With his wife and five children in tow, an unemployed truck driver determined to make a better life for his brood takes off across northern Brazil on four bicycles. Immersion in contempo Brazil and pic's fundamentally kind heart will earn it fest berths and critical approbation, though success outside of territories familiar with cultural nuances reps a challenge.

With his wife and five children in tow, an illiterate, unemployed truck driver determined to make a better life for his brood takes off across northern Brazil on four bicycles in the culture-steeped road movie “The Middle of the World.” Immersion in contempo Brazil and pic’s fundamentally kind heart will earn it fest berths and critical approbation, though theatrical success outside of territories familiar with cultural nuances reps more of a challenge.

In the northeastern state of Paraiaba, Romao (Wagner Moura) and his wife Rose (Claudia Abreu) are in the process of pedaling across five states — some 2,000 miles — eastward toward Rio de Janeiro. Romao’s goal is to find a job — any job — that will pay him an arbitrarily-set monthly salary of least a thousand reals (about $400).

Along the way they encounter the many faces of contempo Brazilian culture and endure a rebellion by their oldest child, the teenaged Antonio (Ravi Ramos Lacerda).

Pic, which is based on a true story, makes it clear early on that Romao’s intentions are noble and that his family unit, despite the occasional squabbles, is a solid one. Drama therefore must spring from quixotic nature of enterprise and scrapes which they get themselves into and out of. Success of this is mixed, as sweeping vistas and picturesque locations can only go so far.

Debuting helmer Vicente Amorim, who is a vet assistant director (“Moon Over Parador”) and documaker (“Too Much Brazil”), provides a determined forward movement, which, while lacking in cultural explanation, gives the saga uplift and punch.

Between them, Moura and Abreu have appeared in many of contempo Brazil’s highest profile pics (they’re both in “The Man of the Year”), and their work here is solid and appealing. Young Ramos Lacerda, who debuted in “Behind the Sun,” is appropriately unruly as the headstrong Antonio. Other moppets, chosen from among a thousand northeastern tykes, provide authentic background.

Tech credits are polished under what look to be challenging conditions (pic was shot over eight weeks on authentic, extremely hot, northeastern locations). Upbeat tempo is set by peppy soundtrack, which mixes composer Andre Abujamra’s self-described “prokofnian” score with eight songs from popular Brazilian musician Robert Carlos (to whom pic is dedicated). Original Portuguese title translates as the more evocative “The Road to the Clouds.”

The Middle of the World

Brazil

Production

A Buena Vista Intl. release (in Brazil) of a Miravista, Globo Filmes, Riofilme, Megacolor, Quanta, Lereby production. (International sales: L.C. Barreto, Rio de Janeiro.) Produced by Lucy Barreto, Luiz Carlos Barreto. Executive producer, Paula Barreto. Directed by Vicente Amorim. Screenplay, David Franca Mendes.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm), Gustavo Hadba; editor, Pedro Amorim; music, Andre Abujamra; production designer, Jean Louis Leblanc; costume designer, Cristina Kangussu; sound (Dolby Digital), Cristiano Maciel. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vida de Novo: The New Brazilian Cinema), Sept. 10, 2003. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Claudia Abreu, Wagner Moura, Ravi Ramos Lacerda, Manoel Sebastiao Alves Filho, Felipe Newton Silva Rodrigues.

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