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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Jan. 26, 2012 | 8:38 PM

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Lula Titled

Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (“Lula” to his supporters) was one of the most popular and influential politicians in the history of Brazil.  He first ran for president in 1989, and was defeated.  Undeterred, he tried again, and again, and finally in 2002, he was elected to his country’s highest office where he served consecutive terms before finally stepping down at the beginning of 2011.  He met with many influential people and world leaders, ranging from Barack Obama to Bill Gates to the Pope.  Time magazine named him one of the world’s most influential people in 2010. 

Unfortunately for the viewer, none of this information is revealed until the closing credits of the Fabio Barreto’s biopic LULA, SON OF BRAZIL.  The two hours of film that precede it detail Lula’s rise from poverty to the presidency of a major steel workers union that goes on strike in the midst of a corrupt military regime.  While this certainly could make for an interesting film, Barreto’s reverence for his subject drains much of the vitality from this rags to riches story.

Barreto’s film is well-intentioned, to be sure, and offers its fair share of consolations for its earnest tone.  Rui Ricardo Diaz effectively captures Lula’s charisma, and Gloria Pires is touching as the mother who never stops believing in her son’s potential.  There are a number of charming moments as Lula gets up the gumption to begin courting his first wife, or uses his youthful energy to ingratiate himself with the corrupt union boss (Marcos Cesana.)  But insightful human moments like this are all too often forced to take a backseat to the film’s dutiful attempts to showcase Lula’s inevitable march to greatness.

In spite of Barreto’s use of archival period footage, the film offers few specifics as to what inspired Lula to become a great leader. Like many biopics of historical figures, the film can’t possibly do justice to its subject in two hours, so the filmmakers are forced to pick and choose, with the result that it sometimes feels like we’re just rushing from one major life event to the next.  In the case of LULA, the opposite almost seems true.  Instead of establishing his successes as a union leader as a precursor for his eventual triumphs as president, the filmmakers have made Lula’s humble origins the basis for their entire undertaking.

So who’s the target audience for LULA, SON OF BRAZIL?  Those who have been affected by the economic downturns of the past few years may find added resonance in the union struggles depicted here.  Students in Brazilian high school history classes may find it in heavy rotation soon But for the average viewer, the film doesn’t inspire like it should.  Focusing on Lula’s early years is a valid choice, but the results feel rote. Considering the impact Lula clearly had on the world at large, it seems fair to say that a lot more of his story remains to be told.

LULA SON OF BRAZIL opens Friday, January 27th at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills.  In Portuguese with English subtitles.

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