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Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures: Brazilian Road Movie More Than ‘Exotica’ Showcase

Cinema Aspirins and Vultures Peter Ketnath João MiguelCinema, Aspirins and Vultures movie with Peter Ketnath and João Miguel. Marcelo Gomes’ Brazilian Northeast-set road movie is at its core a showcase for its two first-rate leads: Peter Ketnath, as a World War II refugee, and João Miguel, as a migrant worker.
  • Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005) movie review: Set in the impoverished, semi-arid Brazilian Northeast in 1942, Marcelo Gomes’ contemplative road movie doesn’t dwell on the “exotic” aspects of its narrative, serving instead as a showcase for stars Peter Ketnath and João Miguel (who also gets “story” credit).

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures movie review: WWII refugee & migrant worker connect in contemplative Brazilian road movie

Screened at this year’s AFI FEST, Marcelo Gomes’ low-key road movie Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures / Cinema, Aspirinas e Urubus follows two disparate men – Johann (Peter Ketnath), a German World War II refugee and local aspirin salesman, and Ranulpho (João Miguel), a Brazilian migrant peasant on his way (he hopes) to Rio de Janeiro – as they roam through the impoverished, semi-arid hinterlands of the Brazilian Northeast in 1942, not long before Brazil’s entry in the war on the side of the Allies.

To make the little pills more alluring to prospective consumers, Johann travels with an itinerant “cinema city,” showing promotional movies wherever he can set up his old projector and a tent. Along the way, a grudging friendship develops between the two men.

Northeastern ‘exoticism’

Brazil’s Northeast – in terms of “exoticism,” a cross between the barren American West and the bizarre American South – is a favorite setting for Brazilian filmmakers.

One possible reason is that the Brazilian Northeast – for decades, an impoverished, ethnically mixed, mostly rural, culturally “backwards” region – appears to be a good selling point for international buyers and festival organizers, who apparently believe that, with few exceptions, the urbanized, wealthier, and (mostly) European southern half of the country would be of little interest to foreign audiences. (Unless, of course, the narrative takes place in a[n overwhelmingly black/part-black] “exotic” slum à la Black Orpheus or City of God.)

The international allure of Northeastern “exotica” goes all the way back to at least Lima Barreto’s The Bandit / O Cangaceiro (1953), one of the first Brazilian productions to vie for the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. More recently, it can be attested by the international reception accorded to Walter Salles’ Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nominee Central Station (1998) and to Andrucha Waddington’s Me You Them (2000), which received a Special Mention at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Brazilian ‘exotica’ made universal

Now, that sort of cultural bias shouldn’t be held against screenwriter-director Gomes and co-writers Karim Ainouz and Paulo Caldas’ thoughtfully directed and written, strikingly shot (cinematography by Mauro Pinheiro Jr.), and beautifully acted Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, which at times brings to mind Federico Fellini’s La Strada.

After all, the film’s talent demonstrate that underneath the exotica there’s poetry and universality.

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures / Cinema, Aspirinas e Urubus (2005)

Director: Marcelo Gomes.

Screenplay: Marcelo Gomes, Karim Ainouz, and Paulo Caldas.
From a screen story by João Miguel.

Cast: Peter Ketnath. João Miguel. Veronica Cavalcanti. Irandhir Santos. Daniela Câmara. Francisco Figueiredo. Osvaldo Mil.


Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures: Brazilian Road Movie” endnotes

Brazil’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures failed to receive a nomination.

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures reviewed at the AFI FEST (website).

João Miguel and Peter Ketnath Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures image: Dezenove Filmes | Rec Produtores Associados.

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures: Brazilian Road Movie More Than ‘Exotica’ Showcase” last updated in September 2021.

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