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The closest I've got to the rain forest was earlier this year. I fell
into the Amazon climbing a tree to get a photo. My guide had just
scaled it with ease, whereas I was unfamiliar with the slippery bark.
It is an alien and challenging environment, mostly cut off from the
rest of Brasil and the civilised world.
Director Marco Bechis penetrates further. Much further. Further than tourist-explorers who trek far into the depths. Further than the Bafta-winning TV series of Bruce Parry which charted people deep along the Amazon. Further than Martin Strel of Big River Man, who swam across Brasil to become one with the denizens of the rivers. And arguably much further than filmmakers such as the excellent Elite Squad director José Padhila, who finds commercially viable subject matter in the favelas of Rio or the starving thousands of his native Brasil.
Compared to the Indians of Mato Grosso, who play the leading parts in the gripping drama Birdwatchers, the rest of the world is just that. Looking at birds from the outside in. A pretty species here. A rare tribe in warpaint there. A fascinating social problem to look at. We see it from the point of view of our own world. But here is a story that evokes Brasil from the inside out. The people connected with its land from the start. We see the world through their struggle for existence. Their loves. Their lives. Their suicides.
Says Bechis, "All Guarani share a religion that attributes supreme importance to the earth, the origin and source of life. The Guarani experience the invasion of their land not only as theft, but also as a serious assault on their very identity." Set within the creeping genocide and loss of the rainforest that sustains them, Nadio leads a rebellion to try and reclaim a small part of their homeland. The place where their forefathers are buried. It happens to be a farm. They set up a makeshift camp, and the farmers try to interact constructively. Up to a point. They try to offer them work. Or sleep with the women. Or arrange for them to perform 'authentic' displays for visitors in this deep interior. Ultimately, they terrorise them.
Osvaldo is learning to be a shamen. Following a strict lifestyle that includes not eating beef even when the tribe is starving, the handsome youth forms a liaison with a farmer's daughter as they swim in the same lake together. Their sexual and emotional awakening coincides with the increasing irritation of the farmers with Osvaldo's tribe. The lyrical beauty of the rain forest's deep south is paired with a story of increasing violence and hopelessness.
In the last 20 years, over 517 of the few remaining Guarani-Kaiowá Indians have committed suicide. Many were young people. The youngest was nine years old. Brasil prides itself on being an indivisible mixture of three races Europeans, Africans and Indians. But the mix is not as equitable as we are led to believe. Deforestation ironically driven in part by demand for 'green' ethanol fuel has reduced the Guarani Indians to an endangered 'species' that do not even have the right to own land. Eliane Juca da Silva, a Guarani who stars in the film (playing Mami, who sleeps with a farm hand to steal his gun) was taken to its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. She broke down in tears after journalists applauded. "We just want a chance to survive," she said.
Bechis had first to introduce them to the concept of cinema, over a period of months, before interviewing would-be actors. With Osvaldo, he hit gold. As a trainee shamen, his ritualistic life is already one of performance, and he understands instinctively what it means to act. Bechis used a theatre trainer to develop acting technique in the selected players based on their existing cultural mannerisms, movement and way of talking. He worked with the charity Survival International to check facts are accurately portrayed in the story. But the whites are not thrown into any cultural cliché either. In a confrontation where Nadio rages about the theft of the earth they walk on, the farmer angrily retorts that three generations of his people have worked the land, successfully producing food for many people. His jet-setting modern friends, and the iPod-groovy teenage daughter who takes up with Osvaldo, are also representative of an established part of Brazilian life and accurately depicted.
It is a situation where there are no ethical absolutes. We have the privilege of trying to understand. Even help. But the charity whose website address flashes on the screen all too briefly among end credits and the parting facts and figures how many will contact it? How many will go and see the film? For most of the western world, Brasil, a country the size of the USA, is barely on the map of consciousness. Sadly, 'coloniser-friendly' films, like City of God or Motorcycle Diaries, are the only ones likely to get much airtime.
Remarkably, Birdwatchers is no bleeding-heart polemic: these lost people's way of handling things will make you laugh as well as staying glued to see how their impossible but real life situation unfolds.
BIRDWATCHERS is an extremely strong narrative drama about the struggle of native Brazilian Indians against globalization. Fantastic cinematography, soundtrack, and performances. The dialogue can be sparse at times, but that is appropriate for the characters. A very engaging and interesting film that every true cineast should see. Not for people who are looking for mainstream Hollywood fare. Truly one of the stronger narrative dramas to come out in the last 3-4 years. This film should have a good run at arthouses and then on DVD. If you haven't seen it at festivals, you should definitely try to catch it when it goes into theaters.
The opening aerial shot of virgin Amazon forest with white people going for a boat ride to enjoy their bird watching trip would either jolt viewers to take notice of things to come or would make sensible people believe that what they are watching is not cinema but harsh reality which they cannot hardly choose to ignore.A modern day visual masterpiece about the daily struggle to survive by Guaraní-Kaiowá people,"Birdwatchers" can rightly be summarized as a white man's assault against Indian people.Due to Marco Bechis' controlled direction one can feel tremendous energy in the never ending game of life and death which takes place at a time when native Indian people are staking politically correct claims on their ancient lands.It is precisely this aspect of Marco Bechis' film which brings it closer to "Wo Die Gruenen Ameisen Trauemen" directed by legendary German director Werner Herzog.As Marco Bechis has set his film in Amazon rain forest zone,it is quite inevitable that comparisons will surely be made with films like Aguirre,Der Zorn Gottes directed by legendary genius Werner Herzog and "The Emerald Forest" directed by veteran John Boorman. However,Marco Bechis' film is quite different from these films as he has given human face to all tricky questions related to the existence and day to day survival of Indian people.This is the reason why issues of modernity, urbanism and consumerism have all been nicely tackled in this film.
