Two friends from opposite sides of the tracks in Brazil endure 50 years of political and social upheaval in the dauntingly ambitious and needlessly complex drama “Almost Brothers.” Latest socially charged outing from journo-turned-helmer Lucia Murat has an urgent sincerity, but pic’s sprawling and often confusing narrative will make it a tough sell outside territories either familiar with, or motivated to learn about, recent Brazilian history.
In 1957, Miguel’s (Caco Ciocler) father, a white liberal musicologist, tracks down a talented black samba musician, who has a son named Jorge (Flavio Bauraqui). Despite the social and economic chasm between them, the boys become friends. At the time of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, their bond is put to the test during Jorge’s decade-long incarceration in the racially charged Ilha Grande prison.
In 2004, Miguel (now played by Werner Schueneman), who has become an optimistic politician, visits Jorge (now played by Antonio Pompeo), who is now an incarcerated drug lord, with a proposition to fight gang activity in the slums. At the same time, Miguel’s daughter Juliana (Maria Flor) starts hanging out with the young, heavily armed thugs Jorge still controls by cell phone from prison. As they grapple with their allegiances, the two old friends confront lives far removed from the lives they dreamed of in their youth.
Working in concert with “City of God” source novelist Paulo Lins, Murat’s ambitious script illustrates how difficult change can be in a country where personal alliances are constantly put to the test. Unfortunately, Murat’s decision to jump back and forth in time makes the film hard to follow for even the most committed viewer. Though all leads are earnest, casting of two different actors to play Miguel and Jorge in different time periods compounds the problem of following the story.
Tech package projects a docu urgency, though production values are clean and polished. The pulsing rhythms of Nana Vasconcelos’ vivid score eases the story’s choppiness. Pic, title of which translates literally as “Almost Two Brothers,” was also shown at Montreal fest, with French subtitles only.