Sunday, April 27, 2008
Behind the Sun (Portuguese title: Abril Despedaçado) is a Golden Globe-nominated 2001 Brazilian film directed by Walter Salles, produced by Arthur Cohn, starring Rodrigo Santoro. Its original Portuguese title means Shattered April, and it is based on the novel of that name by Ismail Kadare, about the honor culture in the remote mountains of Albania.
This heartrending film about blood feud and self-sacrifice is set in the badlands of Northeast Brazil during the early 20th century.
The year is 1910; the place the badlands of Northeast Brazil. Twenty-year-old Tonio is the middle son of an impoverished farm family, the Breves. He is next in line to kill and then die in an ongoing blood feud with a neighboring clan, the Ferreiras. For generations, the two families have quarreled over land. Now they are locked into a series of tit-for-tat assassinations of their sons; an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth. Embedded in this choreography of death is a particular code of ethics: "Blood has the same volume for everyone. You have no right to take more blood than was taken from you." Life is suffused with a sense of futility and stoic despair.
Under pressure from his father, Tonio kills one of the Ferreira sons to avenge the murder of his older brother. This act marks him as the next victim. Tonio's younger brother is addressed only as "the Kid" by the family. Anticipating future loss, his parents don't give him a name. The Kid is an imaginative and loving child, whose spirit will not break in the face of harsh parenting, brutalizing isolation, and numbing poverty. The Kid's love encourages Tonio to question his fate. When Tonio meets Clara, a charming itinerant circus girl, all of life's possibilities open up for him. Will he be able to escape? Can the cycle of human sacrifice be broken?
The message of this movie is universal. It was inspired by the novel Broken April, by Ismail Kadare, which describes a blood feud in the mountains of Albania.
Sandwiched between the superb Central Station and the even better Motorcycle Diaries, Salles’ period adaptation of an Albanian novel makes memorable cinema out of the simplest of storylines.
Walter Carvalho’s cinematography expresses aridity, drudgery and wilderness in a style reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s westerns, as Tonho (played sensitively by Rodrigo Santoro) struggles to break out of the suffocating existence imposed on his family by a long-running blood feud.
In common with his great films to date, Behind the Sun is another lyrical example of the director’s attempts to breathe humanity into the most inhuman of environments and it succeeds with surprising economy.
Cada cena é uma pintura. Cada diálogo é uma poesia. A luz mágica do diretor de fotografia Walter Carvalho e a direção fluente de Walter Salles (a mesma dupla de Central do Brasil) convidam a platéia a embarcar num tempo e numa geografia perdidos em algum lugar no sertão nordestino.
Horizontes amplos. Diálogos longamente meditados. Abril Despedaçado tem uma estética própria, reflexiva, há anos luz de distância da era dos videoclipes. Entrar numa sala escura de cinema para apreciá-lo é como embarcar num Túnel do Tempo sensorial.
Tudo começa com Pacu (o garoto Ravi Ramos Lacerda, estreante em cinema) tentando narrar a própria saga. Ele diz que tem uma história para contar, mas não consegue se lembrar de tudo. Provavelmente porque tem ainda uma outra história martelando dentro de sua cabeça, que não quer sair.
Inspirado (e não exatamente baseado) no romance homônimo do escritor albanês Ismail Kadaré, Abril Despedaçado narra a luta entre duas famílias, no interior nordestino, nos primeiros anos do século 20. É uma guerra aberta, repleta de normas que soam ridículas aos ouvidos modernos, mas que foram exaustivamente pesquisadas antes de serem colocadas no roteiro. Em nome da terra, eles se digladiam, se assassinam mutua e lentamente, geração após geração. A morte de um vale, por direito, a morte do outro, como num jogo de cartas marcadas onde não haverá vencedores. Há tréguas combinadas e braçadeiras negras que marcam a próxima vítima. Há a estúpida justificativa do assassinato pela honra e a cruel determinação de quem deve morrer, e quando. É o "olho por olho que cega o mundo" ao qual se referia Mahathma Gandhi.
