Faroeste Caboclo (Brazilian Western)

More a tragic love story than a western, this film resembles a Brazilian version of Scarface (1983). It’s a surprisingly ambitious and mature film from first time director René Sampaio, just out of film school, who was inspired by Brazilian folksinger Renato Russo’s popular 80s song ‘Faroeste Caboclo’ that he grew up with, to make this cinematic adaptation. 

The song tells the incredible story of a poor black kid from the sticks, João do Santo Cristo (Fabrício Boliveira), whose father is murdered by a corrupt policeman. Raised by his mother, he eventually leaves his home town in Salvador, Bahia, after she dies, to make a living as a carpenter in the big city of Brasília, with his cousin. 

The film is shot in spaghetti western style in the Brazilian outback and moves along at break-neck pace keeping the viewer engaged as we follow João’s fateful journey to the big city where he meets and falls in love with Maria Lúcia (Isis Valverde), an architect student from a wealthy family. As we see their relationship blossom while he aspires to make a new life for himself, we want to see the underdog succeed and win the heart of his girl, but João is destined to suffer more than most for his love. 

Taking place in the 1980s, the film doesn’t shy away from the brutal racism and class system that still exists today in many parts of Brazil and the lawlessness and corruption that people with few resources face. The violent gritty graphics are reminiscent of Tarantino’s camera style, and visually emulates City of God and Pulp Fiction (1994).

When João discovers that there’s a lack of good quality marijuana in the community, he puts his carpentry skills aside and decides to put his farming skills to use, growing his own quality weed. His burgeoning enterprise goes over well with the locals, but he soon gains the attention of the local drug dealer, who also happens to be his girlfriend’s spurned ex-boyfriend.

The real revelation in Brazilian Western (2013) is the intensely riveting performance by lead actor Fabrício Boliveira as João, who easily carries the film and keeps our attention as a man full of childlike wonder and enthusiasm, but with the reckless courage to take on anyone who wrongs him. His passionate portrayal is what keeps the audience hooked into the film.

When Maria’s father, a government official, discovers her relationship with João, which she’s been hiding from him, she is immediately disowned. The jealous local drug dealer also catches up with João at this point and he’s put in jail, where he’s tortured to force Maria into a relationship with her drug dealer ex. Now abandoned by her father, Maria must make a deal with the devil to save the one she loves from further pain.

The chemistry between João and Maria comes through with tenderness and passion. Their fateful love affair is palpable and when they are shown making love it’s often in secret, with dangerous consequences for both if they’re caught.

In typical Brazilian melodramatic fashion, this powerful love story is a classic tale of two people reaching across racial, social and economic divides, risking everything for happiness. 

Brazilian Western premiered at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this year and surely ranks up there with some of the best films to come out of Brazil in recent years such as Behind the Sun (2002), City of God (2003) and Elite Squad (2008). 


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