Too many characters and side stories hamper the film's unity, power and focus
Jonas (Guilherme Weber), TV weather man working in São Paulo, returns to his native small village in the poor, desolate sertão (hinterland) of Pernambuco (Northeast of Brazil) to attend the funeral of his estranged father (Paulo César Peréio), murdered after having seduced young Native Indian girl Wedja (Suyane Moreira). Once there, Jonas becomes aware of the cultural clash between urban Southern Brazil and the "honorability" tradition of a certain part of the sertão, which includes clan/family feuds, land dispute and a sort of Brazilian omertà. Side stories stretch to illegal marijuana crops, religious fanaticism, political corruption and racism against Native Indian Brazilians.
Eight years (!!) after his only feature film, the impressive "Baile Perfumado" (which he co- directed with Paulo Caldas), there were great expectations concerning Lírio Ferreira's "Árido Movie" -- after all, "Baile Perfumado" was the most important film produced in Brazil's Northeast in a very long time and it singlehandedly resurrected the agonizing feature film production in Pernambuco, of irregular but powerful cinematic tradition. Unfortunately, these 8 years' wait may have taken their toll: when a filmmaker has to wait THAT long to finally raise funds to make another movie -- as is the rule among most Brazilian filmmakers -- he inevitably ends up packing his film with so many issues, characters, situations and side stories that he has accumulated through the endless script drafts, he loses track of unity and focus; putting all these different pieces together becomes a huge, very difficult task.
The film plays rather like a series of vignettes, with far too many characters and stories thrown in to be really impacting. But what "Árido Movie" ultimately lacks are two essential things: a strong central character and a "tone". The protagonist Jonas -- a cross between a prodigal son and Camus' Meursault -- is so bland and uninteresting we soon get tired of him (even considering he is a TV weather man, so he's supposedly bland already) , especially in the way he is played by a miscast (what about that accent!!) and unimpressive Guilherme Weber (a dead ringer for Tim Curry). The other actors have to struggle with their episodic parts, clashing between "intense" vs. "tongue-in-cheek" key, leaving them and the film toneless.
The pothead trio (lovely Mariana Lima, vapid Gustavo Falcão, irritatingly mannered Selton Mello) look like a cheap gimmick to win adhesion from young audiences, emulating goofy Tarantinoish dialog and tricks (can anybody still take the Pulp Fiction-ish mock-dancing routine?). It creates a silly TV-sitcom taste that makes the movie seem fluffy and shallow. Matheus Nachtergaele -- absurdly miscast as Jonas' UNCLE! -- is someone who really needs some time off making movies; he's been in so many films these last years that by now we know all his tricks (and he's barely 35). In "Árido Movie", he builds his character on a limping leg and phony make-up: time for a vacation, Matheus! On a more positive note, José Dumont (in a horrible wig) is always dependable to give a strong performance, though he has to speak some awfully embarrassing lines -- his character is a sort of Castañeda's Don Juan in the Brazilian sertão. Also noteworthy is model Suyane Moreira's remarkable beauty (albeit her awkward acting) as the pivotal Wedja.
The locations (Recife and the sertão of Pernambuco) are not as impressive as we might expect, and the bleached, washed-out color cinematography tends to add to the overall "cold" feeling. The wild (and sometimes unlikely) mixture of regional accents and expressions will go unnoticed by non-Portuguese speaking audiences, but it's one of the most interesting aspects of the film. Overall, "Árido Movie" is -- sorry to say -- a disappointment. One hopes Lírio Ferreira will not have to wait so long for his next movie; we'll be (im)patiently waiting.
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