Porém, no novo século (o 20 e não o 21), este mórbido círculo vicioso terá de ser quebrado. A função caberá a Tonho, personagem de Rodrigo Santoro, de Bicho de 7 Cabeças, novamente ótimo. Tonho é um rapaz de 20 anos, marcado para nunca fazer 21, que não conhecia o amor. Travado, resignado à própria sorte centenária, ele passa a conhecer o outro lado da moeda pela figura libertária de Clara (Flávia Marco Antonio, atriz vinda do circo que também faz sua estréia no cinema). Não por acaso, Clara é uma artista de circo. Circo, liberdade, criação, alegria. Elementos que se chocam frontalmente com o rude cotidiano de Tonho, um círculo vicioso de dor e tristeza ritmado pelo som melancólico do moinho de cana puxado por bois. O rapaz forçosamente terá de resolver esta dicotomia, custe o que custar. E custará caro.
Abril Despedaçado é uma preciosidade. É Cinema na maior acepção da palavra: sons e imagens que se interligam com talento incomum para contar uma história preciosa. E ainda um forte sinalizador que Central do Brasil não foi um ato isolado de “sorte”, mas sim o resultado de um trabalho sério e profissional.
Abril Despedaçado pode não ter sido indicado ao Oscar. E daí? É um filme obrigatório do cinema brasileiro.
Walter Salles, director of Behind The Sun, talks about his new film and transforming novels to film.
Interviewer: The intervention of the two lovers, ... is almost sort of fairytale like, do you think that's what it takes to break the routine?
Walter Salles: You know, in the book, in Kadare's book, these two characters that intervene and give us the idea that a foreign element could help us to, you know, to somehow decode ---
Int: ...like you said about living in a fairytale, I thought that was really good, how you talked yesterday (during a Q&A with Anthony Minghella) about him being air, and she was spinning around in the air and she was also a fire-eater and a sort of fire display and there was the water, which was obviously a huge image and then the earth with the oxen going round and round and round.
Walter Salles: You know, when I read the book and when we started to do the location scouting and we did travel for at least twenty thousand miles to find the place where we wanted to shoot it, we realised that the few persons that we found in those regions, of course they were really grounded to the, you know, to the land and had a very scarce understanding of the world that was beyond those the limits of their small properties and this is one of the reasons why the film is played on the opposition between what is earthy and what is not, you know, and what is actually in a circle you cannot escape from and what doesn't have gravity and may allow you to escape from, you know, so for the scene in the robe or the existence of the book, the existence of the sea, whatever can trigger your imagination is, works in opposition to whatever grounds those characters in the same, place and do not allow them to overcome those very limits and there was a fable-like quality to this project that, that was very keen to us since the beginning and it's as if we were in what the French call huis clos, how do you translate that? It was a claustrophobic cloister, but in the open.
Int: Do you see imagination as an opposite to violence?
Walter Salles: Yes, certainly and knowledge as well, you know, this is where the book enters into the story, the possibility together, information and to be able to project, images and concepts that go beyond the limits of the ones you're normally accustomed to, you know, whatever helps you to have a more diverse and polyphonic vision of reality, I think helps to fight from off on the violence and if you, if you also accept the fact that whomever comes, whatever is foreign to you is not a menace, and if you remember in the film, the mother reacts at the fact that there's somebody crossing their lands and when they don't get mixed up with those vagrants and it's, er, um, that's the reflection of something we wanted to say in the film, is that for that family, whomever doesn't belong to that nucleus is a menace, you know, who won't agree to go beyond that.
Int: And has the author seen the film?
Walter Salles: Yes.
Int: Ismail? He has?
Walter Salles: Yes, yes, Ismail Kadare, yes, he has and actually the book was adapted twice before, once in Albania and another time fifteen, twenty years ago in France, I opted not to see the other versions and um, the interesting thing is that when he, when he saw the film, Kadare, he came to me and, and said you know, this is the most faithful adaptation of this book and yet, so many elements are different and at the end of the day, I think that when you adapt a story, when you transform literature into film, what you have to really respect is the essence of the book, more than anything else and you should be able to create a dialogue between those two forms of communication as opposed to just adapting, ipsis literis, you know, a book, you should be able to, to use it as a formidable source of inspiration and, that, that could grant you the possibility to investigate, you know, worlds that you would never be able to plunge in without that source material. I read once an interview by Kubrick where he said that he preferred to adapt books where the characters were very well defined and he didn't care too much about story, and, and then the architecture and the plot was really concerned that he didn't have on the option a book, and I can understand that, but on the other hand, if you are not moved by the story, if there's, if the story doesn't, doesn't create a resonance I think it's very difficult to move on, because the characters per se are not sufficient to justify an adaptation but I, again I can understand, I can understand his perception
Int: Did you find that the, the actors gave anything to their characters that you didn't already have in the script? And I'm mainly thinking, to be honest, of the boy who was a street actor that you found, wasn't there, and then the point where you could really see that in the film was where, it was amazing when he was behind the conical of wood and he was reading out the tales himself and creating the tale and then he had all the actions and then you know, he was amazing at that, so I didn't know whether the other actors kind of brought things that you could develop?
