Running Time:  108 mins.                      Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: NR

Director: Rene Sampaio

Genre: Crime/Drama/Romance

Country: Brazil

Language: Portuguese w/English subtitles

Cast: Fabricio Boliveira, Isis Valverde, Felipe Abib, Antonio Calloni, Marcos Paulo, Cinara Leal, Giuliano Manfredini, Rodrigo Pandolfo, Juliana Lohmann, Leo Rosa

Reviewed at Toronto International Film Festival

BRAZILIAN WESTERN (BW), directed by Rene Sampaio, places a pulsating Brazilian-ized twist on the American western genre.  In the Western narrative, usually a stranger new to town gets heat from local outlaws, faces them down, saves the town and gets the girl, then rides off into the sunset. The hero whether morally stained or morally pure, is somehow deserving of these enrichments, owing to his good deeds. Instead, BW’s main character Joao, at a young age is almost anti-heroic as a protagonist; he is at once violent, vengeful, and a thief, yet the demons that drive and curse him don’t totally consume him, as his personality is nuanced with much complexity.

Joao, is an illiterate Black Brazilian from the countryside, who grew up in extreme poverty, although smart, inquisitive, and ambitious, he loses both parents fairly early on, and decides to track down a relative in a nearby city Brasilia.  Once there, his White older cousin, takes him in and introduces him to a small drug distribution cartel.

On one ill-fated deal, to get away, Joao is forced to break into and enter a senator’s home, thereby, charming the sympathies of the senator’s lovely and open-minded daughter, Maria. Throw in a corrupt narcotics cop, an offensive rival drug gang and a growing circle of enemies -– including a spoiled rich kid and friend of Maria who also fantasizes about her affections; and you have an explosive narrative, one which repeatedly places its viewers squarely in Joao’s shoes, and models, as well as, blurs the choices and circumstances available to them.

Cinematically, BW is complete with ominous Brazilian guitar music that forewarns the viewer of pending dangers. Its rhythms and pacing is well structured to entertain and yet demands of viewers to reach emotionally inside themselves. The price his cousin pays to save him, the crises of Joao’s arrest and brutalized detention combine to drive forward the film’s climatic moments.  None of the characters are one dimensional, and each is changed by the end. Lastly, the film is intellectually honest, about discrimination, race and classism in modern day Brazil, and of exposing it to a world audience.

Most telling however, is Joao, loyal to a fault and although violent, he prefers to be at peace with others.  Although a thief, he prefers the ability to pay his own way, and although vengeful he’s not sadistic. Not to mention, he’s very appreciative and responsive to love whenever offered. Yet nonetheless, the film delivers a meditatively inhospitable truth, unfortunately, love alone is not enough in life.


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