BirdWatchers – La terra degli uomini rossi

Brazil (2008) Dir. Marco Bechis

A community of Guarani-Kaiowa native Indians who live on a reserve are paid to pretend to be savage natives by a rich European farm owner Moreira (Leonardo Medeiros) and his wife Beatrice (Chiara Caselli) for when tourists arrive. A young lad of the tribe Osvaldo (Pedro Abrísio da Silva) begins to have dreams of the deaths of his fellow tribesmen which come true. Believing an evil spirit is after them, the community decide Osvaldo should starting training to be a shaman and they move to a piece of land just outside Moreira’s farm which they claim to be theirs as indigenous natives, thus beginning an unpleasant turf war.

 The premise is a completely familiar one but what gives this film the edge is the fact that the cast are genuine natives, none of whom are pro actors or worked from a script. The Brazilian setting also gives it an air of authenticity other films usually lack due to filming in a suitable looking forest or valley somewhere with reasonably ethnic looking actors. By keeping everything as real as possible, the theme of the struggle of possession between the old and the new, the originals and the pretenders to the crown doesn’t feel forced or contrived in anyway – although the sub plot of Osvaldo falling for the spoilt farmer’s daughter Maria (Fabiane Pereira da Silva) feels a little thrown in for good measure but thankfully it isn’t mawkish or given to much prominence.

In a similar vein is a silly and amusing seduction scene involving tribeswoman Mami (Eliane Juca da Silva) who pays a visit to the dim witted watchman Roberto (Claudio Santamaria) in order to get his gun. While he mounts her and fumbles his way to quick ecstasy she is laughing and calling him “long dick man”! Naturally the squeeze is put on by the farmers who try every dirty trick in the book to get the tribe to move which only strengthens the resolve of stoic leader Nadio (Ambrosio Vilhava), even if it means rejecting his own son Irineu (Ademilson Concianza Verga).

What the film does, along with highlighting the plight of the long standing battle between the Indians and the invading Europeans which sees hundreds of Indians committing suicide or dying each year as a result, is also provides us with a glimpse into the world of the Guarani-Kaiowa Indians, with their esoteric and traditional habits and rites.

The message is an old one but the telling of it has rarely been delivered in such a direct and shaming manner.