Review: ‘The Tree and the Water’

Based on actual events, this tale of a grass roots political effort in rural Brazil combines straightforward storytelling and a light-handed lyricism for a result that's both pleasing and effective. Though its didactic aims are clear, pic's avoidance of stolid preachiness should help win it many supporters on the international fest circuit.

Based on actual events, this tale of a grass roots political effort in rural Brazil combines straightforward storytelling and a light-handed lyricism for a result that’s both pleasing and effective. Though its didactic aims are clear, pic’s avoidance of stolid preachiness should help win it many supporters on the international fest circuit.

Framing story opens in Rio de Janeiro when Jocelia, a young law student working in a hostel for the homeless, encounters a man who was once a brutal enforcer in her native village. Their meeting prompts her to recall the events that marked the beginning of the end for the regime he represented.

When the tale flashes back a decade, the villagers of Marcacao, in northeastern Brazil, are seen to be victimized at every turn. Children as well as adults labor in the cane fields under the harshest conditions, and are routinely cheated by the man who controls the trade in fresh crabs, their only other source of income. To make matters worse, the local bosses force them to pay for water from the village’s communal tap.

Change arrives in the form of a young nun whom the local kids take to immediately. Her simple home soon becomes a meeting place and focal point for their nascent political activism. While the nun offers little in the way of leadership or radical urgings, her mere presence seems to have a catalytic effect, inspiring the young people to mount a campaign for free water.

Their steady determination paves the way for victories, suggesting that, in many such cases, a simple ability to organize for positive change can work wonders.

Message aside, pic has the winning air of a gentle, good-humored folk tale, with ample regional flavor suffusing the locales, understated handling by helmer Jussara Queiroz and nice perfs from what’s presumably a non-pro cast. Tech credits are OK.

The Tree and the Water

(BRAZILIAN-GERMAN)

Production

Produced, directed by Jussara Queiroz. Screenplay, Queiroz, Luelanc Loiola, Wolf Gauer, based on the book "Children in Action" by Father Reginaldo Veloso.

Crew

Camera (color), Tuker Marcal, Nelio Ferriera; editor, Loiola. Severino Dada; music, Geraldo Brandan; sound, Joaquim Santana, Aluisio Compasso. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (noncompeting), Aug. 30, 1995. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

With: Marcelia Cartaxa, Jurandir de Oliveira, Soia Lira, Fernando Merces, Fernando Teixeira, Eneas Alvarez, Joao Valenca, Damar Marvid.
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