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 BrazWes-blusocial 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 exBrazWes-01pect.

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 BrazWes-02it’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.