Director – Maya Da-Rin – 2019 – Brazil – Cert. 12a – 98m
An indigenous container port security man falls prey to a fever as a mysterious animal prowls the nearby Amazon rainforest – out in cinemas and on select online rental platforms including BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, July 30th
Justino (Regis Myrupu) works as the night watchman at a port in Manaus, a city on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, where huge containers are unloaded and loaded and stacked in perpendicular piles by huge mechanical rigs. At the lockers, he chats with a new colleague who used to supervise workers on a farm but got fed up with it.
After his shift, he takes the 324 bus then walks up the huge hill to his small shack where he lives with his grown up daughter Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto), his wife having died some years previously. Sometimes his son visits with or without daughter-in-law and child in tow. Sometimes his brother and wife visit.
There are news reports of a mysterious wild animal in the area attacking livestock. Sometimes, getting off the 324, Justino thinks her hears something in the undergrowth. But he finds nothing.
At home he prepares food on a simple, four ring stove unit on a table. He dozes or sleeps in a hammock. Sometimes he develops a fever. He goes to the clinic and has tests, but the results are inconclusive. The fever comes and goes. Sometimes at work he dozes off – and he is summoned to human resources to be given a ‘first warning’ about the matter.
Change is in the air. Vanessa, who works at a local clinic, has just been accepted to study medicine at the Brazilia University, which means moving away from her dad and living on a bursary, leaving him to fend for himself.
Justino’s brother berates his son for not moving his dad into his family home to look after him, but the son complains that the two of them have very different lifestyles and it wouldn’t work out. Besides, he claims that the family house is too small. Elsewhere, Justino accuses his son of weakness because he was raised on supermarket food and never ate touch meat.
This is not a film to watch for complex plot or storytelling. It has its pleasures, but they lie elsewhere. As the film unfolds over days and weeks, it has a very strong sense of time and the rhythms of life. The deliberately slow pace is almost dreamlike in the way it washes over the viewer. Director Da-Rin delivers powerful images which help to construct these rhythms.
Before we know his name (which is hardly mentioned in the film), we are aware of Justino’s hi-vis jacket, his hard hat and the corrugated metal surface behind him, later revealed to be a container. Talking to his co-worker at the lockers and the lady supervisor in the company office, he’s clearly of a different ethnic group from them. His aspirations are different. His life is a holding operation, not really what he’d like it to be.
Shots of the containers being moved around suggest powerful industrial forces over which he has no control but alongside which he has learned to co-exist. There’s an underlying ugliness to these right-angled, upright and vertical lined-images, like regulated Mondrian paintings, which sit in sharp contract to images of people relaxing at home in hammocks (Justino’s house has two), all curves and unplanned shapes. And the ever-present vegetation of the rainforest of which we’re constantly aware even when it’s off camera.
Justino’s journey home on the 324 is marked by his crossing the road after getting off the bus, taking his life in his hands to avoid the speeding traffic. He doesn’t own a car and built his home himself. There’s a crack in one of the walls in need of repair with cement.
He’s at the bottom of the economic food chain and says he would much rather live back in his village and hunt for food. He’s been connected to the land in the past, but today is alienated from it by modern economic conditions and wishes things could go back to the way they were. His kids have embraced all these developments in a way that he hasn’t.
His fever as it comes and goes could almost be symptomatic of all this. As too could the mysterious beast threatening to disrupt the community. Justino’s daughter may be starting to make an effective way in the world as a health professional, but he himself is marginalised and puts up with rather than benefits from the modern world.
It’s a strange, almost poetic film, quietly absorbing and almost hypnotic. There’s a vast inner strength to it, something in which you could easily lose yourself. It doesn’t offer any solutions, but suggests a deep dissatisfaction for the way things are for the likes of its protagonist and the way they’ve been marginalised by the modern world. And that they deserve better.