The Brazilian Romeo and Juliet

Once upon a time, a Brazilian rock star named Renato Russo wrote a 9-minute song called Faroeste Caboclo. It had 168 verses, no riffs and no chorus. The epic track quickly captured Brazilian hearts and became a classic. Many people could sing every line by heart when it was released in 1987. Some still can.

Twenty-five years on, the tale of love, hate and revenge narrated in the song has reached the silver screen with the eponymous Brazilian Western (the rough translation of the song title). The film, directed by René Sampaio, closed the 5th Brazilian Film Festival of London on Tuesday in a sold-out screening for 250 people at the Odeon Covent Garden, consisting of nostalgic Brazilians as well as curious foreigners.

The story of drug dealer João de Santo Cristo (Fabrício Boliveira) is set against the backdrop of Brasília, the country’s capital and a highly diverse and visually impressive metropolis.

João quickly learns that justice has its own crooked ways, just like in any traditional Western. Soon after his father is killed, he ends up in a juvenile institution. He gets out, but seems destined to a life of suffering as a black, poor and illiterate criminal. Love seems to be the only way out.

He finds a job as an apprentice carpenter and meets Maria Lúcia (Ísis Valverde), the daughter of a senator. Then his cousin Pablo (a reference to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar) introduces him to a marijuana business, where they earn vast amounts of money.

Despite all the differences, the pair falls in love madly. Then Jeremiah, João’s rival in love and trafficking, steps into the picture and convolutes the tragedy further.

Brazilian Western effectively combines various plots, subplots and flashbacks. The chemistry between Boliveira and Valverde also works very well: the pair are vibrant and passionate. They render the romance central to the film (unlike the song).

Some important elements of the song are lost in translation, such as the ending. In the original, João wanted to talk to the president about the suffering of Brazilian people, but this is not presented in the film. This may come a disappointment for die-hard Renato Russo fans and many Brazilians in general.

Despite a few shortcomings in the screen adaptation, Brazilian Western is still a modern and beautifully crafted Latin Romeo and Juliet.

Brazilian Western is currently seeking a distributor in the UK and Europe.

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