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Behind the Sun

12 December 2001 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

A worthy but somewhat less-than-satisfying follow-up to the Oscar-nominated "Central Station", Brazilian director Walter Salles and producer Arthur Cohn's "Behind the Sun" is a somber tale of a blood feud depicted as an endless cycle of ritual violence. Distributor Miramax can count on Salles' name to lure dedicated cineastes for limited engagements, but "Sun" is probably not destined for boxoffice or awards vindication.

Inspired by Ismail Kadare's novel "Broken April", set in Albania, Salles and co-writers Sergio Machado and Karim Ainouz have fashioned a widescreen period drama that holds one's attention but comes up short as a cinematic experience that will resonate strongly with all viewers.

Transporting Kadare's original to the Inhamuns Badlands in northern Brazil's Ceara state, "Sun" plays like a lengthy short story or a short novella stretched to feature length. There are a handful of characters and few plot points that entail long scenes. As with his previous film, Salles tells much of the story with minimal dialogue and proves again to be a very talented visual artist.

What's missing in the film is the one character who can command the same attention as the film's technical virtues, while the horrid atmosphere of dread that hangs over the film is predictably destined to be broken. One comes away from the film in perhaps a gloomier mood than was intended, however, because there is nobody to enthusiastically root for. It's more a case of just hoping one or two folk survive the carnage.

The Breves family was once a proud supplier of sugar in the desert-y nowhere they call home, but the decline began with the abolition of slavery, and now the reigning patriarch (Jose Dumont) is forced to drive the oxen himself at the old mill where the sugar is processed. A very hard man who proudly remembers his many brothers and uncles who died defending the family's honor, this nameless father has a 20-year-old son, Tonho (Rodrigo Santoro), who is next in line to gun down one of the hated Ferreiras family. Tonho's younger brother Ravi Ramos Lacerda), who doesn't have a name -- his father and mother (Rita Assemany) call him "kid" -- has nightmares of the latest murder that needs avenging, but he doesn't want his older sibling to become a killer.

Nonetheless, once the blood on the shirt worn by the victim turns yellow, Tonho is sent on his mission of assassination. He succeeds and must wait for his demise, prohibited from leaving by his psychotic father. Enter a wandering pair of circus entertainers, Salustiano Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos) and Clara Flavia Marco Antonio). The latter is a multitalented beauty who responds to Tonho's obvious infatuation, while her companion refuses to keep calling the younger boy "kid" and gives him the name Pacu.

A little romance and playfulness with swings and circus ropes provide an upbeat contrast to Tonho and Pacu's doomed-to-die-young fates, but it takes an unexpected tragedy and stronger-than-hate familial love to break the death cycle. Newcomer Lacerda, Dumont, Santoro and real-life circus performer Antonio are skilled at making their minimal characters fully dimensional, but the darkly atmospheric movie's biggest stars are Salles, cinematographer Walter Carvalho, soundman Felix Andrew and composer Antonio Pinto.

BEHIND THE SUN

Miramax Films

An Arthur Cohn production

Director: Walter Salles

Producer: Arthur Cohn

Screenwriters: Walter Salles, Sergio Machado, Karim Ainouz

Inspired by the novel "Broken April" by: Ismail Kadare

Executive producers: Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Lillian Birnbaum

Director of photography: Walter Carvalho

Art director: Cassio Amarante

Editor: Isabelle Rathery

Sound designer: Felix Andrew

Costume designer: Cao Albuquerque

Music: Antonio Pinto

Color/stereo

Cast:

Father: Jose Dumont

Tonho: Rodrigo Santoro

Pacu: Ravi Ramos Lacerda

Clara: Flavia Marco Antonio

Mother: Rita Assemany

Salustiano: Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos

Running time -- 90 minutes

MPAA

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2004 | 2001

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