Romão, illiterate and unemployed, feels destiny drawing him on an odyssey to Rio de Janeiro in pursuit of a job and a decent life. A family of seven journeys 2,000 miles across the hinterlands of Brazil on bicycles. Along the way, the story explores the inner dynamics of a family facing a great challenge with the courage to pursue dreams. Written by
This is the (based on a true) story of a peasant family from northwest Brazil that migrates to Rio. They travel not how people usually do it, but as a family, on bicycles. Five children, mom and Dad, on five bicycles. Six months it takes them, and 3000 kilometers.
It's a wonderful premise for a movie, and I was disposed to like it. I've liked other films about NE Brazil. Vidas Secas by Nelson Pereira dos Santos; Me, You, Them by Andrucha Waddington; Central Station by Walter Salles. I'd like to take another look at the Glauber Rocha films if they ever become available.
But this well intentioned film just didn't make it for me. The actors were too pretty, too handsome, their teeth too perfect and white, their bodies conditioned in a gym, their faces unburnt by a lifetime in the sun. They were too clearly actors in a created scene that was too foreign to them. They just failed to meaningfully embody their characters. It felt like they were following a recipe for acting: recite lines, add so much of this or that emotion, make meaningful glances, and voila, soufflé.
In general, the "acted" scenes filmed in a studio didn't' feel right. They felt more like a mediocre made-for-TV telenovela.
The filmmakers missed the real grit of the sturm und drang of surviving on the road by your wits and your faith. Very few close-ups. The bicycles, for example: we never saw a greasy hand or a wrench or a spoke. The rich texture of the side of the road was strangely missing, such as the people who make huge pots of tripe and rice and beans and sell it to the truck drivers, half the price of restaurant food.
But the gravest mistake was the filmmakers attempt to make the picaresque, true story of a migration/pilgrimage fit into ready-made story lines, including one especially lame subplot about the coming-of-age of the oldest boy, Antonio, his conflict with the father. The eventual resolution of the conflict between father and son was downright bathetic. Saccharin-sweet sentimentality.
The scenes of Brazil were great. The roads, the berm, the sand, the daub and wattle, the life-beside-the-flow of the river/road, the landscape, the cactus, the hot dreamy little towns and villages with their brick streets and bright colors. But still, a little too pretty. I know the scene. I lived in rural northwest Brazil for 4 years and did 80,000 kilometers of traveling in Bahia. I lived in Feira de Santana for a few months, and that city is part of the movie. I love that part of the country and its people. I liked the scenes of Juazeiro.
One scene that totally failed for me was the whole "Panama" episode. It felt like it was written into the script.
The script as a whole was predictable. The attempts at character development seemed to come from the writing. Each time our travelers learn a new lesson, the filmmakers make them stand up and announce it.
The film would have worked better in documentary style, like say Slumdog Millionaire. Imagine if the filmmakers had paused a little more to explore the details of the roadside in northeast Brazil?
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