In the opening scenes of the film that introduced the experienced and quality Brazilian filmmaker Marcelo Gomes in the main program of the Berlin festival, I hoped that “Joaquim” could be the Brazilian version of “Braveheart”. That it is a historical, biographical drama about their counterpart William Wallace, a national hero and leader of the Brazilian revolutionary movement during Portuguese colonial rule at the end of the 18th century. In the first scene, we see that the national hero, whose full name is Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes or Zubar, ended up identical to the Scotsman we all know.
After he was caught, his body was dismembered and the parts were sent all over Brazil as a warning to others what would happen to them if they followed the same path. But instead of a classic historical biographical drama, Gomes filmed an artistic drama, a character study that is also a kind of demystification of the myth of a national hero whose death anniversary in 1792 is today a Brazilian national holiday. And the Joaquim we meet in this film does not seem like any kind of hero. He’s a very average guy, a second lieutenant in the Portuguese army, bitter that he can’t get promoted, and he stands out from the rest of the team because he’s a capable dentist.
Well, this capable person should not be taken literally because he pulls his teeth on both blacks and whites, the poor and the less poor. He seems like an average opportunist. Everyone in Brazil is looking for gold, so Joaquim hopes to find gold and get rich. He also has his own black slave, he would also buy a black slave that he likes, but he doesn’t have enough money, and at some point he and a few other people will head to the Brazilian badlands, a dangerous wilderness, on a mission to search for gold. But the brutal exploitation of the Portuguese, poverty and injustice, meetings with people from Europe and stories about the American Revolution, slowly seemed to interest him more and more.
Although Gomes’ idea was extremely interesting, subversive, even original, it was unfortunately drowned in a slow pace, monotony, and I certainly expected something more from this film. All the more so because I had the movie sitting on my disc for a good three years and I never managed to find at least English subtitles, since I’m not very good with Portuguese. Nevertheless, Gomes brilliantly portrayed the historical circumstances and environment. That Brazilian wasteland, the wilderness that only slowly began to be filled with people, that cruel time of slave ownership and colonialism, greed and corruption when greed was the only driver of people’s motivation.