Behind the Sun
Abril Despedaçado
review by Elias Savada, 28 December 2001

The Brazilian badlands of 1910 are the setting of Walter Salles' stunning new film Behind the Sun (Abril Despedaçado), another Oscar-caliber entry from the director of Central Station. Veteran producer Arthur Cohn, cinematographer Walter Carvalho, and a good many other crew and some cast members return for another spiritual South American journey of brutish discovery. Carvalho's intoxicating cinematography compliments Salles' disturbing tale of a Hatfield-McCoy dispute between two warring families, and one son's plight to break free of the social demons that have decimated their family trees and rotted its roots. Nothing good comes of the revenge-filled situation -- much like the decades-old battle between the Arabs and Israelis in the Middle East -- and casualties, albeit limited in their demand, are expected. This viciously simple calendar of predictable murder is based on the changing color of a blood-stained shirt blowing in the wind; each succeeding mortal payback follows a strict ritual timetable. Sure it's disturbing, especially watching the film through today's more civilized eyes, praying that this mesmerizing microcosm of man's futility might recognize the need to switch from its "eye-for-an-eye" destructive mentality to a more enlightening "enough is enough."

Salles, who read the underlying novel by Albanian author Ismael Kadaré in the award-winning aftermath of Central Station's release, became obsessed in adapting the book to the screen (and switching the cultural backdrop from Europe to his native Brazil), forcing other commitments to drop along the production roadside. In the move across an ocean, Salles borrowed amply from the ancient Greek tragedies, especially the work of Aeschylus, in broadening the families' misfortunes into a fable involving the closely knit relationship of two brothers searching for hope amid the cultural chaos.

In the darkness that begins the film, the silhouette of a ten-year-old "kid" (Ravi Ramos Lacerda) walks the countryside, announcing in his narration that he has finally been given a name, Pacu, the only gift he has probably ever received in a dreary life spent working with a spiteful, iron-fisted father (José Dumont), soft-spoken mother (Rita Assemany) and twenty-year-old brother/best friend Tonho (Rodrigo Santoro) forever growing, cutting, and crushing sugar cane in a desolate region of the country, far from the industrial revolution -- "in the middle of nowhere, behind the sun."

The harshness of the days segue into several nightmarish visions that reveal the senseless, death-before-dishonor of Inácio Breves (Caio Junqueira), the oldest brother, at the hands of the feuding Ferreira family. The reluctant realization of an unbroken chain of death drags Pacu and Tonho into a depressing spiral that they recognize will permanently destroy their previous relationship. As the neighboring Ferreira clan mourns the ensuing Breves' retribution -- wherein Salles prolongs the double agony of death from both sides as a mortally wounded member of the Ferreira family, a dutiful father, crawls through the dust toward a horrified Tonho -- the Ferreira patriarch calls a unenthusiastic (at least to the rest of his kin) month-long truce.

As the noose tightens around his neck, Tonho discovers love in Clara (Flavia Marco Antonio, a member of the Picolino School of Circus Arts), a striking young fire eater and sideshow artiste who travels into a nearby town to entertain the locals. Her relationship with Salustiano (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos), a co-performer, proves mysterious to the Breves brothers, both smitten by her beauty, adding a sensuous edge to the second half of the film. She ultimately provides the key to salvation, to breaking the cycle of death, symbolically reflected in a black armband worn by Tonho that proclaims him a marked man.

Behind the Sun is a glorious revelation. This is also one of the year's best photographed films, Cavalho's camera capturing enthralling scenes of darkness, sunlight, and, in the film's climax, a drenching downpour. His work alone is worth the price of admission. Add to that an engrossing story, Salles' determined direction, Antonio Pinto's poetic score, and the subtly realistic performances by the entire cast, especially the young Lacerda, graduating from street theater to a tremendously genuine feature debut, and the tempestuous Antonio, critics -- and audiences -- will welcome this to their top ten lists.

Directed by:
Walter Salles

José Dumont
Rodrigo Santoro
Rita Assemany
Luíz Carlos VasconcelosFlavia Marco Antonio
Ravi Ramos Lacerda

Written by:
Walter Salles
Sérgio Machado
Karim Aïnouz

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.





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