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Under Review: ‘Lula, Son of Brazil’

— by BEV QUESTAD —

Would distributing checks to families who kept their children in school provide a greater boon to an economy than investing in stock portfolios? Would deploying soldiers to protect the environment at home rather than pillage one across a foreign sea bring greater national stability?

Brazil has dreamed big, and by the second millennium its beloved leader was actualizing policies that prioritized the people and the land from which he was from.

How did a man with a sixth grade education end up becoming one of the most successful and influential leaders in the world?

“Lula, Son of Brazil” is that story – the story of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a man born into extreme poverty and tragedy who rose up. It’s also the story of a mother, representing the backbone of morality and culture, who whispers to her son, “Oh son, you have so many obligations. The most important one is to never forget where you came from. Understand?”

In staying true to this one promise Lula, who became Brazil’s 35th president in 2003, focused on the people in his country who were desperately poor. Policies he enhanced included paying families to keep their children in school and subsidizing poor families with monthly welfare checks. In order to protect the great Amazon basin and other sensitive eco-areas, the Brazilian Armed Forces were deployed.

Through stewardship of the people and the land, along with world demand for Brazilian ethanol and soybeans and additional discoveries of oil, by 2010 Brazil had become the 8th richest country in the world (2010 International Monetary Fund).

But these things are not a part of the film – they are things you will be hungry to learn after viewing the life of such a sweet politician who actually became involved in politics not from ambition or ideological fervor, but convergences with his own life experience.

Lula is a likable fellow, a hard worker, a principled man who venerates his mother who inspires and motivates him saying, “Look, son. Never doubt yourself. You’ve come such a long way. You know, we always do what we can. Even when it’s not much, you know what you have to do. You go and do it.”

This movie, filmed on location, shows the scrabble subsistence Lula was born into, the poverty of life for the poor in São Paulo, the indifferent medical care, and through his father, the loss of moral fiber in a country seemingly doomed to misery and squalor – this film shows what Brazil once was and how a young boy and a young country evolved into a model for the world.

Though it opened in Brazil in 2010, “Lula” has been mired with political intrigue and conflict, ranging from its initial proposed release date and presumed unfair Brazilian election influence to a western boycott related to Lula’s association with Iran’s Ahmadinejad.

Other critics have debunked it for highlighting only the positive side of Lula’s life, ignoring his illegitimate daughter and more controversial political ideologies. In addition, it has been noted that political compatriots, possibly benefiting from a positive spin on Lula, formed part of the financial backing for the film (but have so far lost millions).

Interestingly, the production was produced by the father and sister of the director. The lead, Gloria Pires, who plays Lula’s mother, is also the mother of Cléo Pires, the actress who plays Lula’s first wife. Sadly, the director, Fábio Barreto, who pulled all of this together despite the drama and politics, was involved in a car accident in December 2009 and still remains unconscious.

All criticisms, politics, financial troubles and tragedy aside, this is an inspiring film to view. “Lula” the film and Lula the leader remind us what governments are supposed to be all about – helping people lead better lives. Lula’s ability to combine capitalistic principles with social welfare and environmental policies strengthened and motivated his society to greatness. To learn about his life is to learn about Brazil, its success and what governments can do if they put their people first.

LULA, SON OF BRAZIL

A FILM BY FÁBIO BARRETO

TO OPEN IN NYC JAN. 13 AT LINCOLN PLAZA CINEMAS AND QUAD CINEMAS

TO OPEN IN LA ON JAN. 27 AT LAEMMLE THEATERS


Production Credits

Directors: Fábio Barreto and Marcelo Santiago
Producers: Paula Barreto, Eduardo Costantini and Rômulo Marinho Jr.
Writers: Fernando Bonassi, Denise Paraná and Daniel Tendler
Author of the book (“Lula, Son of Brazil”): Denise Paraná
Cast: Rui Ricardo Diaz, Gloria Pires, Milhem Cortaz, Cléo Pires, Juliana Baroni, Felipe Falanga and Sostenes Vidal
Runtime: 128 minutes
Language: Portuguese with English subtitles
Country: Brazil
Music: Music by Antonio Pinto
Awards: Selected as the Brazilian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards

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