Briga de família

Abril Despedaçado is an exquisite journey by Walter Salles into the hearts of two Brazilian families feuding over land


Abril Despedaçado (Brazil)
Walter Salles
2001 (Portuguese, English subtitles), Miramax
88 minutes

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

LATAMROB rating: ****

THE FEUD has been an important, but largely unacknowledged, feature of social relations in the countryside across Latin America since time immemorial. Landowning families battling it out over scarce resources in the absence of meaningful authority have shaped the structures of local power from Tierra del Fuego to Tijuana. As those battles became personalised, they were inherited by new generations, and violence between clans assumed a symbolic cycle governed by honour codes and the seasons themselves.

Luís Aguiar da Costa Pinto’s Lutas de Família no Brasil (1949) was a pioneering effort to understand patterns of Brazilian family warfare, lutas, or “brigas de família”, yet according to Linda Lewin* his work inspired few scholars to take this theme forward, and vendettas and feuds continue today to be a poorly understood feature of local conflict in regions such as the Northeast.

This wonderful film by Walter Salles takes as its protagonists two clans warring in a breathtakingly beautiful but barren area of the Brazilian badlands. Set at the beginning of the 20th century, Abril Despedaçado (Behind the Sun) tells the tale of the Breves family trapped in a cycle of violence sparked by a feud with neighbours.

Code of honour

While the heads of each family are driven by a strict and unquestionable code of honour that is leading them to extinction, for Pacu (Ravi Ramos Lacerda) – the youngest Breves son who witnesses the murder of his eldest brother – and Tonho (Rodrigo Santoro), his remaining older brother, things could not be more different.

Pacu has an epiphany after an encounter with a circus girl (Flavia Marco Antonio) who gives him a book and, anxious that his beloved brother Tonho will meet certain death, the boy tries to persuade him to challenge his destiny and run away. In this way, a series of almost magical events change the course of their individual histories.

Salles once again demonstrates his consummate skill as a storyteller while reflecting on the meaning of life and questioning duty, honour and freedom. He portrays the simplicity and innocence of young people as the device that can help the family escape the historical course that has kept it in a state of helplessness and near slavery. Based on a novel by Ismail Kadare, the script was masterfully crafted by Salles and Karim Ainouz to confront this director’s other favourite themes of making a journey and finding an answer.

The cinematography of Abril Despedaçado is exquisite, highlighting the surreal quality of everyday events against the almost unimaginable vastness of the Brazilian landscape, and the soundtrack is quite superb, matching every scene like paint strokes in a masterpiece.

Abril Despedaçado was nominated for a Golden Globe award, and was awarded the Little Golden Lion at the 2002 Venice Film Festival. It also was the winner for best director at the 2002 Havana Film Festival and nominated for a Bafta award as best foreign language film in 2002.

*Lewin, Linda (2004). “Intrigas e questoes: Vinganca de familia e tramas sociais no sertao de Pernambuco (review)” Luso-Brazilian Review, Volume 41, Number 1 (2004), pp. 213-215

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican journalist