A Brazilian road movie thats been wowing reviewers for two years ultimately attains its UK debut
I was late getting to this week’s selected cinema- although not as late as film distributors in the UK: it has never been picked up for a cinema or even a DVD release. For more than two years, respected colleagues have been talking up the appropriateness of Araby , a tiny but mighty myth debut by Brazilian film-makers Joao Dumans and Affonso Uchoa. The Hollywood Reporter critic Neil Young has exited so far as to declare it the best film of this fast-closing decade. Having missed it on its year-long festival run in 2017, I waited for a chance to see it on a big screen.
That chance hasn’t come, but Mubi has, as it so often does, stepped into the breach. Araby is available to stream on their curated menu until mid-September; you’d do well to take the chance while it’s there. The film is, as promised, something very special: a careworn, will-o’-the-wisp street movie, contained within a remembering that may or may not be imagined. Dumans and Uchoa have a documentary background that’s evident in their soothe, clear-eyed portrait of a hard-knock life in permanent flow. Yet there’s a glimmering, uncertain sorcery to it very. It’s a film preoccupied with the space we pattern our lives into storytelling.
You have to approach it with some perseverance. The first 20 minutes or so promise a more austere practise in grainy reality than the poetic picaresque we eventually get, but the tonal comparison eventually pays off as the cinema considers the virtues of restless movement versus stasis. We’re introduced to Andre( Murilo Caliari ), a shy, birthed teen abandoned by his parents in a dead-end Brazilian mill township, and Cristiano( Aristides de Sousa ), the diminutive gypsy labourer whose track he traverses. Sent on an errand to Cristiano’s quarterss, Andre stumbles across his tatty, handwritten memoirs- and the film in turn changes into the notebook’s more mythic, freewheeling narrative, documenting the apparently unremarkable worker’s roams and travails over the course of a decade.
It’s a cross-country, blue-collar odyssey taking in criminal and romantic escapades, stopping off in prisons, brothels and assorted dusty cities- building into a patchwork of striving, ever-changing Brazilian society, alive with timed working-class politics. Cristiano is a drifter, but not driven by wanderlust: it’s hard-scrabble economic reality that blows him from place to place. Scored to a magnificent, handpicked playlist of tribe and country cuts that lend unsentimental prayer to our hero’s ramblings, Araby has the heft and range of epic film-making, yet feels as intimate and fragile as a stranger’s barroom anecdote.
While you’re in a mournful arthouse daydream, you have a week left to catch some highlightings from the recent Locarno film festival, which wrap last week. A few picks from this year’s programme are streaming free of charge on FestivalScope until the end of August. You merely need an hour, for example, to fit in a viewing of the lovely Swiss semi-documentary Bird Island , a subtly dreamy study of an avian sanctuary in Geneva that presents as much healing to the wounded people who enter it as it does their feathered friends. Wilcox , meanwhile, is a moving character study of an isolated survivalist, stripped of talk and affectation, that ratings a poising change of gait for the usually more mannered Quebecois auteur Denis Cote. Finally, The Prince’s Voyage , the latest finely gleaned aspect from ex-serviceman French animator Jean-Francois Laguionie, is a thing of melancholic, watercoloured beauty. Chronicling a lost monkey-prince’s journey to self-realisation, it’s part fairytale, role philosophical parable, and rather more like Araby than you might think.
Also brand-new to DVD and streaming this week
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