'Lula' Movie: Brazil Controversial Foreign Language Oscar Submission

by Alt Film Guide
Gloria Pires Lula The Son of Brazil
Lula, The Son of Brazil: Mother Glória Pires and her seven children, including Felipe Falanga (yellow shirt) as the boy Lula

Unanimity isn't what it used to be.

First, Quentin Tarantino's Venice Film Festival jury unanimously decides to hand out awards to the director's friends.

Now comes a unanimous decision from Brazil's Official Film Selection Committee to have Fábio Barreto's costly biopic (some would call it a “hagiopic”) Lula, o Filho do Brasil / Lula, the Son of Brazil as the country's submission for the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Reportedly the most expensive Brazilian movie ever at the time of its release in Jan. 2010, Lula, the Son of Brazil turned out to be a major critical and commercial disappointment, criticized for its glorification of the current Brazilian president and grossing only US$4 million.

Based on Denise Paraná's book, Lula, the Son of Brazil shows how migrant Luis Inácio da Silva (a.k.a. Lula) from Brazil's impoverished Northeast ended up as the top labor leader in the country's industrialized southern half.

From there – though that's not in the film – Lula became leader of the newly founded Workers' Party, and was later elected (and then reelected) president.

Sounds like a Hollywood movie – one of those “Only in America” b.s. tales. In that regard, the choice could be seen as a clever one. Academy members who vote in the Best Foreign Language Film category usually love cheesy sentimentality with a Message, e.g., Twin Sisters, Don't Tell, Days of Glory, The Chorus, Departures, etc. etc.

But there may be more at work here. After all, Lula, the Son of Brazil was hardly considered one of the better Brazilian productions to come out in the past year.

Anna Muylaert's É Proibido Fumar / Smoke Gets in Your Eyes won the Best Film award at the Brasilia Film Festival, while Jeferson De's Bróder! topped the Gramado Film Festival.

Barreto's film was also mired in political controversy because of its whitewashing of Lula's past, the timing of its release (an election year in Brazil), in addition to accusations that several companies found among the film's investors were seeking favors with the Brazilian government.

With the presidential election coming up, Lula's Workers' Party has placed its hopes on Dilma Rousseff, the current leader in various polls. The Oscar submission means renewed international publicity for Lula, the Son of Brazil, for Lula himself, and for the political party he embodies.

Additionally, sentiment may have played a key role in the committee's decision as well. Director Fábio Barreto, 53, was nearly killed in a car crash in December 2009. He has remained in a coma ever since.

Barreto's O Quatrilho, which chronicled the arrival of Italian immigrants in Brazil, received an Oscar nod in 1995.

“I've never seen anything unanimous in my life,” producer Iafa Britz, whose Nosso Lar / Our Home has become a national blockbuster, was quoted as saying in Veja. “I can't think of a single example of unanimity. But I prefer to keep quiet and accept [the decision].”

Anna Muylaert, whose Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was also in the running, remarked that the committee may have chosen Lula, the Son of Brazil because of the Academy's penchant for shortlisting historical dramas.

“If that characteristic is taken into account, The Son of Brazil fulfills the requirement,” Muylaert explains. “But there are other [requirements] necessary to give a film a chance: quality and box office muscle, for instance. And Lula lacks both quality and popular appeal.”

Painting the film selection committee and Barreto's flick in the colors of the Brazilian flag, veteran filmmaker and Brazilian Film Academy president Roberto Farias claimed the committee “took Brazil into account. [For Lula, the Son of Brazil] reflects a little about our lives. Lula is a star here and abroad; he's well known internationally.”

Farias also explained that “We chose the film that seemed to us the most accomplished, one that honors Brazilian filmmaking and that stars [veteran actress] Glória Pires, who becomes an excellent choice for the Best Actress award [for her performance as Lula's mother]. Our choice had nothing to do with politics.”

Now, which Brazil Farias was taking into account no one knows, for the vast majority of Brazilians hardly go from poor, illiterate migrants to presidents.

Not to mention the fact that about 130,000 Brazilians visited the Ministry of Culture's website to vote for their Oscar submission choice – Lula, the Son of Brazil received a mere 1 percent of the vote, coming in sixth place. The Brazilian public's top choice was Wagner de Assis' Our Home, about spiritualism and life after death, with 70 percent of the vote, followed by Daniel Filho's Chico Xavier, a biopic of spiritualist medium and author Francisco Candido Xavier (“Chico” is the Portuguese nickname for Francisco), with 12 percent.

