Brazilian Cinema: Lula on Screen in Oxford

It looks as if I won’t be able to make the first of the events being put on by Oxford University’s Centre for Brazilian Studies next Tuesday (18 January).

My class on international relations that afternoon clashes with the timing of the event over at Magdalen College. 


That will be a shame because in a change to the usual seminars which the Centre holds throughout term time, next Tuesday’s session will involve two documentaries that deal with Lula’s rise to power from the creation of the Workers’ Party following the strikes of 1979-80 and his presidential campaign in 2002: Peões by Eduardo Coutinho and João Moreira Salles’s Entreatos (both 2004). 


I already know that one friend at least will be making the journey down to Magdalen College where they will be shown.


Instead I’ll just have to reconcile myself with my most recent on-screen depiction of Lula.  For Christmas I was presented with the DVD collection of the City of Men TV series. 


The program was the accompaniment to the film version of Paulo Lins’s novel, City of God, which received positive reviews in England over the last two years. 


However, the TV program differs in that it is a collection of short stories, switching from drama into real life interviews and back again.  Throughout, the actors are the same set of youngsters as those who took part in the filming of the cinematic version.


The tale to which I refer comes midway through the second series.  The two main characters, Laranjinha and Acerola (played by Darlan Cunha and Douglas Silva respectively) travel to Brasilia. 


Armed with a camcorder and filing his friend, Laranjinha asks Acerola why they are making the journey.  The reason given is that they are taking a letter from the incarcerated grandfather of Acerola’s girlfriend to petition the president to free him, having already completed his time in prison. 


The camcorder is to be used, he says, to capture the moment they meet the president and hand over the letter.


Cue interviews with women (and they are all women) waiting to meet their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers (again, they are all men) in prison, highlighting the difficulty that they face trying to make ends meet. 


In between an out-of-focus flashback is spun out of the grandfather as a boy making the journey down to São Paulo in the back of a truck.  His companion?  None other than Lula himself.


In São Paulo the two boys help each other out, working on the street.  But Lula proves a better businessman than his friend, a sign of the man he would become. 


But instead of leaving it as a tale of youthful, pure friendship the directors have injected an element of ambiguity into the proceedings; when a job offer comes up for Lula’s mother, rather than informing his friend the grandfather-as-boy seizes the opportunity for his own family.


It would be unfair to readers who have not yet seen the programme to write here how it ends.  But I think I can leave it by saying that I saw as much of Lula as Acerola’s girlfriend did.


Peões and Entreatos will be screened at Magdalen College Auditorium, Longwall Street, Oxford on Tuesday, 18 January.  Pre-registration is required at enquiries@brazil.ox.ac.uk or on 01865 284460.


Guy Burton was born in Brazil and now lives in London. He has written widely on Brazil both for Brazzil and on his blog, Para Inglês Ver, which can be read at http://guyburton.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at gjsburton@hotmail.com.

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