A busca: a failed Brazilian road movie

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Wagner Moura is a young Brazilian actor, internationally famous for his role as captain-colonel Nascimento in Tropa de Elite I and II. Now almost omnipresent in commercial productions in Brazil, in A busca he outdoes himself in his histrionic and egocentric interpretation of Theo, an obsessive father in search of his escaped teenage son, who unbelievably travels across two states riding a horse. The “road movie” shows a picturesque Brazilian countryside in contrast with the cosmopolitan Alfa-type male doctor. He walks favelas, crosses rivers, fights farmers, steals cell-phones from old men suffering from a cardiac condition, joins an open-air alternative music festival, helps a woman have a baby, romance a lolita, is hit by a car and exchanges his rolex for an old motorcycle…to end up finding the kid –the most expressionless young actor I’ve ever seen- and, as expected, making peace with his own father, whom he hadn’t talked to for many years; everything artificially melodramatic and with a disappointing happy ending for all audiences. I was wondering if the movie’s director and scriptwriter, Luciano Moura, was related to the actor somehow –that would have explained many things-, but that’s not the case: director of publicity and awarded 20 years ago for his short-film Os moradores da rua Humboldt, this one is his first long film, a failed one and which -citing an article I randomly found on the Internet- is not worth seeing, not even for Wagner Moura. Director Moura masters the cinematographic techniques but he doesn’t know how to tell a good story, above all because this is not one.

Map of the sounds of Boa Viagem

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Noise is the guiding thread in the multitude of stories that O som ao redor uses to depict an upper-middle neighborhood in Recife, Northeastern Brazil. A neighbor’s barking dog drives crazy a sleepless housewife, who figures out how to recover silence: she feeds the animal with a steak filled of sleeping pills, uses a high-frequency sound whistle and even firecrackers. There are also the confusing sounds of voices, cars and electrical appliances added to claustrophobic images of security bars in doors and narrow corridors inside tower buildings. The robbery of car radios on the streets and the fear of the other will cause the opportunistic arrival of security guards, who will secure the streets day and night with blackjacks and walkie-talkies but who will also be the community secrets’ guardians. In this Brazilian movie chosen for competition to the Oscars 2014, we have a pessimistic view of a Brazil far from the touristic postal of social harmony and paradisiacal beaches, more in line with Luiz Ruffato’s’ recent speech at Frankfurt’s Books Fair. Here, neighbors and even family fight each other, beaches are infested with sharks, and racial and social tensions are constantly present. However, not everything is dark in this ensemble movie: the positive contrast is given in the form of a love story, of a young rich man caring for the underdogs, of the former housewife’s creative and comical ways of pleasing herself and of a Brazilian laidback comradeship.

Xingu, three brothers trapped in a life adventure

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Back in 2001, I met in Santarém, a small town on the bank of the Amazon river, a young lawyer from São Paulo who had quit his job in the Brazilian megalopolis to settle in the rain-forest. He was divorced and had a son, who spent with him his school vacations. Every week, he went by boat to the indigenous villages in the swampy area to buy and exchange goods with them, so that he could sell them to tourists in the small shop he had set up in town. Seeing last night’s Novocine’s inauguration movie, Xingu, I couldn’t but recall the story of this Paulista lawyer who would become my friend for a few days in a remote spot of the Brazilian North.

In 1943, in the middle of Getúlio Varga’s Estado Novo of maximum intervention of the State in the economy and the exacerbation of nationalism, it was decided to open new lands to the West to develop economically and industrially the country. Rain forests in the Amazonia and especially in the Matto Grosso were the objective. Three educated brothers, the Villas-Bôas (Cláudio, Orlando and Bernardo), joined the expedition as laborers, to end up establishing contact with the Xingu river’s indios. The film is based on real and historical facts, and shows their efforts to protect indios from the “national progress” culminating with the creation of the Indigenous national park in 1961. More interested in the big picture as a hagiography of the protagonists’ epic story, the film doesn’t dig deep enough in the emotional and sexual relationships established by the brothers and the Indians, although it suggests some of the gray areas of the brothers’ Mission.   

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