As for Glória Pires' Oscar chances – in case Lula were to open in Los Angeles in 2010, that is … Well, regardless of the quality of Pires' performance, I'd say that even Drew Barrymore in Going the Distance and Jennifer Aniston in The Switch have a better chance.

Lula, the Son of Brazil is expected to open in the US in winter 2011. Its final moments will be changed for international audiences, who'll be able to catch the Brazilian president buddying it up with the likes of Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II – but not, I can guarantee you, with Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For the record, the official film selection committee members were handpicked by Brazil's Ministry of Culture, and, for the first time, by the National Cinema Agency and the Brazilian Film Academy.

They were: the aforementioned Roberto Farias, in addition to Cássio Henrique Starling Carlos, Clélia Bessa, Elisa Tolomelli, Frederico Hermann Barbosa Maia, Jean Claude Bernardet, Leon Kakoff, Márcia Lellis de Souza Amaral and Mariza Leão Salles de Rezende.

Note: Our Home, which opened in Sept. 2010, cost US$11.6 million, and is now officially the most expensive Brazilian film production ever. How they can figure those things out I don't know, as Brazil has had a whole array of currencies in the last few decades.

Photo: Luiz Carlos Barreto Produções Cinematográficas

At India's 57th National Film Awards announced on Sept. 16, the top award went to a Mayalayam production, Shaji N. Karun's Kutty Srank: The Sailor of Hearts, voted the best feature film.

The tale of a lonely, irascible boatman who, following his death, turns out to have been much less lonely (and apparently much less irascible) than people thought – he had three wives, none of which knew of the others' existence – Kutty Srank won three other awards: best screenplay, best costume design, and best cinematography (Anjali Shukla, reportedly the first woman to win in that category), in addition to sharing a special jury mention.

Other top winners included veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan for Paa, his fourth National Film Award, and the Aamir Khan vehicle 3 Idiots, voted “the most popular film.”

Paa, also chosen as the best Hindi film, earned Arundhati Naag the best supporting actress award.

The best actress was Ananya Chatterjee for Rituparno Ghosh's Bengali release Abohoman, which also received awards for best director, best editing (Arghya Kamal Mitra), best supporting actor (Farooque Sheikh), and best Bengali film.

Producer Vivek Khatkar and director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan's Lahore was the best debut film.

The government-sponsored National Film Awards are among India's most important film honors.

Montreal World Film Festival Awards

The Montreal World Film Festival winners were announced on Sept. 7.

FEATURE FILMS

Grand prix des Americas: 
OXYGEN (ADEM) by Hans Van Nuffel (Belgium/Netherlands)

Special Grand Prix of the jury : 
DALLA VITA IN POI (FROM THE WAIST ON) by Gianfrancesco Lazotti (Italy)

Best Director ex-aequo: 
LIMBO by Maria Sødahl (Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Trinidad and Tobago) 
TÊTE DE TURC by Pascal Elbé (France)

Best Actress : 
ERI FUKATSU for the film AKUNIN (VILLAIN) by Lee Sang-Il (Japan)

Best Actor
FRANÇOIS PAPINEAU for the film ROUTE 132 by Louis Bélanger (Canada)

Best Screenplay: 
DE LA INFANCIA (FROM CHILDHOOD) by Carlos Carrera, screenplay by Silvia Pasternac, Fernando Leon, Carlos Carrera (Mexico)

Best Artistic Contribution : 
VENICE (WENECJA) by Jan Jakub Kolski (Poland)

Innovation Award: 
TROMPER LE SILENCE (SILENCE LIES) by Julie Hivon (Canada)

SHORT FILMS : 
1st prize : 
EL VENDEDOR DEL AÑO (SALESMAN OF THE YEAR) by Coté Soler (Spain)

Jury Award: 
SEXTING by Neil Labute (U.S.A.)