Walter Salles: Yeah, no, absolutely, um, you know, we, we, rehearsed for almost eight weeks, seven, seven to eight weeks, in, because there were many elements to be mastered. Well, first of all, that machine that crushes the sugar cane is a dangerous machine to operate in that in the vicinity of the place we shot there was a, a little city and um, we saw a few people without hands and, or who had lost part of their arms and we soon realised that they had in fact lost them in that very machine, and therefore as it had to be operated by the four, you know, by the whole family we spent a number of weeks making sure that they had a complete understanding and complete control of that. The second thing is that the oxen at the beginning, wouldn't respond to the father's mantra because they were used to another voice so for weeks also you had to create a situation where the animals responded to the voice of the head of the family, that took a lot of work. Little by little, whatever, for instance, the mantra the father invented to make the oxen go round was incorporated and whatever he says is actually completely non-existent in the first versions of the screenplay because that had to be invented as we went along. And then the same thing for the boy, because he had such a capacity to project himself into a completely fairytale world, you know, and we soon started to incorporate that into the screenplay. I had done a similar thing in, in Central Station where as we were on the road and when we saw the religious processions in that part of Brazil, we soon incorporated them into the film and it didn't exist in the original screenplay either and here the boy started to imitate, you know, as we went back and forth to the location and the animals were there, he started to imitate all of them and then suddenly we started to incorporate that as well, er, same thing with the fire-eater, when she started to show us what she could do, we, we immediately started to, you know, to organically incorporate those elements into the screenplay and that is really a fascinating part of our film, it's the collaborative aspect of it, you know, it's when you realise that without every single person's input, the film wouldn't be the same and this is what really makes cinema depart from most medium, is that you have to accept it's democratic quality, you know, essence in order for a film to really be alive and interesting to watch, I guess.
Int: There's one thing that I didn't quite understand the significance of, but it just really stood out in my mind - where the oxen got tired and they collapsed, but then afterwards ---
Walter Salles: They walked by themselves.
Int: Yeah, the boy said, oh, ----
Walter Salles: Yeah, the idea is that the family is just like the oxen, in a situation where they go round and round and round and they don't go anywhere, any more and that thing is just a visualisation of it, but it's heralded by another scene that comes a little bit before that, when the boy says what I mentioned to you, we're just like the oxen, we go round and round and we don't get to see anything from the outside world and in that scene, where the oxen just move by themselves, you realise that you have reached the complete illogical situation where now they're just going round and round and round and for no reason whatsoever, they're not attached any more to the machine, so it's just about the how do you say that, er, the perpetual motion without anything to justify it and this is the breaking point really for Tonio, he just realises that he has to go.
Int: One of the scenes I really liked was the swing where Tonio falls off and then they think that he is dead and also it struck me that I kind of hoped he was dead, because then it would get them out of this entire battle if he were. Then it was lovely when he wasn't, because they rolled around on the ground and that also struck me as quite earthy because the straw was covering all their backs as they rolled and rolled and rolled around and they had no problem with getting that mucky.
Walter Salles: That's also, it's a moment of relief where for the first time the family bonds in laughter and it's somehow breaks for a few moments the gravity of you know, of the piece and so therefore it was of a necessary scene, it was also fun to shoot because interestingly enough, when you shoot people laughing, it starts to be immediately contagious, and you start to laugh in front and behind the camera as well and it went on forever and ever and ever, so at one point we said OK, enough laughs, let's move on.
Int: What influence do the Greek plays have on this film?
