Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Suspended activities

It’s been a month since my last post. For shame! I can only pass on the excuses of a busy term time with the ongoing millstone of the research proposal hanging around my neck. And still it’s not perfect. Grumble, grumble… And this will have to be a short post as well, since it’s back to the grind of essays to churn out too. Can you believe it was only one month ago since the last lot were handed in?

Still, I have a bit of time to crank out the latest bit of Braziliana that I’ve been involved with. After missing its showing in Oxford and LSE the other week, it was third time luck for me last night. Down at Goodenough College (yes, it’s really called that) I saw Joao Moreira Salles’s Entreatos (Intermissions). And apart from the hard seat, it was extraordinarily engrossing.

It follows Lula around over the last month of his presidential campaign. Eschewing the rallies and big events, the director has chosen to focus on those moments in between: Lula on the plane, talking to his staff, at home with his family, having his beard trimmed while on the phone, choosing a tie for the debate, and talking about his turquoise VW which he courted his wife in.

It’s not a film about Lula the politician, but Lula the man. Admittedly, opinion was divided afterwards between those who disliked him, and those who liked him. Personally, I found him down to earth. In the question and answer sessions afterwards Joao was asked about his editing; was what he had cut an accurate representation of the time he spent with him? How much of Lula which we saw was him or his political persona? When did the act – as all politicians are prone to do – switch off?

Joao said that the access he had received was unprecedented. There’s even a moment when Lula’s campaign organiser and now chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, snaps at the film crew. Not even he was informed about the filming which was to take place. Lula never asked for a say about the final cut, which encouraged Joao to be as fair as possible. But as I said to friends after the showing, to what extent was he granted access in the first place had it not been a sympathetic portrayal.

One thing Joao could not help but notice was the absolute lack of introspection in Lula. After a few days you forget the camera is there and behave as you would otherwise do. But not once did he ever ask himself if he was up to the job. I asked Joao whether he plans to make a follow-up to the story: of how the political system and machine affects his ability to act. But he doesn’t want to; it doesn’t interest him. Besides, he claims that it’s inevitable that it will happen; that he will be swallowed up.

I would recommend this film, even to those (i.e. the majority!) who know nothing nor care about Brazilian politics. People will be split over whether they agree with his politics or his personality. But two things cannot be denied: one, the sheer charisma of the man; the second, the symbolism that Lula in 2002 represented. This is a man who is the living embodiment of someone who pulled himself out of a life of penury and manual labour, through the union movement and to become president of the Republic. If nothing else, that tale is one which symbolised his election: as the one moment when all the promises about politics being open to all, was finally fulfilled; when the dreamer finally reached a position to put into practice his ambitions.

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