The Man From The Future (O Homem do Futuro)

Brazil (2011) Dir. Cláudio Torres

It’s an age old question but one that will forever be asked purely because of the infinite possibilities for the answers – If you were able to go back in time and change something in your life, what would it be?

Joao Henrique (Wagner Moura) is a brilliant scientist with a chip on his shoulder thanks to an incident 20 years ago. He heads a major science project but his foibles and short temper put him at odds with his sponsor, old college friend Sandra (Maria Luiza Mendonça), who is trying to stop Joao from being fired. After an argument, Joao, with help from long time friend Otávio (Fernando Ceylão), fires up the time machine they have built in secret and climbs inside.

To his surprise, Joao wakes up on November 22nd 1991, the night he was humiliated at a party by his girlfriend Helene (Alinne Moraes). Joao gatecrashes the party and finds his younger self, convincing him of who he is and how to prevent being set up at the hands of ex-boyfriend, Ricardo (Gabriel Braga Nunes). Joao succeeds and his future self returns to his own timeline, but the happy life he was expecting is what he wakes up to.

One of the trickiest plots to make into a credible story is time travel. The amount of fun to be had with it is boundless, but some audiences take their sci-fi seriously and demand the science be plausible to paper over any plot holes, spoiling the escapist enjoyment for others. Brazilian writer-director Cláudio Torres may have found how to maintain that balance with The Man From The Future.

Essentially a film about letting the past go, the story rockets along at quite a pace, the first time leap occurring inside the first 15 minutes. Joao is a mad scientist insofar as he attacks his work with intensity which puts him offside with many people, damaging his reputation as a genius. He is supposed to be developing a new energy source using a particle accelerator but his combustible attitude is deterring investors.

Much of his anger comes from that night in 1991 and his subsequent unfulfilling personal life. With this in his thoughts as he enters the time machine, the particle reader picks up on it and sends Joao back to the day in question. Whilst some clichés are inescapable, like Joao’s future money not being legal tender, or his manic accosting of a passerby to confirm the date, there is a nice refreshing touch when he wakes up and his equilibrium is compromised, something new to me.

Another example of the smart scripting is the layered story of Joao’s humiliation, with something new revealed across each time leap. Helene was the school hottie, coming onto physics genius Joao despite dating Ricardo, whom she breaks up with Ricardo and declares her love to the Joao. It transpires he was right to be suspicious but future Joao is able to pinpoint what is going to happen, and encourages teen Joao to instigate vital changes for a happy ending.

Returning to 2011, there is no happily ever after for Joao. He is supremely rich but not married to Helene, as she is in jail for drug smuggling which he set her up for, whilst Otávio is trying to kill him after Joao betrayed him. Having realised what a piece of work he has become, Joao convinces Otávio to help return to 1991 to make sure he puts the past back to where it was to ensure a better future for all.

Now there are three Joao’s in 1991, all with different agendas, with teen Joao naturally confused by two future selves fighting over who he should be listening to. Meanwhile, Otávio follows Joao into the time machine and jumps back to 1991 want to change things for his younger self too, even if it means killing the Joao who wants to restore the events of the evening to its original unfortunate ending.

We know that interfering with the past is the biggest no-no in time travel and Torres has taken a uniquely moral approach to his story to reiterate this fact. It becomes apparent early on his take on this subject is not going to adhere to convention, at least not all of them, and it is only the swift pacing that keeps him from straying into such familiar territory.

For instance, the revised 2011 segment could have been played out much longer with the shock revelations coming after Joao has had some fun with his newfound wealthy lifestyle; instead, he walks into each gnarly situation straight away one after another. The downside is Joao comes to realise the folly of his hubris quite quickly, at least showing his humanity hasn’t been totally corrupted through affluence and success.

However, it allows Torres to save this for the emotional sacrifices in 1991 and the climax in another version of 2011, complete with a cheeky outcome to show how you can tempt fate if you use your brains! There a lot of balls being juggled in the script but Torres is up to the task, and he has been given a decent budget to bring it to life, delivering a good looking film effects wise.

Leading man Wagner Moura couldn’t have picked a different project after starring in the violent Elite Squad films, but his comical side is shown to be effortless in making Joao a protagonist to get behind. Support is decidedly strong to prevent this being a one-man show, with Alinne Moraes given more to do that coast of her looks, and the well-observed protean appearances of Fernando Ceylão’s Otávio.

A compelling, intelligent, fresh time travel comedy fantasy, The Man From The Future has enough silly shenanigans to keep most audiences entertained, whilst science snobs are given plenty of opportunities to dissect the highbrow mumbo jumbo. It’s a rather light film given the gravity of its themes but its heart and good intentions are sufficient consolation.

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