Set amongst the Guarani-Kaiowa community in their native Brazil,
Birdwatchers depicts the breakdown between the white settlers and the
ever-decreasing tribe. Tired of living in a designated settlement,
stoic community leader Nadio (Ambrosio Vilhava) decides to take back
the land that their ancestors are buried on. Only the land has been
taken over by white farmers who are making a wealthy living from the
land. Tensions increase further when the young Osvaldo (Pedro Abrisio
Da Silva), who is learning to cut out indulging in things like red meat
and women to become a shamen, begins a friendship with the farmers
Over the past number of years, hundreds of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe have committed suicide. Their religion is based around a God they call Nande Ru, and they worship the land they live on and so respect. Like many indigenous tribes, they have seen their land raped and poached, and have been driven off to seek underpaid labour. The film depicts the suicides early on, as Nadio finds two women hanging from nearby trees. He is not shocked, as he has seen this happened many times before. The film gets its real power from the fact that this is reality, and shocked me at my ignorance and the failure of any real coverage of this decreasing community.
The film is also funny, beautiful and moving. Most hilarious is the scene in which Mami (Eliane Juca Da Silva) seduces one of the farmers in order to get hold of his gun. He is seen as a bit of an idiot throughout the film, and Mami and the other tribeswomen mockingly dub him as 'long d**k'. As he has sex with Mami, she is laughing shouting 'long d**k!' at him. It's a strangely funny scene. The actors are probably so effective due to the fact that these are actual members of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe, and had to be introduced to the concept of cinema before receiving their brief acting lessons. I suspect they didn't need acting lessons, and their emotions and history are written all over their faces.
The film wisely doesn't show everything so simply and one-sided. It is a complex issue that deserves a complex depiction. The farmer Moreira (Leonardo Medeiros), dismayed at the tribe settling on the land where he grows his crops, explains how this is the farm he inherited from generations before him. The land belongs to him as much as it does to the tribe. This is the only land he knows, and what a beautiful land it is. The Brazilian landscape is filmed with a natural beauty, which allows us to understand why the Guarani-Kaiowa worship the land so. A powerful film, and when director Marco Bechis flashes up the charity dedicated to preserving the tribe at the end of the film, it will fill you with guilt that you can live in a world that would fail to recognise their struggle and plight.
I try to watch all World cinema films shown for free on BBC4 and
BirdWatchers was no exception. Within two minutes I'd fallen in with
it, its relevancy - and irreverence.
From the opening tourist-pleasing shots to when this group of indigenous Guarani Indians put on T- shirts and board trucks to go look for work, I knew that this film had attitude and was worth sticking with. A natural wicked humour shone through from the non-professional cast, as if unscripted.
Yes, I found the suicides difficult to cope with and their subsequent cool treatment. I also found the attempts of conveying spiritual and religious interjections, with juddery camera work and awkward sound effects off-putting and misplaced.
Leaving the Reservation that's set aside for them and illegally making camp on sacred ground that's now fenced off and deforested, they fall foul of the European landowner. The landowner's children do nothing all day except swim where they like - and upsetting rituals of the tribes-people and riding scooters. They're spoilt and brattish. One of the teenage girls taunts and tries to seduce the trainee shaman, whose devout law is not to sully himself with pleasures of the flesh, let alone from another race, and definitely not from a family seen as an enemy. He's often torn with both his tribal responsibilities and his attractions for the girl. Some of these scenes don't really work very well but I suppose they did convey youthful apprehensions.
Later in the film there were quite a few skirmishes between groups and I have to confess I lost track of who/what and why they were doing what they were. It seemed to end on a frenetic note and a stark written epilogue flashes up, that is both sobering and alarming. There is no doubt a huge political and ecological message within the film's 100 minutes and largely this has been put across as best it can. Certainly better than a western documentary maker spending a month only focusing on the juicy bits and it's a pity that more people won't get to see it - and to learn and appreciate this people's plight.
A band of indigenous tribes-people begin to camp out on the fringes of
the land of a European descended farmer, whose land was once the
tribe's burial ground.
There are places where the film seems to repeat itself, and could probably have been tighter, but the deliberate, hypnotizing pace helps captures the more spiritual life of the natives.
Some of the conflicts are obvious. What's more interesting is the curiosity and attraction each side also holds for the other in counterpoint to the anger and mistrust. Specifically sexually, but also as human beings.
The head of the European farm is a bit of a caricature, but many of the other characters are surprisingly complex for a film of such sparse dialogue and ultimately simple story.
This didn't blow me away emotionally, the way I think it intended to. I could see the political points coming a mile off. But as a document on how the clash of two cultures leaves marks and changes on both, it's pretty impressive.
A dull first time, poor dialogues, ordinary plot and mediocre casting make this movie a second-rate title; by the way I appreciated it for a skill: director Marco Bechis is good not to take sides in the argument setting against two positions and showing all the troubles and the motivations which each delegate of the two sects argues. Unfortunately all this is not enough to make a title interesting. I think if you have not read something about the plot before watching maybe you can't understand what the title is dealing with, to the contrary understanding it at the last ten minutes doesn't permit to consider it a movie to see. Finally a consideration about Indians: this is not a movie in which they kill, massacre, slaughter everybody: they are represented like a civil folk, with their difficulties and their daily feelings: it's out of customary cliché of wild Indians!
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