This is the first movie that's good for selling aspirin, but gets a "not guilty" from Appellate Judge James A. Stewart.
"I went traveling. Arrived in Brazil. In Brazil, there's no war."
"Not even bloody war comes to Brazil."
Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures takes place in northeastern Brazil in 1942, as the South American country joins World War II in the wake of Nazi attacks. What does the title mean?
Cinema: Johann (Peter Ketnath, Deserto Feliz), a German who fled home to avoid fighting for the Nazi regime, travels the dusty, drought-stricken Brazilian countryside showing movies in small villages. A hitchhiker, Ranulpho (Joao Miguel, Deserto Feliz), quickly becomes his assistant—and friend. The villagers enjoy his movies, which include a travelogue on Carnaval in Sao Paolo. But first there's a word from our sponsor…
Aspirins: "With these new aspirin tablets, those happy moments can last longer. Maybe they can even last forever!"
Johann's using the movies to introduce aspirin to rural Brazil—and sell lots of it. "The films are very well made. They're very impressive. Someone who has never had a headache will get one just to try out the medicine," Johann says.
Vultures: You'll see an occasional vulture flying overhead, and it's one of the shadow puppets Johann makes in the light from the empty projector. Still, this seems to refer more to the metaphoric vultures that hover over Johann: the Nazis back home, the Brazilians who riot against German-owned businesses, the Brazilian government which wants to deport him or send him to a concentration camp for the war's duration, and maybe even the guy who wants to buy his truck.
It's the vultures who force the two friends to make decisions on their destinies.
Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures takes a lot of leisurely time to set up the friendship between Johann and Ranulpho. It also demonstrates their personalities: Johann wants to avoid fighting; Ranalpho is seeking a better life beyond the confines of his small village.
The movie comes alive in the last half-hour, when the Nazis attack Brazil, bringing the war Johann sought to avoid to him. Johann broods, while Ranulpho, at least on the surface, doesn't take things too seriously. Among the powerful moments in the last reel are pacifist Johann's encounter with a rattlesnake and a "battle" acted out in pantomime between the two men, who play at war like children while they face their adult fears of combat.
Director Marcelo Gomes goes for a naturalistic approach: the music in the background usually comes from Johann's ever-present radio, while natural lighting creates a washed-out look which, in this case, reinforces the sense of the drought and heat that bake the countryside. At times, though, the washed-out picture looks almost like a negative.
Profanity and brief female nudity would probably give this one an R rating, but it's not rated.
The discussion guide with Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures is on a DVD-ROM. Sorry, that doesn't work for me—literally. It would have been nice to see the material printed instead. Interestingly, it's on the Web, but a password is required.
The back cover of the DVD seems to suggest that there'll be lots of comedy here. There are some light moments—that pitch for aspirin is hilarious—but the main thrust of Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures is dramatic rather than comedic. It's a study of two characters, set against the landscape of a dry land.
Not guilty. And don't forget to stop for some aspirin when you bring home this DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Discussion Guide on DVD-ROM
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