Tiens moi droite – Berlinale Forum 2012


Tiens moi droite | Keep Me Upright
Director: Zoé Chantre
France, 2012

Delphi Filmpalast, 13 February 2012
European Premiere

An audiovisual diary of the filmmaker’s search to find verbal and visual expression for a life with scoliosis.

Zoé Chantre combines words, pencil sketches of bodies and body parts, medical diagrams, and sounds to create a rich stream of linguistic, visual, and sonic associations to depict a curved spine.

Chantre’s drawings are evocative of Egon Schiele and Frida Kahlo, with visual metaphors of trapeze artists, spiral staircases, tornadoes, the rack, and the stake. Her animations are also brilliantly evocative, in particular one where she is eaten by a spine-snake.

We don’t see our narrator except in drawings and partial photos until halfway through the film, when we first make eye contact and gradually are introduced to a beautiful woman with a curious asymmetry, who collects hard disks from broken computers, recovering memories.

As spoken before in Forum, “None of us is perfect.” Works like this teach us that perfection is irrelevant.

Berlinale Section: Forum
Film website: zoechantre.com

Mujin chitai | No Man’s Zone – Berlinale Forum 2012


Mujin chitai | No Man’s Zone
Director: Fujiwara Toshi
Text Contributions: Jean Gruault, Marie-José Sanselme, Jon Jost, Chris Fujiwara, Dominique Lavigne, Vincent Dieutre, Isabelle Ingold, Atom Egoyan
Narrator: Arsinée Khanjian
Music: Barre Phillips
Japan, France 2012

Delphi Filmpalast, 12 February 2012
European Premiere

Mujin chitai (No Man’s Zone) is one of three films in this year’s Forum documenting the human and environmental fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant explosions following the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011.

In defiance of a 20-kilometer “security zone” established by the government, ostensibly to protect the people from radioactive contamination, filmmaker Fujiwara Toshi traveled from Tokyo to Fukushima 40 days after the initial disaster.

Toshi recalls having little knowledge or interest in the source of his electricity before the Fukushima disaster. Indeed, unlike Western countries, where nuclear plants are prominently visible icons on the landscape, Japan designs them to be unobtrusive, barely noticeable above the treetops.

Similarly, survivors seem to have been invisible in the days and weeks following the initial disaster. We learn that a month passed without earnest rescue efforts. Survival would have been much higher if the work had begun within 72 hours. Bodies were left abandoned in the open air for as long as 75 days, flouting age-old rituals of death and honor to ancestors.

Plant workers acknowledge their happiness for the prosperous life the plant gave them, while admitting a “conspiracy of silence,” when fear of losing jobs and contracts muzzled reports of problems and concerns.

Farmers and fishermen have nothing to do. Some return to feed animals and check on property.  We hear a mantra: “If there weren’t that nuclear plant.”

“In the belief that nature exists just for us humans, we accepted the nuclear plants.” Almost all the farmers around Fukushima Daiichi worked at least part-time for TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Now they are a people in forced exile.

In a beautiful mountain region 30 kilometers to the northwest of ground zero, residents have had no protection for weeks, even though their hourly dose of radiation is four or five times the levels detected in the “security zone.” Already dangerously exposed, they learn they will have to leave paradise in the coming weeks.

“Nothing looks different, so it’s hard to believe we can’t stay here….” “What’s worse – to lose your house to a tsunami, or this?…” “Lied to and betrayed….” “We are educated, cultivated people, facing loss of status….” “It’s terrible and it’s getting worse….” “Who will maintain the graves of our ancestors?”

Iitate beef was famous. Now, nature must be amputated if humans can be safe. Forests, all vegetation, the very soil, would have to be removed from these mountains.

A 95-year old woman will have to leave with her family. For 70 years, they have cultivated the land from scratch, using charcoal for heat. “We don’t even use that electricity.”

The film is dedicated to refugees, survivors, evacuees of the world.

