'Curumim': Film Review

Courtesy of Camilla Maia/AgÍncia O Globo
Portrait of a sentenced criminal as a devil-may-care adventurer.

Marcos Prado directs this documentary about Marco "Curumim" Archer, a Brazilian adventurer and drug dealer on death row in Indonesia.

A Brazilian on death row in Indonesia is the title character and subject of Curumim, a fascinating new documentary from Elite Squad producer and occasional director Marcos Prado (Artificial Paradises). Crazy adventurer, paragliding enthusiast and drug dealer Marco “Curumim” Archer was arrested in 2002 for smuggling over 30 pounds of cocaine into the Asian archipelago state, where he subsequently was locked up in a high-security prison for over a decade. Unaware when his death sentence would be carried out, his increasing desperation eventually led him to contact Prado with the request to make a film about him, so he wouldn’t just end up a statistic anomaly or crime-and-punishment headline back home.

Featuring revealing and occasionally distressing confessional-style footage shot inside the prison with a secret camera, the film paints an intimate portrait of a fascinating character whose crazy life was indeed the stuff of movies. After a bow in the Panorama Dokumente section in Berlin, this will not only be a welcome addition to festival lineups but also has a decent shot at some theatrical action, especially in documentary-friendly European territories.  

Between 2012, when Archer first contacted Prado, and 2015, when he was finally executed, the protagonist shot over 70 hours of footage inside the prison, where he was one of a total of 57 foreigners on death row (all guilty of drug-related crimes). One of them is a friend from Italy, who tried to smuggle drugs into Indonesia as a way of paying for Curumim’s lawyers, though he got caught, too. But most of the inmates are locals, including an assassin and two Islamic terrorists involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, who are Archer’s cellmates.

Prado and editor Alexandre Lima cut between two different timelines. Firstly, there are the first-person segments from Archer filmed in prison, which include both moments of desperation — he is kept in the dark about when the sentence will be carried out and keeps hoping, with increasing despair, for a miraculous pardon — and merriment, as he’s the kind of person who becomes a clown in order to hide his troubles. He thinks nothing of singing along to "Endless Love," do a Michael Jackson impersonation or hoist himself into female attire and paint his face to amuse the other inmates.

Secondly, after the initial setup, which explains how Prado got involved and a quick explanation of how Curumim ended up on death row, there’s a chronological exploration of the lead’s wild and frequently remarkable life. He grew up with an absent, booze-hound father, was raised by nannies and became a little rascal with a lot to prove, which led to frequent feats of derring-do. This, in turn, was channeled into becoming part of the Brazilian national hanggliding team at the tender age of 16.

When interviewed by a TV crew after having just suffered a paragliding accident that left him stranded for hours on a tiny ledge of rock from which only a helicopter rescue was possible, the young Archer says, laconically: “I’m not afraid of death, it comes when you least expect it.” With audiences now knowing he’ll end up on death row for a crime he committed willingly many years later, it simultaneously sounds ironic and oh-so-true, since Curumim knows that his death is imminent but at the same time, the authorities won’t tell him when exactly he’ll executed (when he started filming himself in 2012, he’d already been in jail for 10 years).

His entry into the shady world of drug-dealing is similarly fascinating, starting when he lived in Los Angeles as a youngster. “We were just some kids in the U.S.A., having fun,” he says of that period, though that fun including going from selling some coke for easy money to going into business with Pablo Escobar. He got out of the coke business when he realized it was “bad karma,” and then moved to Amsterdam to concentrate on weed.

Curumim himself provides the details of his many adventures in letters to Prado, which the director shows in close-up, in conjunction with stock footage and new material, some of it shot, by Prado himself, in atmospheric black-and-white. Together with Thomaz Prado and Celso Franzen Jr.'s pulsating yet slightly wistful score, these segments suggest both the allure of Curumim’s globetrotting lifestyle as well as something of the regret he must have felt for where that lifestyle would finally lead him.

The film also touches on the many contradictions of prison life in what’s supposedly Indonesia’s highest-security prison. The fact Curumim could film himself and his cellmates suggests there are holes in the security net one could drive a truck through, while the protagonist also wryly notes that, though he’s been sentenced to death for smuggling drugs into the country, all the guards in prison offer it for sale to the convicts. Prado interviewed several of the inmates who spent time with the protagonist behind bars but were finally released, as well as Priest Charlie Burrows, who fights for an end to the death penalty, especially for drugs-related offenses. (The fact that some of the perpetrators of the Bali bombings, which killed over 200, got lighter sentences than he did indeed suggests the system is warped, to say the least.)

Many of the interviewees speculate about Archer's mental health, which is often hard to read. He doesn't have a doting local wife who visits daily, like some of the inmates, and his aging mother doesn't have the means or, one senses, the courage to come and see him on the other side of the world. The suggestion that "the main problem in prison is a lack of tenderness" is certainly part of the key to unlocking his psyche and Prado impressively suggests how Curumim, so often a clown, is slowly being consumed by doubts and fear. 

The hanggliding metaphor that Prado keeps circling back to is almost too perfect. As Archer explains, you can only lift off if you’re not afraid of the void underneath you but, as the film shows again and again, the risk of grave accidents is always there. It exists in exactly the same space as the sensation of total freedom that Curumim kept chasing and that would finally be responsible for his own demise.

Production companies: Zazen Producoes, Globo Filmes, Globosat Programadora
Writer-director: Marcos Prado
Producers: Marcos Prado, Jose Padilha
Executive producer: Luiza Dutra
Director of photography: Marcos Prado
Editor: Alexandre Lima
Music: Thomaz Prado, Celso Franzen Jr.
Sales: Zazen Producoes

Not rated, 106 minutes

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