Brazilian writer Jorge Amado's 1937 classic about the abandoned and orphan street kids of São Salvador da Bahia, unlike many of his later, more picaresque novels, is a harder book to adapt for the screen; its sprawling cast of characters and episodic structure resist all attempts at reduction to the tight span of a 90-minute narrative (though a little-seen early-seventies version handled by Jonathan Livingston Seagull director Hall Bartlett exists). You might expect a relative of the novelist to have some sort of flair for the material; but his granddaughter Cecília Amado, making her feature debut after rising through the ranks on television and co-directing with DP Guy Gonçalves, turns Capitães da Areia into a candy-coloured, period version of City of God or a Brazilian take on Slumdog Millionaire - all strobe editing effects, picture postcard cinematography and gliding pans. It's not entirely inappropriate conceptually - Capitães da Areia was the City of God of its day, in a way - but it turns out to be an anachronism for the material at hand.

     Ms. Amado's attempts at translating visually the energy of the non-pro cast of kids come off as too modern and fast-paced for a story supposedly taking place in the late 1930s but that has surprisingly little period feel, unhelped by the hyperactive score from pop star Carlinhos Brown, whose contemporary take on classic Bahian rhythms jars when juxtaposed to a period setting where people were listening to 78 discs on hand-cranked gramophones. That the film doesn't really work is also due to the script by Ms. Amado and Hilton Lacerda, threading a series of episodes from the novel with, at its centre, the puppy-love triangle of gang leader Pedro Bala (Jean Luís Amorim), artistic-leaning Professor (Robério Lima) and orphan girl Dora (Ana Graciela Conceição). This focus loses much of the detail that made the book so affecting, while introducing characters and story arcs that are neither properly developed nor successfully finalised. While it is certainly a well-meaning, honest effort, it bowdlerizes the book to an extent that makes it seem as pandering to an audience that has no idea of the novel's stature, using the flashy visuals to make it more relevant to contemporary audiences.

Jean Luís Amorim, Ana Graciela Conceição, Robério Lima, Israel Gouvêa de Souza, Paulo Abade.
     Director, Cecília Amado; screenplay, Ms. Amado, Hilton Lacerda, from the novel by Jorge Amado, Captains of the Sands; cinematography and co-director, Guy Gonçalves (colour, processing by Labocine do Brasil); music, Carlinhos Brown; art director, Adrian Cooper; costumes, Marjorie Gueller; editor, Eduardo Hartung; producers, Ms. Amado, Bruno Stroppiana (Lagoa Cultural & Esportiva and Maga Filmes in co-production with Freeway Entertainment Licensing, Labocine do Brasil, Araçá Azul Cinema & Video, MGN Filmes and Riofilme), Brazil/Portugal, 2011, 98 minutes.
     Screened: DVD screener, Lisbon, April 15th 2012. 


Popular Posts