Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Little Prince: Lula, Son of Brazil

As a boy, Luiz Inácio da Silva’s family was so poor, they could not afford to pay attention. Eventually though, the noble young tyke would grow up to become President of Brazil, whose tenure was marked by a major financial scandal and a transparent attempt to compromise his country’s press freedoms. Evidently, those chapters will have to wait for a later film. Instead, viewers are presented a leftist Horatio Alger story in Fábio Barreto’s Lula, Son of Brazil (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

At seven years old, The Little Prince resolutely shields his sainted mother Dona Lindu from his abusive father, shaming the old drunk into submission. From there, the film gets even less subtle. The Little Prince works hard for his family, but at Dona Lindu’s assistance, he maintains his studies, graduating from a technical school as a certified machinist. Being popular and honest as the day is long, he is tapped by the union as an up-and-comer, but tragedy suddenly strikes, sending him into a tailspin. However, it is ultimately just another obstacle for the Little Prince to triumph over.

At least Felipe Falanga is a plucky kid, showing terrific poise as the seven year-old Prince. Conversely, Rui Ricardo Diaz is so boringly perfect and unflaggingly earnest as the all grown-up Prince, viewers will be hoping for a respite from his proletarian rectitude when the military junta finally throws him in jail. At least, Cleo Pires is rather charming as the Prince’s first Princess. Just don’t get too attached to her—the Prince’s martyr credentials have to be renewed periodically.

On one level, Son is a wildly sentimental but nonetheless uplifting paean to a mother’s sacrifice on behalf of her children, or at least her favorite. However, the film also engages in some major whitewashing and memory-holing in an attempt to burnish the Prince’s legacy. Out with his famous Che Guevara t-shirts and in with the conciliatory rhetoric. “We are not the enemies of the factories,” he tells an assembly, because “they pay our salaries.” To be fair though, the scene of striking workers whipped into an ideological frenzy and killing factory managers is a bracing shot of class warfare, even if it is included to position da Silva as an ostensive moderate.

Lovingly produced, Son boasts some fine period details and extras by the thousands. Yet aside from da Silva’s degenerate prodigal father, there film has no antagonistic or even morally ambiguous characters of any note. The Little Prince’s lack of any meaningful flaws or Achilles heel also severely undercuts the drama. The result is like watching one of the slickly produced candidate biographies playing during conventions, with some admittedly accomplished supporting turns.

Clocking in at one hundred twenty-eight minutes, Son is just too long and too breathlessly reverent. Though not recommended, it certainly does not provoke any serious spleen either when it opens this Friday (1/13) in New York at the Quad and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.