Brazil’s legendary sugar-cane alcohol, cachaca, becomes a prism for exploring the contradictions of Brazilian society in Pedro Urano’s accomplished “Royal Road of Cachaca.” Docu takes a multifaceted look at the potent concoction, from its origins in the mining state of Minas Gerais to its role as economic savior and societal scourge, and while Urano ignores important issues like class and race, he’s created an appealing film that should see scattered fest play around the globe, especially after winning the docu prize in Rio.
The road of docu’s title was an Indian track going from the heartland to the coast; the first Portuguese colonists used it to transport minerals as well as the cachaca they invented. With creative lensing, Urano shows the alcohol’s use in daily peasant life: It keeps overworked washerwomen happy and is also used in religious rites. Oddly, helmer bypasses the drink’s recent enormous shift from mere moonshine for the lower orders to glam jet-set cocktail. Visuals can be a bit undisciplined (ditto the playful use of sound) but maintain a good energy, thanks in part to ace editing and music. Digital quality is exceptional.