Dir:Marcelo Gomes. Braz. 2005. 99mins.
Odd, really, that up to now, nobody has ever thought ofmaking a film about a travelling aspirin salesman in north-eastern Brazil inthe early 1940s. First-time director Marcelo Gomes has not only come up withthe definitive movie on the subject - he also provided us with one of the morepleasant surprises in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes.
Anoffbeat, slow-paced buddy road movie, Cinema, Aspirins And Vulturessucceeds brilliantly in evoking a sense of place - the remote and aridnorth-eastern provinces of Brazil, at a time of drought, war in Europe andgovernment migration schemes designed to send thousands of penniless farmersand their families to work in the Amazon rubber plantations.
Butabove all this is the story of an odd-couple friendship: and it is credit tothe script, the casting and performance of the two leads, Peter Ketnath andJoao Miguel (both virtual unknowns with more theatrical than film or TVexperience) that a potentially fragile film is given notable emotional depth.
It'snever going to play wide, but arthouse distributors looking for an offbeatcharmer may be willing to take a small gamble on this one - especially asaudiences have already been primed for the subject-area by Walter Salles'Motorcycle Diaries.
Theconfident, colour-soaked, neo-Western style of debutant cinematographer MauroPinheiro is established in the very first shot, in which an over-exposed whiteglare is stopped down gradually to reveal the face of Johann (Peter Ketnath)framed in the wing mirror, driving through what looks like a snow-coveredlandscape. Only gradually, as the proper colour balance is restored, is itrevealed to be a dust-covered semi-desert landscape where a few spiky plantseke out a living.
Withhis full beard and flowing blonde hair, Johann could easily be on the hippytrail; but we are soon forced to accept that this is 1942, not 1972, and thatJohann is a pacifist and adventurer who has found a job selling aspirin forBayer in this godforsaken dustbowl. He does it by setting up a cinema screen inthe one-donkey villages he drives through, and showing the enthralled locals aseries of promotional shorts that sing the wonders of the new miracle drug.
Thetaciturn Johann soon meets up with Ranulpho (Joao Miguel), a provincial cynicwith a sad, cheeky smile, who slags off his home territory and its 'ignorant'inhabitants, but who doesn't have the urban sophistication to carry off hisworld-weary persona. Though neither conform entirely to type, the friendlysparring that cements the pair's relationship as they drive from hovel tovillage to hovel along dusty potholed roads is a variation of the old stand-offbetween the starry-eyed Romantic traveller and the unimpressed Latin native.
Nota lot happens: Ranulpho learns to work the projector, Johann gets bitten by asnake and saved by Ranulpho and a cactus poultice, Johann teaches Ranulpho todrive and both get drunk and visit a brothel in a town called Triunfo.
Allthe while, though, a background threat is building, channelled mainly throughthe news on the radio which Johann keeps in the van: Germany has torpedoedBrazilian ships, Brazil has entered the war on the side of the Allies, allGerman nationals are to turn themselves in... But though tragedy looms, thescript opts instead for delicacy in a finale that is both low-key and touching.
Thoughthere is no hint of a gay subtext, Cinema, Aspirins And Vultures provesonce again that the best buddy movies are actually love stories in disguise.
Rec Produtores Associados
Dezenove Som e Imagens
Joao Vieira Jr
Tomas Alves de Souza