A road movie set in the Age of Discoveries. The main character travels through Asia in search of wealth and prestige and ends up shunned by the royalty.
This is an adaptation of a 500 years old book, written almost in opposition to Os Lusíadas. Instead of being the epic tale of a people anointed by the Gods of Olympus to conquer half the world, it’s a travel log critical of the Portuguese administration in faraway lands. The opposition is so clear, there is a scene where he waits for his audience with the King while shaking his fist at Camões for using poetry instead of giving a realistic and objective account of the new lands.
It’s ironic, then, that much of his accounts are clearly fictional, or at least second-hand stories he had no hands-on experience. The story is nominally auto-biographic, but he turns his main character into a metaphor for all brave and valiant Portuguese that sailed through Southeast Asia. In addition to that literary device, he makes up an alter ego for himself, a blood-thirsty corsair that pillages, murders and rapes. Whenever he talks about evil deeds done by his people, it’s always personified in that nemesis character.
Apparently, it was later discovered that that evil doer was named after one of his neighbours he had a feud with. In classic artistic fashion, the artist uses the work for thinly veiled insults to the people he detests.
The plot can be summed up easily:
- Arrive at exotic place
- Be received by local King/Prince/Shaman
- Trade food or clothes for riches such as gold or spices
- Leave on a boat filled with the loot
- Wreck the boat in some storm, all precious cargo is lost
- Get picked up by some faction as a prisoner
- Escape from captivity and obtain a boat
- Rinse and repeat
After his adventures, he settles down in Portugal with his family to write down this book. He tries to sell his story to the king, but his advisors feel it is baloney, so he is brushed aside.
The music is fantastic. It’s an a capella version of Por Este Rio Acima by Fausto. I found a small sample in this trailer, but there is another bit in the Holywood trailer. It fits the mood of the film and it’s even diegetic, since the chorus is composed of his shipmates.
The director in his promotional interviews kept mentioning his role model, French Nouvelle Vague darling Godard, by saying that what happens in the film is all fake, the real thing is what happens on the audience side of the screen. When a character “dies”, no one really dies IRL, but the audience will experience real emotions.
The only aspect I can consider truly negative is (contractually required?) gratuitous titillation material. It’s only for a few moments, but they serve no purpose other than to arouse the audience (or maybe the director), since there is no plot justification for it.
This might be a corollary of the French ethos, but if feels like a cop out for playing porn in regular cinemas. The best way to solve this conundrum is keeping those sequences in the editing room floor, and do their own bootleg versions if they think it has such value.