Mark Reviews Movies



3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Daniela Thomas

Cast: Adriano Carvalho, Luana Tito Nastas, Roberto Audio, Sandra Corveloni, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha, Vinicius Dos Anjos, Jai Baptista, Fabrício Boliveira

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 1/12/18 (limited); 2/2/18 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 1, 2018

There is no way that the story of Vazante, about a drover in the mountains of Brazil in the early-19th century, could end well. The genuine shock is how badly and horrifically it does end for all of these characters.

It's shocking, not because we don't expect it, but because of how co-writer/director Daniela Thomas lulls us into a state of complacency. There are horrors here before the film's finale, but they are not horrors to the characters. On the one hand, there's António (Adriano Carvalho), the cattle herder who lives on a fine estate in the rural, wooded mountains. His life is one of relative ease, since he has a few dozen slaves who do most of the work in and around his home.

He doesn't recognize the inhumanity of his actions, because such is the way of life for wealthy farmers and miners in this place in 1821. There's a telling scene of him lying his hammock, as a black man in servitude to the rancher places shingles on the roof to block out the sun from bothering António's relaxation. The man cannot even take a nap without the aid of other people—people that he doesn't even regard as members of humanity.

On the other hand, of course, there are the slaves on the farm, who once knew that this state of existence was unjust. By the time we're introduced to the workings of the estate, though, this is the only life they've known for so long that it is, simply, a way of life. Near the start of the story, António has purchased some new slaves for the farm. They engage in acts of rebellion, while the other forced laborers on the farm watch with anxiety. There is nothing to be done here, and they know that the fate of the new slaves is simply to be "broken," as they once were, or death.

The film begins and ends in tragedy, and if there's a flaw in the screenplay by Thomas and Beto Amaral, it's in maintaining António's perspective in the final moments. The first tragedy, in which the drover's wife and child die during childbirth, is an act of fate. The final one is the direct result of António's actions. The film gives him the final word, such as it is, but in no just order of things does he deserve that.

We can ignore or forgive that final moment, if only because Thomas and Amaral so firmly establish that António is the villain here. He's so monstrous because he doesn't recognize his own faults, and his final actions are so horrifying because he truly believes he is justified in taking them.

After the death of his wife and newborn child, António falls into a state of depression. He wanders off into the mountains, leaving his brother-in-law Bartholomeu (Roberto Audio) and his family to take care of the business of the farm. Bartholomeu was once wealthy, thanks to a gem mine he ran, but the mining is finished now.

He, his wife (played by Sandra Corveloni), and his two daughters are impoverished, and his sister's possessions have gone toward her dowry after her death. Additionally, while António was gone, Bartholomeu lost some slaves and mules, leaving him indebted to his brother-in-law. The repayment, as it happens, becomes Bartholomeu's younger daughter Beatriz (Luana Tito Nastas). António decides to marry the girl—the prepubescent niece of his deceased wife, to put a fine point on it.

None of this changes much. António still lives on the estate, alone with a wife with whom he cannot consummate a marriage, a mother-in-law (played by Juliana Carneiro da Cunha) who has lost her mind since the untimely death of her daughter, and a business that seems doomed to fail. His one possibility of salvation, ironically, arrives in the form of Jeremias (Fabrício Boliveira), a freedman who is certain that he can transform António's barren land into a place where corn and sugar cane can grow.

The perspective of the slaves is left primarily to a duo: a mother named Feliciana (Jai Baptista) and her son Virgilio (Vinicius Dos Anjos). There isn't much to their characters, save for the fact that António regularly calls Feliciana into the house, coercing her to have sex with him, and that Virgilio takes pity on Beatriz. The relationship between the boy and the new mistress of the house becomes something of an open secret, unknown to António, because he leaves for long stretches for work, and unspoken by the slaves, in order to prevent any retaliation. In fairness, there isn't much to the other characters, either. They exist as cogs in this system, unable and/or unwilling to do anything to upset the order of the machine.

The film is mostly about these routines, and through them, we come to understand the oppressive nature of this place. The routine itself is the primary form of oppression, and the primary response to it is silence. There are multiple shots of these despondent faces and stretches of grueling work or useless inactivity. Even Jeremias, who has experienced being a slave, has become part of the system in order to maintain his own way of life—binding António's new slaves to a tree or shackling them outside.  It's a place with little to no hope.

By the end, there is none. Everyone is broken by the end of Vazante. It's the fault of António, first and foremost. The reason the final moments, which stay with the character despite his actions, feel slightly false is because it turns him into a victim of sorts. Considering the nature of the system of which he is a part, that is, perhaps, not entirely inaccurate.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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