One of the most beautiful aspects of filmmaking as an art form is that the best examples of it transcend national and cultural barriers. There are certain archetypal characters and premises that will resonate with everyone, no matter where they live. If you’re a smart filmmaker, you can tap into those archetypal elements and combine them with your own cultural concerns in a way that lends them a fresh voice. Brazilian Western provides a solid example of how this can be done: though it distinctly reflects the atmosphere and social concerns of the titular country, it’s built on timeless storytelling conceits that any non-Brazilian film fan can relate to.
The plot was inspired by a famous Brazilian song with the same title: Joao (Fabricio Boliviera) travels to the big city to find his fortune after his mother passes away. He falls in with Pablo (Cesar Trancoso), a distant relative who happens to be a small-time drug kingpin. He dispatches Joao to move some marijuana in the city for him and Joao quickly runs afoul of big-time dealer Jeremia (Felipe Abib), who works with the protection of corrupt cop Marco (Antonio Calloni). While dodging them, Joao crosses paths with Maria (Isis Valverde), a gorgeous politician’s daughter who falls for Joao’s stoic persona. She’s also someone who Jeremias covets so the stage is soon set for a combination of gangster movie theatrics and romantic tragedy.
Anyone slightly familiar with crime melodramas will recognize these story beats but they’re also likely to be impressed by how Brazilian Western handles them. The script by Victor Atherino and Marcos Bernstein is careful to couch these narrative conceits in the distinctive Brazilian setting, using them to subtly but pointedly comment on social concerns like rampant police corruption and the racism towards darker-skinned citizens that affects both rural and metropolitan areas of the country. The crime elements dovetail with these themes in a way that gives them more resonance than you might expect.
It also helps that director Rene Sampaio directs Brazilian Western in a way that focuses on the characters and their setting over pushing commercial crime-flick concerns. He’s very attentive to atmosphere, deftly using gorgeous, naturally-lit cinematography from Marcio Hashimoto Soares to capture both the beauty and the grit of the storyline and an understated rock score. He’s capable of stylizing nicely when the story demands it — like a genuine spaghetti western-style standoff at the finale — but is also capable of bringing a delicate intimacy to the romantic scenes.
Finally, the performances are solid. Boliviera offsets his character’s stoic pose with a smoldering intensity that he expresses via his eyes and Valverde has a likeable earthiness and humor that lends dimension to her starcrossed love interest role. Abib gives a hammy performance but it’s the right kind of hammy, one that suits the make-the-audience-boo villainy his role requires, and Calloni offsets Abib’s approach by underplaying his sleazy cop role in a matter-of-fact way that makes the performance stick.
In short, Brazilian Western does well by its archetypal crime flick elements by giving them an emotional depth and a social consciousness that is likely to remind film buffs why they respond to this kind of story.
Blu-Ray Notes: Brazilian Western recently received a U.S. release from Shout! Factory in a blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The transfer on both discs does well by the film’s rich cinematography, with the blu-ray really making the colors and the fine details pop. Both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks are provided, with English subtitles and in lossless form on the blu-ray. The 5.1 track was listened to for this review and its nicely immersive without being too showy in its use of sound. Extras include two trailers and a 25 minute making-of piece in which the filmmakers discuss the challenges of adapting a song into a full storyline and the actors offers their takes on their roles.