Bird Watchers

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Additional Venice Film Festival reviews

Venice Film Festival, In Competition

The plight of the Indians living on reservations in the Brazilian Amazon has rarely been portrayed with such warmth and realism as in "Bird Watchers," a well-constructed film that proudly wears its politically correct credentials. What is mainly missing is emotional involvement with the characters, even in the most dramatic scenes, leaving the film with scant means to connect with audiences. Marco Bechis, the Italo-Chilean director who so powerfully portrayed the Argentine dictatorship in "Garage Olimpo," wins kudos for effort, but this is going to be a hard sell outside the usual niche markets.

The film was shot amid the Guarani-Kaiowa Indian communities in Mato Grosso do Sul, introduced by aerial shots of the great Brazilian rainforest. A clever opener shows tourists navigating the river to watch the local birds, but also to get a glimpse of the fierce Guarani Indians who glare at them from the shore naked, shooting arrows. Surprise: when they paddle past, the Guarani pull on jeans and t-shirts and get paid by a ranch owner's wife (Chiara Caselli), who uses them as a tourist attraction for her nature talks.

In contrast to the ranch's opulence, the village of the Guarani is poor and overcrowded. When two girls are found hanging from a tree, apparently suicides, a part of the tribe breaks away under the leadership of Nadio (Ambrosio Vilhalva). He puts into action his utopian idea of leaving the reservation to live on their ancestors' land, which is now the ranch owner's property.

Setting up shacks on the edge of a field, they attempt to live off hunting birds and animals, but there simply aren't enough left. To survive, their only choice is to be exploited as underpaid day laborers.

The rancher sends a hand (Claudio Santamaria) with a gun to keep an eye on the Indians; meanwhile, the young Guarani Osvaldo (Abrisio Da Silva Pedro) pairs off with the rancher's bored daughter, who teaches him to drive her motorbike. Like other young people in the tribe, he is torn between the seduction of modern life and the elders' insistence that he follow tradition. In the end this is the main conflict for the Indians, even more devastating than violent confrontations with the white man.

On the plus side, it's a pleasure to find a film that makes the Indians the central characters, not just backdrop figures like in "The Mission" and "Fitzcarraldo." The Guarani actors are very individualized and appealing; even if the acting is on the stiff side, they communicate a feeling of being spiritual people with great dignity and a good sense of humor.


Production company: Classic Film in association with Rai Cinema, Karta Film, Gullane. Cast: Abrisio Da Silva Pedro, Ambrosio Vilhalva, Claudio Santamaria, Chiara Caselli, Leonardo Medeiros, Matheus Nachtergaele, Alicelia Batista Cabreira, Ademilson Concianza Verga, Fabiane Pereira Da Silva. Director: Marco Bechis. Screenwriters: Marco Bechis, Luiz Bolognesi. Producers: Amedeo Pagani, Marco Bechis, Fabiano Gullane, Caio Gullane. Director of photography: Helcio Alemao Nagamine. Production designer: Clovis Bueno, Caterina Giargia. Music: Andrea Guerra. Costumes: Caterina Giargia, Valeria Stefani. Editor: Jacopo Quadri. Sales Agent: Celluloid Dreams. 108 minutes.

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