Berlinale Section: Forum

See the trailer.

Al Juma Al Akheira – Berlinale Forum 2012


Al Juma Al Akheira | The Last Friday
Director: Yahya Alabdallah
Cast: Ali Suliman, Yasmine Al Masri, Taghreed Al Rusuq, Fadi Arida, Nadria Omran, Lara Salawa, Abdul Kareem Abu Zayad, Shadi Salah
Jordan, United Arab Emirates, 2011 (European Premiere)

Delphi Filmpalast, 12 February 2012

A middle-aged divorced father discovers that he needs to undergo an emergency operation for a twisted testicle, which he cannot afford. Having gambled away everything he earned as a successful care salesman in Amman, Yousef (Ali Suliman) lives alone in poverty, working as a taxi driver, stealing electricity from a neighbor to brew coffee and enduring his sleazy boss’s degradations and double-dealings with ironic stoicism.

Much is in motion on the eve of Yousef’s surgery. A Last Supper with Islamic background, where Friday has multiple meanings as holy day, protest day, strike day.

First, his teen-age son (Fadi Arida) comes to stay with him, hiding out from Yousef’s ex-wife (Yasmine Al Masri), now married to a powerful, invisible husband. Yousef discovers that his son is nearly illiterate, a habitual truant from his expensive private school.

On television and radio, we hear strange ideas about romance and love, where women have the upper hand, while Yousef has coffee on the veranda, playing solitaire backgammon, outside his pitifully empty bedroom.

The first Jordanian film screened at Berlinale, Al Juma Al Akheira first took form in Paris, where director-screenwriter Yahya Alabdallah studied at the International Film and Television School EICAR.

Working on a 100,000 euro budget, Alabdallah has turned in a well-written, well-acted, beautifully photographed film that casts a perceptive gaze on a society in crisis, with a focus on the drama and comedy of everyday life that will be recognizable to audiences worldwide.

Berlinale Section: Forum

Bugis Street Redux – Berlinale 2012


妖街皇后 | Yao Jie Huang Hou | Bugis Street Redux
Director: Yonfan
Cast: Hiep Thi Le, Michael Lam, Greg-O, Ernest Seah, Benedict Goh, Maggie Lye, Gerald Chen, Matthew Foo, Kelvin Lua, Lily Ong/Lily Siew Lin Ong, Godfrey Yew
Hong Kong, China 1995/2012 (European Premiere)

This beautiful restoration of a 1995 queer classic opens with a Shakespeare epigram: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“All the world’s a stage” could serve as well for this enchanting semi-documentary about the drag divas of the Sin Sin Hotel set in 1970s Singapore. Destroyed as part of urban development in the 1980s, Bugis Street had been a top tourist destination from the 1950s, when transvestites in the quarter started to attract increasing numbers of Western tourists, reaching an apex when Singapore became a major R&R stop for American sailors going to and from combat posts in Vietnam. Drop-dead gorgeous, the girls of “Boogie Street” proffered an hour of sex with an “exotic oriental” with the added allure of gender-role transgression.

We meet a lodger who enters with a sailor in tow: “A room.” “By day or hour?” “What do you think? I’m a fast worker!”

Enter 16-year-old Lian, a girl from rural Malacca, who lands at the Sin Sin to work as a chambermaid after serving a rich family in Malaysia. The brilliant Vietnamese actress Hiep Thi Le (Heaven and Earth) embodies Lian as an ingénue who adopts the trannies of Sin Sin as her family after overcoming an initial vomit-inducing sight of a lodger generously endowed with breasts and a penis. Lian comes to appreciate the unique, complex personalities of the unique community of Sin Sin largely through the efforts of Lola (Ernest Seah), a transsexual prostitute who, despite her own pressing troubles, takes Lian under her wing. “Forgive us. We are not the same as others. But we are harmless. I promise.”

