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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

SIFF 2012 Reviews: Xingu and The Art of Love


A compelling and gorgeously shot tale of three real-life brothers who were instrumental in the protection of indigenous Indian tribes in Brazil, Xingu, directed by Cao Hamburger (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation), tells a little-known and important tale, but suffers somewhat from trying to cover 18 years of story in 102 minutes. The film tells the tale of the Villas-Bôas brothers, Orlando, Claudio and Leonardo, who started out leading the charge of colonization across central Brazil, but fell in love with the diversity and richness of the Indian tribes they found there and instead led the charge to protect them from the impact of colonization by Whites.

Ultimately Claudio and Orlando Villas-Bôas were responsible for the creation of Xingu National Park, an indigenous-only park in central Brazil in 1961. It’s a tale of breathtaking scope, and one that American audiences are probably completely unfamiliar with, and it’s particularly relevant given that the continued deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest (problematic in and of itself) increasingly encroaches on diverse and unique way of life the tribes residing within the preserve have maintained.

There are moments in the film that feel like some storytelling was lost in the editing room. For instance, early on we see Claudio and Leonardo lie about their intelligence and literacy in order to get accepted into the military group that’s going to explore central Brazil, but we don’t know why they’re lying, and there’s never a reason given for why they wouldn’t have just enlisted by saying, “Hey, we have these skill sets, and I’d like to join this expedition.” And yet, in spite of presenting themselves as illiterate peons (unskilled laborers) to be a part of the expedition, when we next see them they are leading it. We see an officer who looks gloweringly suspicious of the brothers as they enlist, which foreshadows his involvement later, but this never really pays off later even when he reappears.

More problematic, we’re never given any real clue as to what, other than a sense of adventure, drove the three brothers to abandon educations and established careers to go exploring rainforests, nor any sense of what in their upbringing might have later driven the three to lead the charge to protect the indigenous tribes they found there, and this is really what should be the heart of the story. This is a tale about three brothers, without whose passion these tribes would have just been plowed over by all the greedy white men who followed; their savvy use of PR and their ability to convince others to balance economic interest with cultural concern and preservation led to the creation of something that would not exist without them! Show us what drove these men, other than falling in love with Indian women. The film jumps forward in time a lot, presumably because there’s a lot of ground to cover here, but in covering all this ground the character development, even of the three main characters, is thinly sliced; secondary characters are so undeveloped as to mostly feel like props, and the female characters, such as there are, are given nothing to do but stand around topless and demure.

Those issues aside – and they are not small issues, unfortunately – Xingu is still worth seeing for its subject matter and the beauty with which it’s shot. If nothing else, watching Xingu might inspire you to learn more about the Villas-Bôas brothers, the indigenous tribes of Brazil, the difference between Xingu National Park and the Native American reservations in the US, and why its important to preserve one of the last places on earth mostly untouched by modernization.

The Villas-Bôas brothers believed that Brazil’s indigenous tribes would eventually be “civilized” and become a part of Brazilian society, but that they should be left to do this in their own way, in their own time, with their culture and heritage preserved as much as possible. Here’s hoping that, with Fernando Meirelles’ name attached as a producer, enough people in Brazil who have the influence to make that happen will see this story and be inspired, as the Villas-Bôas brothers were in their time, to preserve the beauty and diversity of their indigenous peoples.

The Art of Love

Emmanuel Mouret’s The Art of Love isn’t quite as Woody Allen as the writer-director seems to want it to be, but most of the time it works quite nicely for what it is. Mouret (Please, Please Me and Shall We Kiss) uses a series of loosely interconnected vignettes to explore human relationships by showing us glimpses of their lives in various stages of romantic crises.

Three of the vignettes stood out among the rest: The first, a story about an older couple whose long-term marriage is suddenly threatened by the woman desiring other men, and how the pair deal with that, was touching and heartrending and beautifully acted. I also greatly enjoyed a longer episodic tale that was interspersed with the others about a man and his sexy new neighbor and the way they dance around their attraction to each other; the subtext of these, which is as much about the way in which people communicate as it is about sexual attraction, rings very true. And the final vignette, longer than the others, really could stand alone as a short or be expanded into a feature; it’s a farcical tale of a man who’s sexually attracted to a female friend, and what happens when she agrees to have sex with him in a dark hotel room, but sends another friend in her place.

Taken as a whole, The Art of Love doesn’t always work, though; these kind of episodic vignettes where things are loosely tied together around a theme has to be really spot-on for the whole to work together seamlessy, and that click never really happens here. If you view The Art of Love more as a package of individual shorts, as it were, with a Woody Allenesque voiceover in a sexy French voice, it’s quite enjoyable overall, and it’s certainly worth sticking around for that last segment.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon