The story of a young black man, Héracles, who after being released from a juvenile institution, tries to apply for his first honest job as a motorcycle delivery boy. To get the job, he has ...
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Thiago de Mello,
Wilma de Souza
The story of a young black man, Héracles, who after being released from a juvenile institution, tries to apply for his first honest job as a motorcycle delivery boy. To get the job, he has to perform 12 hard tasks in São Paulo. A contemporary interpretation of the Hercules's myth.Written by
Brief and episodic but cohesvie portrait of urban Brazilian youth
As the 1959 Marcel Camas film 'Black Orpheus' and its 1999 Carlos Diegues remake 'Orfeu' were Brazilian popular life retellings of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in Rio de Janeiro, this film, 'Os 12 trabalhos,' is (more superficially, however) a São Paulo retelling of the Labors of Hercules. Incidentally 'Black Orpheus' ('Orfeu Negro') was a seminal "crossover" film which for many US and European film viewers must have been their first glimpse of Brazilian life and exposure to the musical sound of Brazilian Portuguese. The idea of using the colorful favela world of Rio's urban poor to recreate an ancient myth was a powerful one. The remake sets Camus' effort in perspective by being more ethnically authentic and more totally Brazilian. In recent years Brazilian film-making has become increasingly visible with the success of 'Doña Flor and her Two Husbands,' the Oscar won by 'Central Station;' some may have seen 'Lavoura Aracaica', or 'Madam Satã', or (more widely shown) 'City of God,' an ambitious personal and generational history set largely in the favelas. Thus we approach 'The 12 Labors,' even without knowing the language, with a certain background and set of expectations.
It may seem a letdown to know that the twelve "labors" given to Herakles (the handsome Sidney Santiago) after his release from Febem juvenile detention consist simply of complications that arise as he learns the ropes as a messenger boy, but we remember that the "hell" of Black Orpheus was a big bureaucratic office building. This time there's no romance (the girl who kisses him is just his cousin's ex-girlfriend), and more rap than samba, São Paulo instead of Rio. Things are at a lower key. The tasks (a misdelivered envelope, an escaped cat, a grumpy man) can hardly be called "Herculean," and Herakles never seems in a life-and-death struggle to complete them: hence the parallels with the Greek myth are pretty weak. (If as an online note says there are 300,000 messengers in São Paulo and two of them get killed in traffic accidents every day -- we do see two of them, one fatal -- so the stakes for Herakles might have been made considerably higher, the pace faster.)
The result is appealing, richly human but unspectacular. However, the effect of the new Brazilian cinema can be felt in the fluent vernacular portraits of urban under- and middle-class people, the clear sense of living, pulsing city life. Nice features are the disenchanted voice-over with its poetry and its extra data on characters, the sparky dialogue spoken by Herakles' cousin Jonas (Flavio Bauraqui), who got him this job, and a sequence bringing to life a comic strip Herakles has drawn in his notebook. There are over a dozen other characters, colorful and attractive: the film is as much a string of vignettes as a coming-of-age tale. The story ends on a somber, tragic note that modulates into something deeper with a nice ending sequence of a long night ride ending in a dawn walk on the beach and a look at us that recalls the finale of 'The 400 Blows.' No doubt Elias and Santiago will be heard from again, of that we can be pretty sure. Nice music by André Abujammra , editing by William Dias, and images by Jay Yamashita. Very cohesive, very watchable, and, as so often with Brazilian films, brimming with life.
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