Before long, Lian becomes a beloved mascot to the denizens of Sin Sin and the particular favorite of the sophisticated, mysterious Drago (Greg-O), who has descended on the hotel from Paris to visit her dying mother, with Louis Vuitton luggage, Beauté du Buste lotion, and French recipes in tow.

Bugis Street is totally incorrect – in one key scene Lian rushes to the aid of a Sin Sin lodger who is being gang raped, only to be sent away with the cry, “Let my dreams come true!” When Lian muses on the “rewards of makeup and the price to pay” and accepts that she, too, will “never be like the others”, the screen opens to show the new Singapore skyline with cranes encroaching ominously on Bugis Street.

Yonfan had the support of elite Hong Kong professionals in cinematography, editing, music and art direction, and it shows. Bugis Street Redux is glorious cinema with heart.

Berlinale Section: Panorama

Le sommeil d’or – Berlinale Forum 2012


Le sommeil d’or | Golden Slumbers
Director: Davy Chou
France, Cambodia 2011 (European Premiere)

Cambodian cinema burned brightly between 1960 and 1975, when more than 400 home-grown productions drew huge crowds to theaters in Phnom Penh and around the country. When Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime killed about a quarter of the population, including nearly all of the country’s artistic community, a Golden Age of film vanished with barely a trace. Today only 30 films survive, most on poor quality VHS and VCD formats.

In Le sommeil d’or, French-Cambodian director Davy Chou reconstructs this cinematographic legacy with an innovative mix of oral history, experimental film, and narrative poetics.

The grandson of Van Chann, one of the most important film producers of the time, Chou deploys his unique access to survivors with insight and sensitivity, transcending nostalgia and talking-head doc conventions.

Chou discussed his method in an interview with Ella Leudania of Tête-à-tête:

“What interests me is to come upon signs in the present that radiate from the past, and to try to recreate something from those traces…. I understood that what was left of this history was to be found not so much in the images, whatever their nature (photos, film clips), as in the memory of the spectators and artists who had been part of their making. So I had to give this memory a voice by turning it into a film. I wanted my film to shuttle between the interviews of survivors and witnesses and its confrontation with places rather than through images.”

Survivors of genocide recall films last seen theatrically a half-century ago with remarkable clarity, enthralling us with vivid evocations of supernatural thrillers, costume spectacles and melodramas that resonate with mythic power. As Chou explains:

“The history of this cinema has passed among different generations of Cambodians. It is a part of folklore as these movies belong to the collective Khmer imagination and are part of our parent’s cultural references.”

Le sommeil d’or opens to a nocturnal drive along bumpy dirt road, illuminated by headlights and a conversation between two men with prodigious memories of Cambodian cinema, whom we later encounter throughout the film. Slowly, we realize that we are moving backwards, as if in a time machine.

Over the next 90 minutes, we enter a privileged space where eye-witness testimony is interwoven with stills, lobby cards, soundtrack selections, and radio promo spots. Photos of Phnom Penh’s formerly grand movie palaces – numbering 30 at the apex of Cambodian cinema – are contrasted with footage of what became of them. One is a restaurant, another is a karaoke bar. The Hemacksheat, perhaps the grandest of them all, is now a leaky squat directly out of Blade Runner, where pitifully poor residents discuss favorite movies amid the ruins of cinema, remembering plot details after many years of suffering unimaginable to many of us. Even those who hadn’t seen the movies provide indirect testimonies, including a boy who knows by heart the plots of movies told to him by his mother.

Chou introduces us to what must be the entire community of Cambodian film artists who survived the Khmer Rouge, beginning with his aunt, Sohong Stehlin, who describes how her father Van Chann made his first movie in 1964, and shows us a dozen photos that are all that remain of 11 years of movie-making.

Next we meet Ly Bun Yim, a natural-born storyteller who is the beating heart of Chou’s film. The Ly brothers were perhaps the most gifted filmmakers of the period. Self-taught, inventing technique on their own with minimal means, they created surreal, fantastic movies full of miraculous signs and wonders, including 12 Sisters and Khmer After Angkor.

