To open a film with narration from the protagonist informing the audience that they are already dead is a bold move. It worked in American Beauty and it works in Joaquim, from Brazilian director Marcelo Gomes. Of course, it’s impossible to not be aware that the character will die, since the opening of the movie depicts his handsome head after it has actually been removed from his body. It’s a provocative opening, shrouded in mist and rain, perhaps foreshadowing the fact that everything to follow has also been obscured by mistruth and the passing of time.
Joaquim José da Silva Xavier is a national hero in Brazil, an insurgent against the ruling Portugal in the 18th century, well before Brazil gained independence. He is not so well known by the international community, but the context of his status is totally unnecessary, since Gomes makes the story rather engrossing. Wisely, he doesn’t show Joaquim’s total transformation from loyal soldier into a revolutionary, and merely alludes at things to come. Joaquim, played with a crisp stoicism by Julio Machado, is a second lieutenant in the Portuguese army, patrolling the wilds in search of gold smugglers. His lower class means that he is unlikely to rise above his current rank, but he’s still going to try, accepting an assignment to go into the wilderness to search for new gold seams to line the pockets of his Portuguese masters.
The film is at its most compelling when it depicts this seemingly fruitless mission, a chance for the protagonist to rise above his station. The Brazil shown on screen is vast and unforgiving, and certainly not a lush tropical paradise. There is also an interesting power interplay between Joaquim and a slave called “Blackie” (Isabél Zuaa). He is her superior, and yet she holds many, if not most of the cards in their exchanges. She uses her sexuality to compel him to do her will, perhaps even give her some kind of freedom, and it’s enticingly never certain if she has true affection for him, or is simply manipulating things to her will, using the only means possible. Joaquim might not connect on all levels, but it’s an intriguing piece of work.
Joaquim is released nationwide on 2017.
Joaquim does not have a UK release date yet.
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