Rodrigo Santoro in Abril Despedaçado (2001)

BEHIND THE SUN (Abril Despedaçado)

(director/writer: Walter Salles; screenwriters: Karim Ainouz/Sérgio Machado/from the novel “Broken April”by Ismaïl Kadaré; cinematographer: Walter Carvalho; editor: Isabelle Rathery; music: Ed Cortês/Antonio Pinto/Beto Villares; cast: José Dumont (Father, Breves), Rodrigo Santoro (Tonho), Rita Assemany (Mother), Ravi Ramos Lacerda (Pacu), Luís Carlos Vasconcelos (Salustiano), Flavia Marco Antonio (Clara), Everaldo Pontes (Old Blind Man), Caio Junqueira (Inacio); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Arthur Cohn; Miramax Films; 2001-Brazil / France / Switzerland)

“A family blood feud between neighbors over land in the rural sugarcane fields of the Brazil of 1910.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Brazilian Walter Salles’s fairy-tale-like story, a follow-up to Central Station (1998). It’s an unpleasant formal piece about the never ending circle of violence following a family blood feud between neighbors over land in the rural sugarcane fields of the Brazil of 1910. This beautifully filmed story is adapted from the novel by the Albanian Ismaïl Kadaré. The message of the parable is only a too obvious one, of how futile it is to keep seeking revenge and of the redeeming power of self-sacrificing love.

The precocious 10-year-old Pacu (Lacerda), the teller of the story via flashback, is the little brother of Tonho (Santoro). The 20-year-old Tonho is ordered by his stern father (Dumont), the head of the Breves clan, to kill his neighbor’s son to avenge the death of Tonho’s older brother Inacio. There’s a truce for a month, but when the blood has turned yellow –which means the dried blood on his victim’s shirt turns yellow in the sun and the next full moon appears, the truce is over.

This bloodshed is carried on by the patriarchs of both the Breves and Ferreira families in a ritualistic manner, as they feel to not take revenge would mean the loss of honor for their families. The cycle of revenge is followed by the rigid and stern father of Pacu without a thought that there could be any other alternative, so that he has not given his youngest son a name and is just called Kid. He receives the name Pacu from a visiting itinerant circus performer, Salustiano (Vasconcelos), who names him after a river fish. The shaggy looking circus performer’s traveling companion is the attractive Clara (Antonio), who is a fire-eater. She gives Pacu a book to read about mermaids, which the kid values very dearly as it opens up his imagination.

After Tonho revenges his brother’s death, the old blind patriarch (Pontes) of the Ferreira clan orders a truce until the blood turns yellow. The handsome Tonho helps his hardworking mother (Assemany) and father just try to scrape by in their austere life. He helps cut down the sugar cane and process it for sale in town. But the town merchant tells them with the invention of the steam machine the price of sugar keeps falling and the old way of doing it by hand is about to become extinct. Ultimately, this is a film about letting go of the past wrongs and learning how to live in the modern world.

Tonho’s sheltered life changes when he attends the circus and falls in love with Clara. It is this contact with the outside world that influences the brothers to see if they can get in step with the modern and changing world, and see if their family cycle of violence can end. The politically correct message was not enough of a reason for me to care much for this rather dullish arthouse pic. The harshness of the story is relieved only by the gorgeous photography of Walter Carvalho, and the attractiveness of Antonio (a real circus performer who is now studying acting) and the heartthrob Santoro.