Overcoming his initial reluctance to participate, Yvon Hem visits the site of his Bird of Paradise film studio, which remains a vacant lot in Phnom Penh after being burnt down by the Khmer Rouge. He learned film working for French auteur Marcel Camus, who hired him as an assistant for L’oiseau de paradis. He premiered his first film at the 1969 King Sihanouk Film Festival, under the patronage of prime minister Father-King Norodom Sihanouk, an enthusiastic patron of the arts and a filmmaker himself. In a parallel to Melies’ narrative in Hugo, Yvon Hem relates his story en famille with Chou’s camera as witness.  Throughout Le sommeil d’or, we see older Cambodians telling rapt young listeners about movies they grew up with.

Chou interviews his uncle, Ly You Sreang, who lost his entire oeuvre when he and his family were sent to labor camps. Although his wife escaped to France having just given birth to their child, they lost each other in the years of his captivity. He rebuilt his life in Paris, and returned to Cambodia. Still he can recall the fantastic adventure of movie-making, despite the films that were lost before they could be seen by an audience.

Teaching a dancing and singing class, the great Cambodian actress Dy Saveth gives a marvelous account of starring in approximately 100 films, including Love and War and The Snake King’s Wife. Chou accompanies her as she reunites with villagers who served as extras, throwing stones while she was tied to a stake at a site still known as Dy Saveth Hill.

Vintage footage of a devastated Phnom Penh in 1978 precedes Ly Bun Yim’s narration of The Sea Horse, the epic film everyone was waiting for when Pol Pot marched in to the city. Ly Bun Yim is a conjuror, a majestic figure against a glorious sunset.

The final images of Le sommeil d’or are pure cinematic poetry, as squatters in the former Hemacksheat  theater gather to watch surviving clips projected on a brick wall, and together we imagine the once and future glory of Cambodian cinema.

Berlinale Section: Forum

Vathana Huy blog: Golden Age of Khmer Cinema

Update: US Distributor – Icarus Films (2013)

Kazoku no kuni – Berlinale Forum 2012


Kazoku no kuni | Our Homeland
Director: Yang Yonghi
Cast: Ando Sakura, Iura Arata, Yang Ik-June, Kyono Kotomi, Tsukayama Masane
Japan, 2012

Saturday February 11
Delphi Filmpalast (European Premier)

From December 1959 into the 1970s, the North Korean government pursued a policy to recruit Koreans living in Japan to emigrate, promising educational opportunity and an end to discrimination. More than 90,000 Koreans, many of them teenagers born in Japan, repatriated to North Korea under this policy.

Kazoku no kuni traces 40-year-old Yun Songho’s two-week sojourn with his family after being granted a rare, unofficial leave for medical treatment in Japan. Songho’s father, who had sent 16-year-old Songho alone to North Korea, has been pulling strings through the North Korean Association of Japan for several years to arrange his son’s potentially life-saving visit.

Back home for the first time in 25 years, ghostly Songho (Iura Arata) is received by his rapturous mother (Yoshiko Miyazaki), reserved father (Tsukayama Masane), and twenty-something sister Rie (Ando Sakura). Rie has never known her older brother but happily shares her bedroom in the cramped lodgings above the family’s little coffee shop.

Songho is also accompanied by a North Korean watcher, “Mr. Yang” (Yang Ik-June), who keeps the Yun family under constant surveillance from a car parked a few meters down the street from their home.

In a crucial scene, Songho makes an oblique and half-hearted attempt to enlist his sister as a spy for the North Korean government. Distraught that her refusal could cause Songho harm but furious that her brother could be compelled to betray her so cruelly, she makes her decision. The next day Rie confronts Yang, who waits her out, smoking impassively before answering her.

