Monday, June 07, 2010

Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil ‘10: Time of Peace

WWII was a complicated period in Brazilian history. Though President Getúlio Vargas originally seemed to favor the Axis powers, FDR’s “Good Neighbor” campaign eventually brought Brazil into the war aligned with the Allies. The only Latin American country to send troops to the front, Brazil became a haven for both Jews escaping persecution and National Socialist war criminals fleeing justice after the war. One former political enforcer now finds himself charged with ferreting out the latter from amongst the shiploads of refugees arriving with the war’s conclusion in Daniel Filho’s Time of Peace (trailer here), which screens at this year’s Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil in New York.

Segismundo needs new orders. The war is over, but the Vargas administration has yet to send down new procedures for peace time. Recognizing a new breeze is blowing, they have released a number of political prisoners. Segismundo’s highly placed patron recommends he lay low for a time, but he is not one to hide from danger. Instead, he does his duty as he sees it, starting with the interrogation of a suspicious Polish immigrant who speaks flawless Portuguese.

For Clausewitz, Brazil represents not just a fresh start, but a land of innocence. Turning his back on his former life and the horrors of war, he intends to work in his adopted country as a farm hand. However, he quickly discovers he will have to draw on his skills as an actor to negotiate Segismundo’s cross examination.

Peace is a radical departure from Filho’s film at last year’s festival, the body-switching popcorn comedy If I Were You 2. Adapted by Bosco Brasil from his own stage play, it remains nearly a two-hander despite the presence of a fairly large supporting cast, including Filho himself appearing as a former doctor and political prisoner bent on revenge.

Clearly, the heart of the film involves the verbal sparring between Clausewitz and Segismundo, who offers the confused Pole safe passage if he can tell a story that brings tears to his eyes. While such a set-up is unabashedly manipulative, the film’s leads give it dramatic credibility. Dan Stulbach instills his Clausewitz with a humane pathos, in both Portuguese and Polish. However, by avoiding clichés of both the guilt-ridden torturer and the fanatical true-believer, Tony Ramos’s performance as Segismundo is particularly nuanced and intriguing.

With an elegant classical soundtrack composed by ECM recording artist Egberto Gismonti, Peace is definitely a prestige picture. In the tradition of Schindler’s List, it ends with a tribute to the many European Jewish immigrants made significant contributions to post-war Brazilian society. Though glossing a lot of thorny historical context, it is an undeniably heartfelt film. Classy and effective, Peace screens again during the Brasil Fest this Friday (6/11) at the Tribeca Cinemas.