Lula, the Son of Brazil -- Film Review

A fascinating true story could use more filmmaking brio.

PALM SPRINGS — Brazil’s submission for this year’s foreign language Oscar is a fairly standard biopic that holds our interest because of the arresting story it tells. "Lula, the Son of Brazil"recounts the travails of Brazil’s popular president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (whose term in office ended this month), from his birth in abject poverty to his entry into politics in the 1970s. The film undoubtedly holds more fascination for Brazilian than American audiences, though the political turmoil in South America will make the movie eye opening for specialized audiences in this country as well.

Lula was born in 1945 in northern Brazil. After his father abandoned his family, his mother eventually took her eight children to Sao Paulo, where Lula grew up and eventually became involved in union organizing during the years when Brazil was under the control of a military dictatorship. The film pays tribute to Lula’s mother, who is portrayed with warmth and dignity by one of Brazil’s leading actresses, Gloria Pires. Her devotion to her son helps him to survive many personal setbacks.

A handsome newcomer, Rui Ricardo Diaz, took over the role of the adult Lula when another actor dropped out, and he creates an intensely likable hero. Milhem Cortaz simmers with macho rage as the boy’s abusive father.

The film provides only sketchy information about the political situation in Brazil during the ‘60s and ‘70s, which makes the film frustratingly incomplete, at least for American audiences.  But the scenes of union demonstrations are effectively staged, with the proverbial cast of thousands lending impressive scope to the picture. 

The picture is something of a family affair. The director, Fabio Barreto, is the younger brother of one of Brazil’s best-known directors, Bruno Barreto. Their sister, Paula Barreto, produced the film for the company started by their parents.

Barreto’s direction doesn’t avoid the flatness of many TV biographies, and the film drags on too long to captivate audiences who do not revere Lula as their national hero.

Technical credits are strong. Cinematographer Gustavo Hadba captures the desolation of Lula’s birthplace as well as the teeming urban neighborhoods where he came of age. This saga of a leader’s rise from the lower depths to the corridors of power has played out in different variations in many countries around the world. One only wishes that this retelling had more originality and bite.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Production: LC Barreto, Filmes do Equador, Intervideo Digital
Cast: Gloria Pires, Rui Ricardo Diaz, Juliana Baroni, Cleo Pires, Milhem Cortaz
Director: Fabio Barreto
Screenwriters: Daniel Tendler, Denise Parana, Fernando Bonassi
Based on the book by: Denise Parana
Producers: Paula Barreto, Romulo Marinho Jr.
Director of photography: Gustavo Hadba
Production designer: Clovis Bueno
Music: Antonio Pinto, Jaques Morelenbaum
Costume designer: Cristina Camargo
Editor: Leticia Giffoni
No rating, 126 minutes