Acted with low-key virtuosity by the Korean actor-director Yang Ik-June (Ddongpari, 2008), Mr. Yang is the film’s most wholly realized fictional character. The Yun family is based loosely on characters already known to audiences of director-screenwriter Yang Yonghi’s previous documentaries, Dear Pyongyang and Sona, the Other Myself. For this, her first fiction feature film, Yang Yonghi has assembled a dream cast of highly regarded Japanese actors who turn in compelling and sensitive portrayals of a Korean family torn between two national ideologies.

Berlinale Section: Forum

Bagrut Lochamim – Berlinale Forum 2012


Bagrut Lochamim (Soldier/Citizen)
Director: Silvina Landsmann
Israel, 2012

Saturday February 11
Delphi Filmpalast (European Premiere)

Argentinia-born Silvina Landsmann served in the Israeli Army and studied film in Tel Aviv before moving to Paris. She heard from her brother about courses organized by the Israel Defense Forces for soldiers who had not completed their matriculation exams before being drafted, and decided to make a film.

The result is a fly-on-the-wall observation of a microcosm of Israeli society at a critical juncture, in 2006 at the end of the Lebanon war.

They enter their Civics classroom carrying their weapons and their prejudices. Before entering the program, the soldiers are warned by the commanding officer that “You will be among minorities and children” and that the program’s “success rate isn’t so good.”

The hero of the film, an amazing teacher, introduces concepts from the standard Israeli civics textbook, Being Citizens in Israel: “Tolerance,” “Pluralism,” “Human and Civil Rights.”

Trouble starts on the first day, when soldiers protest the term “Pluralism,” shouting the teacher down, saying “If you want to use that word, say it in Arabic.” For twenty minutes, we hear vile, belligerently racist comments about Palestinians that eventually expand to include Israeli “leftists”, such as their teacher, who support the human and civil rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

But we also begin to hear the soldiers’ grievances against the “penguins” – the ultra-orthodox who have descended upon Israel, enjoying full privileges of citizenship with virtually none of the responsibilities, most notably the universal requirement for military service.

As the film progresses, we realize this genius of a teacher has created a space for thought and expression, outside of the bounds of political correctness, where he can engage these young soldiers honestly and directly about fundamental human and civil rights.

One of the most fascinating discoveries of the film is that these Jewish soldiers seem to be completely ignorant of the rules of combat that emerged from the Nuremburg trials.

Since this film was shot, the clash between decent Israelis and the fanatical right wing has shot into the stratosphere. The attitudes of Landsmann’s soldiers may seem relatively tame in comparison to what observers encounter today.

We are left with pessimism about the future of Israel, modulated by profound gratitude to brilliant teachers who are committed to their students and their society.

Berlinale Section: Forum

Nuclear Nation – Berlinale Forum 2012


Nuclear Nation
Director: Funahashi Atsushi
Music: Suzuki Haruyuki, Sakamoto Ryuichi
Japan, 2012

Venue: Delphi Filmpalast (European Premiere)
Saturday Feb 11

The town of Futaba was located 3 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. Since the 1960s, the nuclear plant had been considered vital to Futaba’s development, with “nuclear money” providing 50% of revenues. In the 1980s, the plant was approaching end of service and Futaba spiraled toward bankruptcy. Katsutaka Idogawa, Futaba’s mayor, successfully lobbied to build two additional reactors to extend the life of the plant.

On 11 March 2011, the new reactors were under construction when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Fukushima, followed by a massive tsunami. A large part of Futaba was swallowed up by the sea. The next day, the surviving townspeople heard a deafening hydrogen explosion and were showered with nuclear fallout. Mayor Idogawa evacuated the entire town, making the residents nuclear refugees.

The mayor and some 1,400 Futaba residents were eventually relocated to an abandoned high school in Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo. Their hometown was legally designated an exclusion zone by the Basic Act on Disaster Control Measures and going back is now against the law.

