Friday, May 7, 2010

The Middle of the World

I believe I've said many times before that I have never seen a bad Brazilian movie. I'm not sure if it was luck, a deep pool of talent, or just good selection for the films that leave the country, but I've been impressed by pretty much the entirety of their cinematic output until now. So, I'm not sure if I should be thrilled or disappointed that, for the first time ever, I've seen a Brazilian movie that I can't get behind, one I dare say is even, well, bad. The Middle of the World is a film I knew had to exist, being that no country is perfect, and even the best directors in the world have laid down some true stinkers in their time.

Immediately, however, I'm going to lessen the impact by saying that there are some very good things about this piece. It's beautifully shot, which makes me wonder if Brazil is somehow just really kind to film cameras and it's impossible to shoot a film badly there. The soundtrack is also excellent, and I was tempted to seek out several songs on it for my personal collection. There are good things here in both visuals and audio.

Given that it's a pretty film, it's clear that the problem has to be of a script based nature. The story, of a family bicycling across Brazil so the father of the household - or bikehold? - can find a job suitable for supporting them isn't necessarily bad on paper. In the mix is a bit of light teenage rebellion on the part of Antonio (Ravi Ramos Lacerda), who is discovering girls and that his father (Wagner Moura) is kind of an idiot - more on that later - and that he is finally blossoming into a real man, which is partially told through his ease of smoking cigarettes, which might make anti-tobacco activists rather unhappy. Also in the mix is Rose (Cláudia Abreu), who manages to bicycle, raise five kids and actually be somewhat useful to keeping the family alive in spite of not having a backbone for the majority of the picture.

So, of course, my problem rests on the shoulders of the father, Romao. Wagner Moura is a good actor, he's done a fantastic job in a number of films. Even here he manages to bring sympathetic qualities to a mostly unsympathetic character. Romao is stubborn, stupid, and a bit of an egoist. He searches in vain for a job that pays enough to feed his family, wandering from town to town on a fool's errand, not taking any job he sees as below his station. Until he finds that magical job, who makes the money to keep his family together? Well, not him, it's the rest of the family that works hard and keeps them from going hungry. Plus, when they find chances to make some and settle down, he makes them get on their bikes again, in search of his mythical job. He is essentially biking away from his responsibility, instead of confronting it. He's got pride, but is a coward.

He's also the core of the film, which is unfortunate since with such an unlikable character at the center it becomes difficult to get behind the journey. If the family was forced to move on due to circumstance as opposed to bald faced stupidity, it might have worked, but as is, not so much.

There's also the problem of the story of the kid. Lacerda is not as good an actor as Moura, and his quiet rebellion gets crowded out by Moura's dominating screen presence. He's just not a compelling enough personality to get any of the spotlight. A stronger kid in the same role could have contended a bit better, and had the conflict of personalities mean something. As is, they don't, and it's weakens the film as a whole.

Great sound and image do not a great film make, and while those elements work the film as a whole does not. It's a shame really, since I was hoping that Brazil's winning streak would continue. As it happens, they merely have a batting average much better than most countries, and that can't be discounted.

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