ranger in a strange land
A collision between the violent and the poetic
He’s the son of a Brazilian ambassador, he won awards the world over for his film Central Station, and he has Walt Disney releasing his latest, Behind The Sun. But although he’s living in LA, WALTER SALLES says he’s no sell- out. Words: Tom Dawson
n opportunity to navigate in different waters
without there being a complete break from
what I had done before.’ is how Brazilian writer—director Walter Salles describes Behind The San. his eagerly awaited follow-up to the acclaimed ('entra/ Station. A tnythical fable. the new film concerns two sugar-cane-growing families who are caught up in a bloody ancestral feud in the arid Brazilian hinterland at the turn of the 201]] century. The screenplay is based on the book Broken Navel by the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. Salles transports the setting from the Balkans to South America.
‘I was struck by this book’s mythological resonance.‘ he explains. ‘and by the fact that there was a collision between the violence it portrayed and the poetic quality it had. The clash between these two elements that were so different in tone drew me to the material. The films I had made before. l-areign Land. (‘entral Station and Mir/night all dealt with the question of national identity and they all inyestigated what Brazil is or what it wanted to be. By comparison this film was a change in tone. without me losing track of Brazilian history.‘
Salles. howeyer. feared that the material might be too unpalatany bleak for audiences. and consequently utilised a \‘UlL‘C-(WCI' narration from the youngest. most innocent character. l’acu. ’Wc were in the midst of such a claustrophobic cycle.‘ says the filmmaker. 'that it was important for me to haye somebody who could bring some hope and solace and ultitnately break it. He‘s the moral centre of the piece. He‘s the agniis (lei that has came to save the sin of the world.‘
As with ('entra/ Station. which paired Veteran
22 THE LIST .V'", l.'::' " [an 933}?
‘This film was a changeintone, without me losing track of Brazilian history’
actress Fernando Montenegro and shoe—shine boy Vinicius de ()liyeira. BUIIllIl/ The Sun incorporates professional and non-professional performers into the
cast. 'I tend to belieye that non-actors bring a sense of
reality to a film that is hard to get when you are working with a group of professional actors.’ reckons
fortysomething Salles. ‘You see that in the films of Abbas Kiarostami Ithe acclaimed Iranian director of
The White Hal/mm and 'Iaste ()_/‘('/ierij\'|. But I haye found that you need at least one extraordinary actor imposing the tone.‘
for Behind The San this indiyidual was .lose l)umont. who plays the role of the unyielding father. ordering the elder son. 'l'onho. to continue the cycle of killing. According to Salles. l)umont completely immersed himself in his character: Often the actor slept on the farm at the location rather than in the
hotel with his colleagues. and he altered the tone of
his voice in order to command the oxen which power the dangerously primitiye farm machinery.
‘The one thing l)umont told me.’ says Salles. ’was that he wanted to apologise in adyance for the fact that until the end of the shoot he would be acting as the father of the family. which is exactly what happened. An actor like this impregnates the film with his sense of dedication. passion and immersion that has repercussions eyerywhere else.‘
Although enthusiastic about what he sees as a burgeoning Brazilian film industry. Salles himself has decided to relocate to l.os Angeles whilst he deyelops 'I'lie Assumption ()l The l'irgin with Anthony \litigltella. Salles is also working on the (‘he (iueyara drama The .Walm'e_\‘e/e Diaries. which he describes as ‘lz'as‘y Rider meets l)as lx’apita/‘.
"l‘hese aren‘t Hollywood films.’ he stresses. "l‘hese are films being deyeloped by independent production companies. or by liuropean companies which haye a l.os Angeles office. I‘m trying to work with filmmakers whom I admire and who could protect the creatiye life of these projects. I don't haye any immediate plans to do .llatrix 9‘.
Behind The Sun opens Fri 5 Apr. See review, page 26.
lights, camera, action . . .
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