Nuclear Nation takes us through the following 10 months, chronicled by season, focusing on Mayor Idogawa and two families living in First Floor Art Room of former Saitama High School: a father and son who live with the inconsolable regret of not having had enough time to search for their still-missing wife and mother; a three-generation family who remain close despite separations and permanent uprooting.

Mayor Idogawa saved his fellow citizens from enormous health hazards by making the decision to evacuate within 42 hours of the tsunami. And in contrast to the incompetence and arrogance of higher officials, as shown by the film, Idogawa-san tries to rectify his past misjudgments and fight for the survival of Futama.

These are people with nothing left, who must line up for everything – food, medical care, a weekly bath. Women whose hair color slowly grows out to grey as they meditate on the loss of family members and share their concern for abandoned pets. Peeling the skin off octopus before eating, which they never had to do before. The worry that things could get worse. And the constant refrain, “If there weren’t the power plant…”

A child’s note: “Please make it so we can safely live our lives.”

Mayor Idogawa meets with an association of nuclear host municipalities, previous boosters of nuclear power, to petition the government for protection and support. High government officials say a few words, then leave before subordinates open the floor for the mayors’ comments.

After four months, some families obtain temporary return permits to gather belongings. Two adults for two hours. Lists of what to get. They board a charter bus, don protective clothing and radiation monitors. The lucky ones, those whose houses are more than a mere foundation, gather and bag belongings before the meditative ride back, past the sign,

“A Prosperous Future for the Birthplace of Nuclear Energy.”

The significance of few recovered possessions. A wedding DVD with a deceased daughter-in-law, a beloved jacket, a pair of comfortable shoes.

Survival as protest

The film-makers encounter cattle on the road, and find the owner. “I had 30 hectares for 300 cows, now I let them wander. It took me a long time to find meaning in this. Now I’m committed to letting these cows live. I couldn’t let them starve.” He leads the film-makers to document horrific images of mummified carcasses of cows abandoned to starve under government orders. “No water, no food, a month before they died. The worst way to go.”

December 2011: the government declares “Nuclear Crisis Over.”

January 2012: the government requests that towns like Futaba serve as a dumping ground for radioactive waste. Pressured to approve, Mayor Idogawa asks: “Are you thinking of us as citizens? Are we still protected by the law?

There are still more than 60,000 people taking refuge outside Fukushima prefecture, including more than 600 still living at the former Saitama high school.

“Refugee feeling. Getting old, doing nothing. Not doing anything takes a lot out of you.”

In the summer of 2011, the towns gathered in Tokyo for a day of protest in the streets. The protest continues, and this film is a part of it.

Berlinale Section: Forum
Visit the film website

Hiver nomade – Berlinale Forum 2012


Hiver nomade (Winter Nomads)
Director: Manuel von Stürler
Switzerland, 2012

Venue: Delphi Filmpalast
Friday, 10 February 2012

“The sheep have a short but very nice life.”

Over a dark screen, we hear winter wind; boots on snow. Sheep, dogs, donkeys emerge. “Excitement is in the air.”

Pascal Eguisier, 54, and his assistant Carole Noblanc, 28, prepare to head through Switzerland on Pascal’s thirty-third, and Carole’s sixth, winter transhumance – an ancient seasonal movement of people and livestock.

Pascal was trained by Italian Bergamask shepherds, and now he trains Carole, the only woman in Switzerland and maybe in Europe to experience the winter transhumance. They met while Carole was hiking in the Swiss Alps.

Beautifully photographed and with an exquisite sensibility for sound, Hiver nomade is the first feature-length film from director Manuel von Stürler, a musician and composer.

The team’s journey starts in a driving snowstorm (unseasonably early), with the incredibly loud noise of autos on the highway.

Carole leads Irmate the bellwether with dry bread and chocolate. “When the sheep hear the tinkling, they do what they have always done: they follow!” Carole guides 800 sheep as Pascal brings up the rear.

