Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
historically interesting, but a horrible production
This film tells the true story of escaped black slaves who found their own mountain-top commune as free men in 17th-century Brazil. The story is interesting and edifying. However, this film -- as a film -- is terrible.
The soundtrack is not period music or tribal music. It is Afro-Brazilian pop music from the early 1980s. Battle scenes are fought to the sounds of cheesy pop rhythms best left to the disco or bad cops dramas. Admittedly, the lyrics are folk-ish tales of the slaves' heroism. The special effects are absurd. Rather than invoke the mysticism of African religion and atavistic beliefs, they merely make the film look cheap. They are completely unbelievable, and I don't mean merely in a sense of verisimilitude.
Life within the commune of Palmares could not have been the way it is portrayed in the film. For this society, as shown in the film, is one-part kibbutz, one-part Afro-pop festival. Moreover, it is almost embarrassing to watch the director play upon the clichés of blacks as talented singers and dancers who simply want to be happy. He portrays daily life as a series of dance parties in which the freed slaves paint themselves bright colors and whirl around to the strains of '80s pop music. On the other hand, they have an abundance of beautiful food, but the viewer hardly sees any work being done. The king inveighs against private property in a hackneyed and clichéd way. When a man complains that people are taking the vegetables that he has grown over many months, the king says, "What comes from the earth belongs to everyone, as the earth belongs to no one. If they need food, they have a right to take yours."
I am glad that I learned about this episode in history, but I am relieved that a film with such low production values and that trades upon such worn stereotypes would likely not be made today.
Cabeza de Vaca (1991)
a journey through the Southwest
In a strange and fantastic film, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca interacts with American Indians before any other Europeans and becomes integrated into their world before he his torn out of it by the arrival of more Spanish.
To answer a common question . . . Why does Florida look like Arizona in this film? Because it's not Florida. It's not even supposed to be Florida.
The makers of this film (and the makers of this film's packaging) have their facts wrong but their scenery right. Cabeza de Vaca landed in Texas, probably at the site of today's Galveston. That explains the slow-moving, brown water streams and the thick vegetation and mosquitoes. He then walked west or southwest. West Texas and northern Mexico do have semi-desert conditions and modest sized mountains and mesas and some canyons. The real Cabeza de Vaca left Florida on a flimsy raft -- depicted in the film -- hoping to make it to Cuba. Instead, he landed on the Texas gulf coast. I don't know why the filmmakers labeled the landscape as Florida.
This film is odd. It is exceptionally slow paced. There is little intelligible dialogue: lots of grunts or dialogue in indigenous languages (but no subtitles). We are as lost as Cabeza de Vaca. This film is from his point of view, and no explanation for his healing powers is offered. Nor do we receive an explanation of the tribal dynamics (some accept him, some enslave him, another seems to wish to execute him).
A Passage to India (1984)
David Lean has made some of the best films of all time (viz. "Dr. Zhivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia"), and E. M. Forster is a delightful writer (viz. "Howards End" and "Room with a View"). This film, however, turns out to be a disappointment. While some other reviewers have loved it, I suspect that they have not read the novel. Moreover, as a pure story, it does not match up to Lean's earlier work.
The very essence of the story is the question, can Indians and Britons be friends? That is the heart of the novel, as Dr. Aziz and Mr. Fielding struggle to be friends as their societies conflict and they offend each other through misunderstandings. This is not really shown in the film. In fact, in some ways, the chief Anglo-Indian relationship in the film is a latent love between Dr. Aziz and Miss Quested. Lean leads us to believe that they secretly long for each other, but society (and they themselves) will not allow such a relationship. Additionally, Lean has changed much of the focus from an Indian story (about Dr. Aziz and his search for a place in colonial society) to a British one (about the place of British colonials in an alien place). This is reinforced by the invented opening scene of the movie, which is not in the novel.
I watched this film with a friend who had not read the novel, and she had a hard time following many of the plot twists.
Considering the novel as the premise, this is not an epic tale, and it was not suited for Lean's grand style. The more intimate style of Merchant-Ivory would have been appropriate here. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago" were epic novels needing broad strokes to appear on screen. Forster's novel mixed subtle satire with poignant portrayal of the dilemma's facing a Western-educated Indian under the British Raj. Most of that is lost in this film.