of which stares Roxo. Their hands, both wearing the same red nail polish, are clasped together over the top of the mirror. The impossibility of this intrigues the viewer until we realize that it is not a reflection but two separate people.

The film begins slowly, and at times the beginning feels too sparse and lacking movement, almost static. The scenes where the women’s faces are surrounded by only blackness beg for something more. But once their stories and the story of the film itself are revealed and the bond between them develops, this minimal style contributes to the spell it casts over the audience. The two women are of utmost importance, the only living beings we can hold onto in the film, and their stories will be told to us by them alone, with nothing around them to hint at what their words could reveal. The film manages to keep the viewer’s interest in scenes where Ferraz or Roxo are simply talking for minutes at a time, using close-ups of their faces or anxious movements, and their humanity — the fact that they are onscreen as themselves, revealing secrets and memories that are truly meaningful to them — is captured in the film.

This is not a film you can watch casually, just for fun. It demands the meaning it deserves and asks the viewer to question less-talked-about aspects of both womanhood and filmmaking. By weaving these themes together and crafting something beautiful and honest, the film and its creators have the potential to shift the viewer’s perspective and, regardless, mark their minds with questions to carry into the rest of their lives. 

Daily Arts Writer Erin Evans can be reached at