They make their camps under the open sky, accept wine and pizza from kind farmers, and an occasional evening indoors for a shower and a hot meal. They abide visitors who want to share their campfire when the weather is pleasant, and even the farmers who don’t want sheep on their land.

Special skills and qualities are needed to do this work, and the candidates are few. One needs physical strength, intuition, a good voice, and the social and psychological skill to deal with the animals and all the people encountered on a four-month, 600-km journey with a huge flock of sheep.

One more year, and a success. “The transhumance went well. Let’s give thanks with wine as Mongolians do with milk.” A toast to Irmate, Tobasco, and a new bellwether, Marilyn.

Perhaps this film will help realize Pascal’s dream, of joining the Nenet people of Siberia to follow a transhumance of reindeer beyond the Arctic Circle.

“I’ve chosen freedom, I travel light, I own nothing and I have no banker breathing down my neck. My greatest wealth is living in nature, waking up in the morning and beholding the sky and the Moon.”

Success to Carole, who will now take a break “traveling and making soap to sell in markets… for a bit of solitude after years of having too much social life in the transhumance and the mountains.”

And success to Jean Paul Peguiron, the boss, who has decided to support an old tradition that earns barely any profit beyond what he could earn by fattening his lambs in a stable, and who is worried about his economic survival. (Witness the film Sweetgrass [Berlinale Forum 2009], which documents the last sheep drive into Montana’s Beartooth Mountains, a casualty of the hard economic reality of declining sales of domestic lamb in the United States.)

Berlinale Section: Forum (European Premiere)

Visit the film website: www.hivernomade.ch

Xingu – Berlinale 2012


Watch This Film

Director: Cao Hamburger
Cast: João Miguel (Claudio Villas Boas), Felipe Camargo (Orlando Villas Boas), Caio Blat (Leonardo Villas Boas), Maiarim Kaiabi (Prepori), Awakari Tumã Kaiabi (Pionim), Adana Kambeba (Kaiulu), Tapaié Waurá (Izaquiri), Totomai Yawalapiti (Guerreiro Kalapalo), Maria Flor (Marina)
Music: Beto Villares
Brazil, 2011

Spoiler alert. But this is history.

1943. Brazil undertakes “The March to the West,” a state-led project to settle and develop the nation’s hinterland. Three brothers – Orlando, Claudio, and Leonardo Villas-Bôas – join the project as peons, hiding their education, “seeking freedom in the wild.”

The brothers soon discover that the unoccupied territories have owners – starting with the Xingu, who launch a coordinated psycho-ops attack on the invaders, engaging them in a battle of nerves.

“They’re going to kill us, and we can’t kill them back…. Let’s get out of their land.”…
“We’re going to have to talk to them sooner or later.”

The brothers negotiate with the Xingu to achieve the goals of the Brazilian government, first to build an airstrip. But when half the population dies of an influenza epidemic brought by the whites, the brothers realize their true vocation and devote their lives to protecting the indigenous owners of the forests.

“We’ll be the poison and the antidote.”

Gaining celebrity in the forest, the “Villas-Bôas” are next sought out by the Caibi tribe, who are being massacred by rubber plantation owners. The germ of an idea for a national park emerges – a big piece of land to isolate Indians from contact with white people. At first, the Xingu don’t want other tribes. But the brothers win the Xingu over, arguing “We must work together.”

“Indians have never lived in borders, but this is the best bet.”

The Indians strike a bargain with the government, to help establish a military base in Cachibo Mountains in exchange for a large tract of land where whites cannot kill Indians. Betrayal ensues, necessitating the expulsion of white settlers from Indian lands by force. In the end, two million hectares, an area larger than Belgium, are set aside in 1961 – Parque Nacional Xingu (Xingu National Park), with the twin objectives of protecting the environment and the indigenous populations of the area. In 1984, Brazil ceded control of the park to the Indians.

May you see this film in a theater well suited to the spectacular cinematography and sound.

Berlinale Section: [Panorama Special]