I guess the English title has the benefit of pithiness that the original title (God and the Devil in the Land of Sun) but suggests that the film is about race when it isn’t. The film is about desperation of the dirt poor of the impoverished land the sertão, ‘backlands’ of north eastern Brazil. Cow herder Manuel kills his boss in rage in response to his appalling treatment and so, with his wife, go ‘on the run’. First they join a preacher, Saint Sebastian, who claims he’ll lead them to a ‘promised land’; then a bandit, a sort of low rent Robin Hood (though there’s not much evidence of giving to the poor), Corisco. They are pursued by Antonia das Mortes, employed by the church to kill anyone who threatens the status quo.
I’m afraid that summary makes the narrative seem more coherent than it is. Many of the events are portrayed indirectly, Eisentsteinean montage conveys massacres, but not the way of the Potemkin steps or his later dialectical style; the editing offer an impression of events rather than any political argument. Music, vital in Brazilian culture, structures much of the narrative; a mix of ballads, telling of the events of the film, and Villa-Lobos.
What’s most striking about the film are the compositions where people seem to be randomly standing about but, together, offer a vision of confusion, a land that’s lost its moral compass. The sparseness of the backlands of north eastern Brazil have their bleakness accentuated by the black and white cinematography in the ‘academy’ (4:3) ratio.
Glauber Rocha’s influences are many, not least the French nouvelle vague primarily through co-opting the Gallic attitude of ‘director as author’ rather than through stylistic devices. Like Antoine Doinel, the protagonist finds the sea at the film’s end; the ocean has mythic significance as the ‘saint’ had preached that he would lead the dispossessed to utopia where the ‘land is sea, and sea is land’. As Lucia Nagib puts it:
‘Glauber’s mythic backland-sea formula expresses the harrowing feeling of this utopian country that could have turned out right but was fated not to from the day it was discovered. (Brazil on Screen: Cinema Novo, New Cinema, Utopia, (IB Taurus), p9)
Whilst the French were, initially at least, in love with Hollywood, the Third World filmmakers of Latin America had no love for America as they suffered under US-supported military dictatorships. As Corisco says, directly to camera: ‘The dragon of evil swallows the people to fatten the Republic.’ This emphasis upon the political had its roots in Italian neo realism; and, as noted above, Eistenstein – who worked in Mexico during the 1930s. This link details more of Rocha’s influences and this takes you to his manifesto the aesthetics of hunger’.
Jean Charles is a 2009 British-Brazilian film depicting the life of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian immigrant shot dead by the Metropolitan Police at Stockwell Tube Station in London on July 22, 2005.
To date it has had only a few screenings in the UK (with no general release at present) though it has had a successful release in Brazil. Leeds Hyde Park Picture House presented the first screening of the film outside London and the director and co-scriptwriter Henrique Goldman came along to talk about his film after the screening. This was to coincide with a Lusophone Conference [the study of the Portuguese language and culture] at the University.
The film presents not just the events that captured the headlines in 2005 but also a portrait of the life of the young Brazilian in London. Jean Charles emerges as a sort of chancer in this portrait, working as an electrician but also pursuing slightly dodgy opportunities at the same time. He also slots into a Brazilian émigré community in the metropolis: with a crowded and slightly anarchic flat as his home.
However, in some ways the key character in the film is his friend Vivian. The film opens with Jean Charles smoothing (with a degree of con) her path through the airport emigration controls. At times the first hour feels a little like a tourist guide to the capital, as Jean Charles shows Vivian both the sights and the social life of the city.
Then the film becomes far more serious with the events leading up to the shooting of the young Brazilian. There is a change in the film style at this point, with both actual footage from the events and a more distant slightly documentary feel to the presentation. At the film’s end Vivian sets off round Europe, taking up a plan that Jean Charles himself was unable to put into effect. So she has become the main carrier of meaning at the film’s narrative end.
There follows series of titles about subsequent events, including the campaign by family and friends and the failure of any substantial investigation of the police actions or any actual shouldering of responsibility.
In the Q & A that followed Henrique Goldman talked about getting the film produced, its reception in Brazil and the way in which he had attempted to dramatise Jean Charles’ short life in England. At one point the film was to be produced by the BBC but the Corporation pulled out. It was finally made in no small part with support from the sadly now-defunct Film Council. Goldman did not feel that there had been undue obstruction to the making of the film. He also commented, regarding the Metropolitan Police, that it was worth remembering that in Brazil in that same year over 1000 people were killed by the police.
I made the point that there had been quite a few other cases of innocents killed by the Metropolitan Police, both before and after the death of Jean-Charles. There was not an opportunity to discuss this, but it is worth noting that ‘our’ police force is not part of a society that has endured 500 years of European and North America colonialism and neo-colonialism.
I enjoyed this film very much – just the right antidote to miserable weather on a Sunday. As one of the blurbs reads, you wouldn’t expect a story that begins with a character suffering a form of depression to end up as light and entertaining – but this does. Julia is an English Literature Professor in Rio de Janeiro. The film begins with some chaotic video clips of her tour of the UK, only to then reveal that her partner Antonia has left her. Julia is finding it hard to function at work but is rescued by Hugo whose civil partner Pedro has died. Hugo is an irrepressible character who proposes to buy a new house by the sea and invites Julia and another friend, Lisa (also separated from a partner) to share it. As you might expect, several visitors to the house provide diversions from too much introspection and, in particular, Helena challenges Julia to re-engage with the world.
So Hard to Forget is witty, beautifully acted and nicely presented with a pleasing eye for visual details by director Malu de Martino from a book by Miriam Campello. Despite having several collaborators the script seems to work fine. As Julia, Ana Paula Arósio has the intensity and presence of an actor like Rachel Weisz, who I think she resembles in some ways. Known mostly for her television work in Brazil, she handles this lead role well, portraying a woman who is brilliant but harsh with other people.
The film is currently in the UK on a limited release by Peccadillo Pictures, the LGBT specialists who will give it a UK DVD release in 2012, but it should be on general release as I’m sure it appeals to gay and straight audiences alike. With its references to both Emily Bronte and Virginia Wolf (either of whom might have influenced Julia’s coiffure) and then Sarah Waters and k.d. lang, I’m not sure what this says about Brazilian society, except that one part of it embraces globalised Anglo culture.
In the Peccadillo Pictures Press Notes Malu de Martino has this to say about her choice of subject matter:
“In recent years, Brazilian movies have increasingly dealt with social issues as a vehicle to gain a better understanding of our reality. Films dealing with personal dramas, on the other hand, have been relegated to an inferior category due to the distressful social conditions which countries like Brazil experience.”
I think that this is a good point. It had occurred to me that the film didn’t look ‘Brazilian’ – in fact it looked and felt more like some of the independent films I’d seen from Argentina. That’s probably my ignorance, but de Martino has certainly made a useful challenge to any preconceptions about Brazilian films seen overseas.
Trailer (with English subs):