Lula might be considered a girl’s name in North America, but while there is a woman at the center of the movie, that’s not who Lula is. “Lula: the Son of Brazil” is about the former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, but this biographical dramatization of the first thirty-odd years of the former Brazilian president is a bit too loving and suspiciously timed to be taken too seriously.
The 66-year-old Lula served as the 35th president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 and is grooming his successor. Time magazine named him as one of the most hundred influential people in the world for 2010 and he was recently diagnosed with throat cancer for which he is being treated.
The movie doesn’t concern itself with that. Instead we look at the more exciting rise to fame. This is a love story about a son’s love, a mother’s devotion and a man’s love for his fellow men. Yet the story is told on the most simplistic level.
Directed by Fábio Barreto and written by committee (Denise Paraná, Fábio Barreto and Daniel Tendler), movie begins outside a pale pinkish house. A man, Aristides (Milhem Cortaz), in a faded beige suit leaves the house, greets his dog outside. The dog looks like a purebred border collie doesn’t convincingly show affection. The man, Lula’s father, is leaving behind six kids and a middle-aged wife, Lindu (Glória Pires). Traveling down a ways with his dog and a suitcase in hand, he passes a pregnant girl. They seem to know each other and she, with umbrella and suitcase in hand follows him after he sends the dog back.
Although this is 1945, the family has not telephone, no radio and most likely no electricity. Water is collected from a pond. There’s a quaint looking outhouse. The kids help out while the father is gone.
Some time after the father’s departure, a boy who will become Lula is born. The poverty is portrayed without romantic nobility, but the children are always clean, giving a sense of respectability within this family unit. The land is dry and pale. Cactus springs up. There is no hope for a fertile farm.
At some point the father, went to get Jaime, his oldest son, and brought him to the city to live with his new younger wife (Rayana Cavalho). The father can’t write, but Jaime can read and write. When Jaime takes dictation from his father, Jaime writes with his heart. Jaime advises Lindu to sell the land and come to join him in the coastal city of Santos. It is 1952 and besides Lula, another child has been added to Lindu’s brood.
We don’t witness the anger that surely must have been under the surface of life as the two families live in poverty in a single house. Do the women fight? Do the kids fight? Sibling against sibling. Half-sibling against half-sibling?
As you might guess, Aristides is not the best father. The work is hard in the city and some of the children benefit from attending elementary school–something Lindu encourages. Aristides needs money and would prefer his brood working instead of that useless book learning. Lula (Felipe Falanga) and his siblings become street vendors and shoe shines. They, like all kids, want to play, but that’s not part of Aristides’ plan. He needs money for his alcohol as well as to support the big brood. We never see what in Aristides attracted first Lindu and then his younger wife.
Lindu finally decides to leave him, although he weeps. Single motherhood isn’t easy, particularly in poverty. Yet we never see the stress mar Lindu’s saintly brow. We never see her despair over having so many kids and not enough money. Perhaps the most harrowing scene is when hard rain floods their city dwelling and everyone must wander in waist deep water, attempting to salvage their few possessions.
From there we suddenly move to Lula (Guilerme Tortólio) enrolling to take a machine operators exam. One cringes to think of those beautiful brown eyes without safety glasses. In 1961, Lula receives his degree and suddenly, he’s a different actor as his company is on strike.
Some reviews have made much about the portrayal of Lula’s devotion to his mother.
- NYPost review calls Lula a Mama’s boy.
- Village Voice reviewer says should be titled: “Mama’s Boy”
That seems a little snarky. After all, wouldn’t you want sons to love their mothers and in a Latin American family aren’t the women the center of the culture? Lula (Rui Ricardo Dias) does move on to lust and love women such as his first wife. We follow Lula up to when he is jailed for political reasons, just after his mother has died.
“Lula, the Son of Brazil” is Brazil’s official submission for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. It’s doubtful that this superficial biopic will make the shortlist. The film hits the highlights and some low times, but doesn’t dig into the psychology of Lula and deliver real people with real problems.
“Lula: the Son of Brazil” opens today, 27 January 2012 at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Based on a book by Denise Paraná.