Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 6:20 pm 
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The wanderer

Arábia is storytelling. It's about a wanderer, who worked at all kinds of laborer jobs imaginable in Brazil. So it's also about labor, pretty explicitly. Neil Young in Hollywood Reporter called it a "political road movie." But it's not so much a tract (or a "road movie") as a meditation about loneliness and rootlessness, while at the same time full of manly togetherness and music - a lot of music, which helps mitigate the sadness. This is a unique thinking man's film, rather like a novel - though its interest isn't so much in the content as in the meditative structure and the moody atmosphere. For some reason - the philosophical voiceover, partly - it reminded me of Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together.

Arábia takes its time getting started, in the manner of old-fashioned adventure tales. It's a full 20 minutes before the title even appears. First there is a long shot (arguably longer than necessary), of a youth, Andre (Murilo Caliari), riding a bike, then a song, and up to the title it looks like this movie is going to be about Andre. Then news that a man named Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), who lived nearby in this industrial neighborhood in Ouro Preto, Brazil in the southern state of Minas Gerais, near an old aluminum factory, where he, Cristiano, worked, has been in an accident and is in the hospital. Andre is sent to Cristiano's flat to get clothes for him and his ID. When there, Andre comes across a notebook with a journal in it. Writing about "important events in his life" turns out to have been a project of a factory theater group, which Cristiano joined to be more among people. Well, Andre begins to read the journal. . .

And what follows in the rest of Arábia is a narrative - the journal - in De Sousa's voice of Cristiano's many wandering over the past decade, all over the country working at all kinds of jobs, a one-man tour of the world of physical labor. We see him as the story unfolds in many diverse scenes. The filmmakers make no secret of their focus on the subject of manual labor. One memorable scene has Cristiano discussing with a companion of the time - people come and go in his life, including his one true love Ana (Renata Cabral) - an older man who is shortly to die of diabetes - about what contents are best and worst to load onto a truck: cement, tile, potatoes, fish cakes, etc. And at the final factory he starts working the night shift and explains why it's bad.

But Aristedes de Sousa, with his strong, rough voice and lean features, is never a metaphor, always real, and so are the situations and settings. This is also a story of hard knocks. Cristiano does jail time, and another thing happens that could have led to jail. The story with Ana is suffused with sadness. And loss of best friends, when circumstances force a sudden departure. And constant change of venue every few months or year or so. There is a sense of sampling, of exploration, and one may think of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.

It is the combination of its contemplation and filtering of experience along with, through images, the retaining of the experience in very specific and vivid form that gives this film its special quality. Through the film we live life and examine it at the same time, and this is what is novelistic and not like most films.

Arábia, 97 mins, debuted at Rotterdam 1 Feb. 2017. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films.
ND/NF showtimes:
Saturday, March 18, 2017 4:00PM Walter Reade Theater
Sunday, March 19, 2017 6:30PM MoMA


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