19 October 2005 | gonz30
The Rio/SP FilmFests' Unofficial Critic says: Great Biopic, but not for everyone
This film was very difficult to make. As explained by its director Paulo Betti (actually one of Brazil's most famous soap opera & film actors) in the Rio premiere, the picture has been in the making for over a decade. Chief among the endless hurdles preventing its production and release were and still are the film's non commercial elements: a black former slave protagonist, a mule-pack rider turned spiritual leader, and its location in Brazil's dreary interior.
Perhaps all these "lost" years actually gave the producers an advantage, lots of time to produce a beautifully filmed biography about a controversial black Brazilian legend who lived almost 90 years (through Brazilian history's most turbulent times), in an entertaining but well told fashion. They deliver the story in about 100 minutes without cutting the essentials, or leaving giant plot holes, another big plus. This "biopic" could have easily one for another 30 minutes in someone else's hands. So, kudos for the "editing" as well.
The acting is excellent. The casting of Lazaro Ramos ("Madama Satã") is perfect. But after seeing him star him star in 3 or 4 films in this festival alone, foreign (and casual local) viewers may wonder if he's the only black actor in Brazil! He has also starred in most of the Afro-Brazilian film roles in the past 3 years. His presence on TV is also strong.
Now, in a country with the second largest Afro population in the entire world - 75/80 or so million; losing only to Nigeria, but with twice the numbers of South Africa, and almost 3 times as many as in the United States, one would expect exposure of more black actors. But, let's say, we in Brazil, are still at the "Sydnet Poitier" stage the U.S. was at 40, 35 years ago. As mentioned earlier, a leading black actor in a non conventional role is still box office poison. Perhaps Lazaro's name will limit the effect of that poison.
I hope so, because it is worth seeing, though not for everyone. If your understanding of Brazil or of general world history is fuzzy, the film may not be for you. It is important to understand the "frontier" atmosphere in the late 19th century in both Americas. I mean being familiar with the repressive military and pro-Christian elite, and their zeal to wipe out the "heathen" Afro-Spiritist-Catholic religions practiced by the majority of the population. The mixture of cultures and races around this time had to lead to alternative religions.
The focus of this film, religious leader João De Camargo, became a legend in his lifetime and his image is found, even today, in shops and religious places throughout Brazil. He died in 1942, so he's no remote historical figure. The film was inspired by a biography of this true character, who lived in the region of Sorocaba (Sao Paulo State).
Cafundó refers to a mystical yet existing hilly area where Camargo's mother would always lead him, to find "the truth." The turn of the 19th to 20th Century, the film's time focus, presents a Brazil in the process of becoming urban, with a common culture and identity, conflicting with the separate rural and slave-driven cultures of the very recent past. Suffering from the contradictions of these times, exploited as cheap labor as a former slave, João experiences a spiritual period of despair and hallucination.
He is saved when he finds his faith and salvation in a creed that is a cross between his African roots and prevailing Judeo-Christian roots. João begins to believe he can see God, and that his mission on earth is to cure people. This conviction of course comes at odds with the ruling European-descending oligarchy, which together with the Catholic Church ruled Brazil until relatively recently.
The film will not present much you haven't seen before: witch hunts, inquisitions and the like. But it is nevertheless insightful, and may grab your interest, mainly because of the film's merciful duration of about 100 minutes. Similarly-themed films are usually much longer, and tend to lose audience attention, no matter how good they are. This one may be worth your time.