Almost Brothers

7 November 2005
Almost Brothers  (Quase Dois Irmãos)
Monday 31st October, 16.00, NFT2

Where are all the female characters in Brazilian cinema? The best the festival has come up with so far is Estamira, Marco Prado’s schizophrenic prophetess of a Rio refuse heap.

Amost Brothers fails to buck the recent trend in Brazilian films – from City of God  to Carandiru  – of strong male characters clashing in world’s dominated by men and traditional masculine methods of conflict – guns, violence and yet more guns. The female characters are pushed to the margins and the gender gap is only explored in the most basic – and often brutal – terms.   

Lucia Murat’s response in the question and answer session after the screening was to say that, in the military dictatorship and today in the urban favelas, it was and remains within such male dominated environments that games of power were / are played out. It is these games and their effects upon relationships and society that her film focuses on.  

Almost Brothers ambitiously captures 50 years of Brazilian history through the lives of two men from either side of the class and ethnic divide. Connected through their fathers’ relationship as samba musician and manager, childhood friends Miguel and Jorge meet again in prison during the military dictatorship (1964-85). The political struggles of the prisoners is cut between the character’s childhood years and the present day in which Miguel, now a government minister, meets Jorge in his jail cell from which he directs his favela drugs operation via mobile phone.

Murat has created a rich and complex film and one that I would love to see again. The main narrative follows Miguel’s political struggle to create a ‘collective’ where everyone is equal in opposition to the authoritarian regime that has imprisoned him for his political views. When new prisoners refuse to join the community the socialist dream deteriorates and his ideological beliefs are torn in two directions. Miguel moves towards elitism, excluding those who disagree by building a wall between political prisoners and the common prisoners who become led by Jorge into a new authoritarianism where nonconformity is punished by violence.    

The wall becomes the symbol of the film, a metaphor for the barriers that have divided three generations of Brazilian society. The film’s epigrammatical thread – “we all have two lives, the one we live and the one we dream” – is woven throughout the three time periods and Murat focuses on the gaps that divide people, from class and economics, to race and prejudice.

With interweaving time periods and some superb editing the film continually draws connections between the aspirations of the past and their application in the present with the lesson that “the life we dream establishes the life we have”. The drug gangs of the favelas, for example, are shown to have adopted a depoliticised version of the socialist organisation of the 1970s. Following Fred’s daughter as she continually enters the favela against the wishes of her parents, Murat also reveals the generational divides and the changing borders of prejudice and connections being forged between the young people on either side of the class divide.

Throughout the making of the film Murat tried to bridge these gaps, combining voices of the poor communities and middle class by writing a collaborative script with City of God author Paulo Lins. The film was also cast by visiting community theatres in poor districts and training amateurs with professional actors who together chose and developed the characters of film.

These efforts are small sparks of resistance in a film that offers little hope in its conclusions. Only the ever present music and rhythms of samba it seems have the power to bridge these divides. Nana Vasconcelos’ score energises the film’s dark materials and crosses over the boundaries of time. In one fantastic scene – a clear echo of the Brazilian novelist Graciliano Ramos – Miguel, sitting in solitary confinement, begins a slow samba beat with his hands. One in shadow, one in light, the hands brush past each other blurring together as the rhythm increases, black and white symbolically merging as one. His fellow inmates join him in a samba song that unites the inmates in a communal and nationalistic endeavour.  

Under everything though, it is perhaps economics that ultimately continues to divide people and whole communities. In response to Miguel’s judgement that “we both lost”, Jorge comments, “but you lost in a nice way”, pointing to his house, his car and his education as evidence of the many walls between the people (or, the men) of Brazil.
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