After a positively thrilling first half, Brazilian director Andrucha Waddington's follow-up to his acclaimed 2000 debut ME YOU THEM badly stumbles over an unfortunate casting strategy. The wilds of northern Brazil, 1910. Following a tattered map across the polar-white but blazingly hot desert landscape of Maranhao State, half-mad Vasco de Sa (Ruy Guerra)...read more
After a positively thrilling first half, Brazilian director Andrucha Waddington's follow-up to his acclaimed 2000 debut ME YOU THEM badly stumbles over an unfortunate casting strategy. The wilds of northern Brazil, 1910. Following a tattered map across the polar-white but blazingly hot desert landscape of Maranhao State, half-mad Vasco de Sa (Ruy Guerra) drives his caravan of carts, horses and helpers in search of the dried lagoon bed where he's determined to build his new home, believing that the lagoons will soon come back to life. Among the bedraggled entourage that finally comes to halt on the edge of a muddy puddle are his much younger and pregnant wife Aurea (Feranda Torres), and her mother, Dona Maria (CENTRAL STATION's Fernanda Montenegro). Horrified by the prospect of living in the middle of nowhere, Aurea insists they return to the city to raise their child, but Vasco is adamant, even after he's menaced by fugitive slaves who inhabit this no-man's land and is abandoned by most of his crew. Convinced that her husband is insane and he'll soon kill them all, Aurea refuses to enter the makeshift house Vasco builds out of the lumber and palm leaves he's bartered from the former slaves in exchange for most of his possessions, and when a section collapses on top of him, neither Aurea nor her mother make any move to save his life. Not long after burying Vasco in the sand, the waters indeed return, but life doesn't get any easier for Aurea, Dona Maria and Aurea's infant daughter, Maria. Dona Maria has befriended Massu (Luiz Melodia), a local former slave who keeps them fed with the fish he catches and shows them what to plant, and she eventually become accustomed to her new life, but Aurea anxiously awaits the return of a traveling tradesman (Emiliano Queiroz) who will hopefully rescue them from this oblivion. When Aurea finally decides to strike out on her own, she encounters a scientific expedition that agrees to take her back to San Paolo with them, but when she rushes back to her mother and Maria, Aurea's discovers that shifting sands of this strange land has swallowed the house and its inhabitants. It's a beautifully acted, haunting story, but as Aurea's saga jumps ahead into the 20th century at roughly 10-year intervals, Waddington recycles his cast, first recasting Montenegro as the aging Aruea, then as Maria herself. Torres, meanwhile, plays the adult Maria, who grows into a wayward, sexually promiscuous young woman. The effect is disorienting — you'd be excused for thinking that the projectionist has gotten the reels mixed-up — and rather than providing some sense of continuity, it pulls the viewer out of the film long enough to break the potent spell Waddington casts during the film's excellent first hour.
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