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A Brazilian road movie thats been wowing critics for two years finally makes its UK debut
I was late getting to this weeks selected film though not as late as film distributors in the UK: it has never been picked up for a cinema or even a DVD release. For more than two years, respected colleagues have been talking up the merits of Araby, a tiny but mighty fiction debut by Brazilian film-makers Joo Dumans and Affonso Uchoa. The Hollywood Reporter critic Neil Young has gone so far as to declare it the best film of this fast-closing decade. Having missed it on its year-long festival run in 2017, I waited for a chance to see it on a big screen.
That chance hasnt come, but Mubi has, as it so often does, stepped into the breach. Araby is available to stream on their curated menu until mid-September; youd do well to take the chance while its there. The film is, as promised, something very special: a careworn, will-o-the-wisp road movie, contained within a memory that may or may not be imagined. Dumans and Uchoa have a documentary background thats evident in their calm, clear-eyed portrait of a hard-knock life in permanent flux. Yet theres a glimmering, uncertain magic to it too. Its a film preoccupied with the way we fashion our lives into storytelling.
You have to approach it with some patience. The first 20 minutes or so promise a more austere exercise in grainy realism than the poetic picaresque we eventually get, but the tonal contrast eventually pays off as the film considers the virtues of restless movement versus stasis. Were introduced to Andre (Murilo Caliari), a shy, bored teenager abandoned by his parents in a dead-end Brazilian factory town, and Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), the diminutive itinerant labourer whose path he crosses. Sent on an errand to Cristianos quarters, Andre stumbles across his tatty, handwritten memoirs and the film in turn shifts into the notebooks more mythic, freewheeling narrative, documenting the seemingly unremarkable workers travels and travails over the course of a decade.
Its a cross-country, blue-collar odyssey taking in criminal and romantic escapades, stopping off in prisons, brothels and assorted dusty towns building into a patchwork of struggling, ever-changing Brazilian society, alive with pointed working-class politics. Cristiano is a drifter, but not driven by wanderlust: its hard-scrabble economic reality that blows him from place to place. Scored to a gorgeous, handpicked playlist of folk and country cuts that lend unsentimental grace to our heros ramblings, Araby has the heft and expanse of epic film-making, yet feels as intimate and fragile as a strangers barroom anecdote.
While youre in a wistful arthouse reverie, you have a week left to catch some highlights from the recent Locarno film festival, which wrapped last week. A few selections from this years programme are streaming for free on FestivalScope until the end of August. You only need an hour, for example, to fit in a viewing of the lovely Swiss semi-documentary Bird Island, a subtly dreamy study of an avian sanctuary in Geneva that offers as much healing to the wounded people who enter it as it does their feathered friends. Wilcox, meanwhile, is a moving character study of an isolated survivalist, stripped of dialogue and affectation, that marks a bracing change of pace for the usually more mannered Quebecois auteur Denis Ct. Finally, The Princes Voyage, the latest finely drawn feature from veteran French animator Jean-Franois Laguionie, is a thing of melancholic, watercoloured beauty. Chronicling a lost monkey-princes journey to self-realisation, its part fairytale, part philosophical allegory, and rather more like Araby than you might think.
Also new to DVD and streaming this week
If a cold-eyed, Chanel-clad Isabelle Huppert terrorising Chlo Grace Moretz sounds like a good time to you, Neil Jordans deliciously ludicrous stalker thriller will fulfil all its high-camp promise.