ZENITHS FOR THE BEST FIRST FICTION FEATURE FILMS 2010

Golden Zenith for the Best First Fiction Feature films : 
AMORE LIQUIDO (LIQUID LOVE) by Mario Luca Cattaneo (Italie)

Silver Zenith for the First Fiction Feature Film : 
REVERSE MOTION by Andrey Stempkovsky (Russie)

Bronze Zenith for the First Fiction Feature Film : 
LE SENTIMENT DE LA CHAIR (THE SENTIMENT OF THE FLESH) by Roberto Garzelli (France)

Special mention of the First Feature Film Jury: 
EUROPOLIS de Cornel Gheorghita (Roumanie-France)

PUBLIC AWARDS

Public Awards for the most popular film of the Festival: 
PARAJOS DE PAPEL (PAPER BIRDS) by Emilio Aragon (Spain) 
THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR) by Florian Cossen (Germany)

Cinemathèque québécoise Public Award for the most popular Canadian Feature Film: 
TROMPER LE SILENCE (SILENCE LIES) by Julie Hivon (Canada)

Glauber Rocha Award for the Best Latin American Film : 
DE LA INFANCIA (FROM CHILDHOOD) by Carlos Carrera (Mexico)

Award for Best documentary : 
CHE, UN HOMBRE NUEVO (CHE. A NEW MAN) by Tristan Bauer (Argentina/Cuba/Spain)

Award for Best Canadian Short Film : 
LE CIRQUE / THE CIRCUS by Nicolas Brault (Canada)

FIPRESCI PRIZE (INTERNATIONAL FILM CRITICS
THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR) by Florian Cossen (Germany)

ECUMENICAL PRIZES 
OXYGEN (ADEM) by Hans Van Nuffel (Belgium/Netherlands)

Special mention of the Ecumenical jury : 
THE DAY I WAS NOT BORN (DAS LIED IN MIR) by Florain Cossen (Germany)

OTHER AWARDS

Special Awards for their exceptional contribution to the cinematographic art : 
NATHALIE BAYE (France) 
STEFANIA SANDRELLI (Italy)

JURY 
President : BILLE AUGUST, director (Denmark) 
IRENE BIGNARDI, journalist and festivals director (Italy) 
ANNE-MARIE CADIEUX, actress (Canada) 
MARWAN HAMED, director (Egypt) 
IGOR MINAEV, director (Ukraine-France) 
EDOUARD MOLINARO, director (France) 
LIJUNG TANG, festivals director (China)

Members of the jury of the First Fiction Films : 
Christian Gaines (U.S.A.) 
Marie-Catherine Marchetti (France) 
Ivan Trujillo (Mexico)

Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman for the Oscars?

The Toronto Film Festival is seen by many as an Oscar bellwether. Be that as it may, so far no clear favorite has come out of TIFF 2010. (As of now, David Fincher's The Social Network, which opens the New York Film Festival, has the Oscar edge.)

But in the Star Ledger, Stephen Whitty talks about two female performances that may end up as front-runners once awards season kicks off in a few weeks with the Gotham Award nominations.

Unsurprisingly, one of the two actresses is Natalie Portman, singled out for her off-kilter ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, which earned the actress solid reviews at the Venice Film Festival. (Ironically, Portman went home from Venice empty-handed, but fellow player Mila Kunis won the Marcello Mastroianni Award given to a new performer.)

Whitty's other top actress is Nicole Kidman in John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole, in which Kidman plays a mother trying to cope with the death of her four-year-old son.

Considering the buzz surrounding her performance, all Kidman needs to get an Oscar nomination is for Rabbit Hole to find a US distributor and a release date prior to Dec. 31, 2010.

Photo: Black Swan (Niko Tavernise / Fox Searchlight).

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2 comments

Mark Elias -

For those of you who come from the Northeast, lived in favellas and struggled to succeed, this film is less about Lula than it is about the struggles of Brazilians. Paolista's are famous for getting it wrong. This film and the acting is merely a masterpiece. Whether the subject matter is Lula or not, the depiction of the poor struggling farmer, forced economic migration, the struggle between the farm and the city, the rich and the poor: well, this is the history of Brazil. Further more, the acting is superb and the soundtrack immortalizes the era of the hate-filled dictatorship which you hardly mention in your review. Suspicious then, because I have a theory about Brazilians who benefited from the amnesty for their atrocities against humanity.

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Tashi Roberts -

I have read about this movie and it seems to be sort of political propaganda.

I have a Brazilian friend who told me she expected something more relevant to a Global Movie Award Competition, to come out her homeland for this year's Oscars.

I haven't seen this movie yet, so I will not say much about it - but based on what I have heard and read about it so far - Brazil can do better!

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