Road 47 (A Estrada 47): Rio de Janeiro Review

Road 47 Still - H 2013
Competent but not inspiring, this is a simple and effective film which never does full justice to the stirring material it’s based on.

The drama is the first film to bring to life the intriguing footnote of history that is Brazil's involvement in World War Two.

A muscular critique of war, which is also an homage to the Brazilians who were forced to participate in it, Vicente Ferraz's Road 47 is a flawed but fascinating recreation of events that took place in the frozen north of Italy in 1944. Less a war movie than a tightly focused study of the psychological effects of war, the film explores universal themes of human frailty and courage. But all of its good things fail to cohere at the deeper level, leaving the feeling, given the potential of the source material, that an opportunity has been wasted. Business should be good at home, but offshore appearances will be limited to festivals with an interest in the new challenges being undertaken by Latin American cinema.

The landmine clearance unit, which is Road’s subject, were part of of the 25,000 strong Brazilian Expeditionary Force sent to take part in World War Two. After a mine explodes, killing two of the group, its surviving members panic and disperse, reuniting at an American observation point which they realize has been abandoned after American forces lost two tanks on the nearby heavily-mined, terrifying Road 47.

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They are a disparate bunch: Guimaraes (Daniel de Oliveira) generally sits thoughtfully apart from the rest, his thoughts delivered via largely unnecessary voiceover in the form of a letter to his father, who forced him to enlist. There are also Laurindo (Thogun Teixeira), a physically formidable presence, whose conversations with the tiny, lively and slightly mad Piaui (Francisco Gaspar) represent the only moments of humor, and the ineffectual lieutenant (Julio Andrade).

Rui (Ivo Canelas), a journalist, suspects that the men may have deserted. Disobeying orders, he goes and joins them. They also come across two deserters: an Italian (Sergio Rubini) and later, following a gun battle, a German (Richard Sammel), badly wounded. The men have a choice between turning themselves in and being court martialed, or trying to defuse the mines in Road 47, which would make them heroes: luckily for the story, they choose the latter.

The script has a lean, muscular quality, and like the men themselves, its focus is simply on getting the job done with as little fuss as possible. It's as strong for what it doesn't say as for what it does, in that it carefully sidesteps many war movie cliches including gung-ho speechifying and lengthy monologs in which characters reflect on the waste and uselessness of war. The uselessness is already plain to see in the men's physical and moral suffering, which is why the addition of Guimaraes' voiceover, with its empty talk of "the whirlwind that sucks up souls," is so disappointing.

As an ensemble item, the film works well, and the dynamics of the group are well captured. Performances are efficiently low key, though there are a couple of standouts, namely Gaspar as a character teetering on the edge of madness and Rubini as the Italian caught between a rock and a hard place. A couple of the others are there for the film's wish to be historically accurate but fail to make their dramatic presence felt.

Several scenes are memorable -- one involving their discovery of an abandoned chapel is especially resonant -- and the rendering of the chilly tedium of war is executed more expertly than the combat scenes, of which there are few. The forbidding, snowy mountain landscapes make a stunning if forbidding backdrop, as do the crisply filmed abandoned buildings in which the action is largely set, and Sergio Tribastone’s art direction pays all the right attention to detail.   

Production: Tres Mundos Producoes, Primo Filmes
Cast: Daniel De Oliveira, Richard Sammel, Sergio Rubini, Julio Andrade, Francisco Gaspar, Thogun Teixeira
Director, screenwriter: Vicente Ferraz
Producers: Isabel Martinez, Matias Mariani, Joana Mariani, Danielle Mazzocca, Leonel Vieira
Director of photography: Carlos Arango De Montis
Production designer: Sergio Tribastone
Music: Luiz Avellar
Editor: Mair Tavares
Sound: Rodrigo Sanchez Marino
Sales: Tres Mundos
No rating, 107 minutos