Lula, The Son of Brazil (Lula, O Filho do Brasil) (2010)

By 31 August, 2010

There can be few more timely showings at this year’s Brazilian film festival than Fábio Barreto’s Lula, The Son of Brazil. With the presidential successor to the film’s protagonist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva due to be named next month, the biopic chronicling the life of one of Brazil’s most popular and respected leaders will be of interest to audiences the world over.

Since coming to power in 2002 Lula has earnt justified recognition for his work in transforming the perception abroad of South America’s largest country. As Brazil’s first non-white president, comparisons with Barrack Obama are inevitable; however, while America’s leader has had two autobiographies published, relatively little is known about the childhood and early career of Brazil’s favourite son.
The film chronicles the protagonist’s early years, taking the audience from his birth in Pernambuco in 1946, and following his journey to Sao Paolo and from poor immigrant to iconic leader of Brazil’s trade union movement at the age of 35.

Although convincingly portrayed by Rui Ricardo Dias, a relatively unknown stage actor, the adult Lula struggles to draw the intrigue one might expect from such a pivotal world figure. One of the main criticisms of the depiction is that it shies away from controversy to the extent that it sometimes borders on becoming a haliography. From the instant the ten-year old Lula steps in to defend his mother from his abusive father, the protagonist is clearly presented as the very opposite of the cowardly drunken, wife beating Aristides. On hearing of his death Lula muses that while he has inherited his mother’s kindness, he has his father to thank for his cruelty. But a dark side, if there is any to be uncovered in Lula’s past, ultimately fails to make it into Barreto’s script. The protagonist we see is no flawed genius and is just too clean cut, too humble for the audience to really identify with. The challenges suffered by the young metal worker on route to success – namely the loss of his first wife through childbirth and a factory accident which resulted in him losing a finger – are recounted fleetingly with the result of feeling unconvincing. Only the climax of the film, the death of Lula’s mother which takes place during Lula’s incarceration, manages to achieve real gravitas.

Perhaps the real intrigue of the film is instead the insight it gives into Lula’s Brazil during a seminal period in the country’s history. Lula’s development from a northeastern retirante, into a factory worker and outspoken trade unionist is played out against the backdrop of considerable socio-economic change. The family’s migration from the Sertao – the arid hinterland of the northeast – to the outskirts of Sao Paolo will be familiar to the many second and third generation Cariocas and Paulistas whose forbearers made this very journey in their millions in the 1940s and 1950s. Lula and his brother Zizi gain positions as metal workers in the early 1960s, at a time when Brazil was successfully making the transition to an industrialised and export-driven economy. Finally, the military government of the late 1960s and 1970s, which proves the catalyst for the future president’s political conscience, takes centre stage at the end of the film and in doing so conveys the seeds of the regime’s downfall and the beginnings of the tolerant, progressive Brazil we see today.

Despite his imminent withdrawal from the limelight, Lula is likely to continue to be revered in Brazilian society for years to come. Lula, Son of Brazil is a fitting, albeit sometimes rose-tinted tribute to the man, and to the period which spawned him.

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