Walter Salles: When we went to Ismail Kadare, you know, he said the best way to research, to plunge even more into this universe, is to go to Greek tragedy and if you read Aeschylus, you see that blood feuds were at the very basis of Greek tragedy and this is what I did, what I've done, I started to read them again and as I studied philosophy and I did the Baccalaureate in philosophy, I had navigated in those waters many years ago and, and it was interesting to see them and to read them and in this completely different light and it in Aeschylus, you could already find that blood feuds between families were extremely common in ancient Greece and until the seventh century, after Christ, if there was a murder, the murder was settled between families, the state didn't interfere, as it does today in all modern societies, so if a crime did occur in Greece, let's say in the second century after Christ, the matter was settled between families and either through revenging the blood or through paying a certain sum that was stipulated in talents, the talent was the Greek measure for monetary values.
Int: So did you set this film in any particular time, because I know it's meant to be universal, but was it set in any particular time?
Walter Salles: Well yes, 1910, Brazil, because this is when part of that territory that was, as I told you, the basis for many doctoral studies in Brazil and even in doctoral theses made by American historians they all concentrated on that 1910, 1950, ---
Int: Yeah of course, I remember, there was a time slide at the beginning
Walter Salles: Yeah, but it wasn't until 1950, 1960, you still found, you could still find that and again perpetrated from generation to generation and generation to generation, to a point where you didn't even know any more how it, how it started and it seemed to me interesting to incorporate a character which is the young kid's character, at one point says no, and refuses to perpetrate the cycle and that is the element that is absent, that is, that doesn't exist in the Kadare book
Int: Tonio just did it to do it
Walter Salles: Yes, yes, he had to do it, but also what struck me in the book was the idea of life broken into two, you know, the idea of a young kid who is twenty, twenty one, who's obliged to commit a crime that he doesn't really want to commit and then his life is divided into two - the twenty years that he has already lived and the few days he's got to live. And he doesn't know what the world looks like and there was a tragic poetry to that, that I felt really compelled to, and I couldn't forget it and this is one of the reasons why I opted to adapt this. Just that it was so resonant and it struck me to a point where I could not move forward and do it.
It would be easy to dismiss Behind the Sun, the tale of a Brazilian blood feud as seen through the eyes of a young boy, as yet another elegantly made, but slightly sentimental Miramax foreign-language acquisition. Like Amélie and Life Is Beautiful, Walter Salles' follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Central Station tastes of digestible exoticism, sugared with whimsy and spiced with tragedy. Constructed with a certain literary exactitude, it's reminiscent of the kind of magical-realist novels in translation (bring on the circus acts!) one finds in the world's better class of airport bookshops. Indeed, Behind the Sun was adapted from Albanian author Ismail Kadaré's novel Broken April (the film title in Portuguese is Abril despedaçado) by Salles, Sérgio Machado and Karim Aïnouz. That the story has been so easily transposed from the novel's 30s Balkans setting to the Brazilian sugar-cane badlands of 1910, where similar blood feuds were rife, testifies to its classical simplicity.
What elevates Behind the Sun is the arresting assurance of its direction. Salles and his cinematographer Walter Carvalho (who also worked on Central Station) hew exquisite chiaroscuro compositions from candle-lit interiors, balancing them with pitiless sun-bleached landscapes. (When asked what happened to the stream in his homestead's name, Stream-of-Souls, the young boy Pacu explains it's dried up; decimated by the feud, even the souls are now down to a trickle.) Pacu's brother Tonho's hunt of his prey through the crackling bush, a blur of snapping twigs and panting breath, ought to go down as one of the all-time great cinematic chase sequences. Meanwhile, the symbol of blindness and repetitive motifs suggesting the cycle of violence - swings, yoked oxen walking in circles - are deftly deployed, formalist devices that could seem lumbering or too literary in the hands of another director. Instead, Salles employs them with a frontal transparency that recalls fairy tales and folk drama.
As in Salles' last international hit, the cast here is made up of a mixture of professionals and non-professionals. The resulting quality is more varied, hardly a surprise since Behind the Sun depends more on its ensemble than the two-handed road movie that was Central Station did. For instance, circus-performer Flavia Marco Antonio is as stiff as the love interest as Solveig Dommartin was in a similar part in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. Young Ravi Ramos Lacerda, originally a street-theatre performer, ladles the pathos of Pacu's situation on a little more thickly than did total newcomer Vinícius de Oliveira as the urchin of Central Station. But with his slightly cross-eyed beauty and gentle, effete Keanu Reeves-like mein, Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Tonho, could be the next international Latin pin-up in the tradition of Antonio Banderas or Javier Bardem. If he can act in English, I suspect Harvey Weinstein has already given him a contract with Miramax.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 3:34 AM