Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Middle of the World



O Caminho das nuvens : Brazil 2003 : Vicente AMORIM : 85 mins

The film is based on a true story of a family taking his wife and five children on a cycling trip from the poor northeastern corner of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro to find work. This is a distance of 3,200km (approximately Troms to Oslo and back). The family suffers incredible hardships, both mentally and physically. They do not bring more than they can carry on their four bicycles, and must live on what they can scrounge on their way. Traditional family ties and loyalties are subjected to a tough test.
(from official Troms 2004 Film Festival programme)

Two wheels good indeed Its rare and welcome to see a road movie featuring bicycles rather than motorised transport: the family shown here seem to have taken Norman Tebbits on your bike advice (given to the early-80s British jobless) literally, setting off in search of a decent (1000-real-per-month) wage in Rio de Janeiro. This is the bright idea of macho-but-reasonable dad Romao (Wagner Moura, a fresh-faced Banderas type) joined by his stoic wife Rose (Claudia Abreu) and their five kids. Among them is Antonio (Ramos Lacerda), the oldest at around 15, and increasingly impatient to make his own way in the world.

This is, essentially, Antonios story the film reaches its conclusion soon after he finally leaves his family to start working on his own. Theres only a very brief sequence showing the remainder of the group in Rio but these shots are the most spectacular in the film, taking place under the outstretched (welcoming? protective?) arms of that citys mountain-top Christ statue. There isn’t any explosive or surprising denouement David Franca Mendes script is based on true events, which presumably explains why he’s able to resist the melodramas which many screenwriters would inject into fictional equivalents.

There are, of course, dramas along the way and moments of suspense, as when the family are split up and certain members recruited into demeaning work as tribal dancers in a theme-park-type affair called The Road to the Clouds (the original Portuguese title, which fits much better than the rather anodyne Anglophone version). But at all times, Amorim commendably resists the urge to preach or make soapbox points about Brazils dire economic straits, or the cultural factors (like religion) which also affect the familys life. Similarly, no particular authorial position taken on the wisdom or otherwise of Romaos plan, which alternately seems heroic and hare-brained.

This is an engagingly upbeat and fresh take on some well-worn developing world cinematic themes, with an eclectic score by Andre Abujamra and alluringly burnished cinematography by Gustavo Hadba. If anything, the film looks a little too good: this is a distinctly romanticised and aestheticised view of what should be grinding poverty and sweat-soaked toil. Given the glowing beauty of Abreu, for instance, it seems scarcely credible that Rose has had one child, let alone five. Putting these distracting quibbles aside, The Middle of the World – edited by Pedro Amorim down to a brisk 85 minutes – covers an impressive amount of ground. By the time Romao and Rose get to Rio, the audience will feel as though they too have been taken on quite a journey though anyone who’s seen City of God may fear that the familys troubles have only just begun

3rd February, 2004
(seen 16th January : Kulturhuset, Troms Troms International Film Festival)

click here for a full list of reviewed films from the Troms International Film Festival 2004

by Neil Young