In short: The beautiful and melancholy portrayal of a 15-year-old indigenous Krahô at a crossroads between an anxious and restraining shamanic calling and the industrialised world’s false promises of freedom.
The title of Renée Nader Messora and João Salaviza’s film “The Dead and The Others” (a liberal translation of the original Portuguese title “Chuva é Cantoria na Aldeia dos Mortos”, which could translate as “Rain and Chants in the Village of the Dead”) could suggest another Zombie-infested action film, but with its long, natural takes and its slow pace (and fair to say, the absence of “walkers”) the film is quite the opposite. “The Dead and The Others” explores the difficulties of being indigenous in Brazil today and what it’s like to be stuck between ancestral tradition and a modern, unwelcoming industrialised world.
We follow the story of Ihjãc, a 15-year-old Krahô whose father recently died. After several weeks of mourning in the village, it is time to organise a ceremony to mark the end of the bereavement. But Ihjãc is not ready. He is troubled by weird night visions and is feeling restless, a state the local shaman suspects is caused by his impending shamanic calling and his power animal, the parrot. Ihjãc rejects the idea of becoming a shaman himself and decides to leave the village and his wife and son, and seek medical care in town. A long period of confusion and doubt begins as he realises the public health system treats him like a dead weight and won’t help him with his psychological issues. After a few days at the “House of Indians” he is soon asked to leave. His wife comes to town to try and convince him to return but Ihjãc must face his demons before he can be his normal self again…
This beautiful story is technically classed as documentary which is informed by Nader Messora’s experience of living and working with Krahô people in Pedra Branca, a village located in the Cerrado, a tropical region in the centre and North of Brazil. Since 2009 she has worked with indigenous people to use film as tool to assert and defend their cultural identity.
The film illustrates the deep connection of indigenous tribes with natural elements and how they form a virtuous eco-system, in stark opposition with the western lifestyle that takes resources from nature but doesn’t give back. The non-professional actors, all Krahôs, illustrate the village life through their everyday tasks and activities, which culminate in an all-night ceremony marking the end of Ihjãc’s father’s mourning, with fascinating rituals and chants. With limited dialogue, apart from Ihjãc’s conversations with his wife and shaman, it’s sometimes hard for the viewer to really grasp the villagers’ ethos, motives and aspirations. There is a short, light-hearted scene where young women discuss their tastes in men, which in a way describes the universal laws of attraction. The soundtrack is dominated by the mesmerising, buzzing tropical forest noise. The lulling pace of the film is set by the cicadas, birds and other hissing insects that populate the surrounding and are a constant reminder that this is a place where thousands of species cohabit.
There is little incursion of the industrialised world in Pedra Branca, other than the manufactured clothes some villagers wear, but not far away, looming, is the modern city with its pickups vans, dirty trucks, concrete and drugstores. A real sense of duality permeates the film as the village and town are geographically close but culturally worlds apart, and that’s what is most troubling to Ihjãc. Even if he wanted to find his place in the westernised Brazilian town he would always be treated as second-class citizen. Despite the white population’s moral obligation to care for and respect autochthones, public authorities are clearly only paying lip service to protect indigenous land.
The film is visually striking thanks to the sheer natural beauty of the forest which becomes the leading part in the story. Here and there, Nader Messora and Salaviza have added elements of fantasy to communicate the spiritual presences that Ihjãc and the village shaman are witnessing. There is a particularly beautiful scene at the beginning of the film where a waterfall is set alight. At other times threatening images of parrots pop up. But overall the directors’ choice has been not to overdo special effects and focus on a naturalistic documentary style, although this could have perhaps helped the viewer engage more with the spiritual dimension of the film. Although with a different premise, this was perhaps better achieved in the Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra (2015, Columbia) which beautifully told the story of a mysterious Amazonian shaman in search for a magical plant.
Salaviza had won a 2009 Palme d’Or for his short film “Arena,” and this year, The Dead and the Others was awarded the Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard competition at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. With a Berlinale Golden Bear for “Rafa” in 2012 and his debut feature “Mountain” selected for Venice Critics’ Week in 2015, Salaviza is definitely one to watch in the coming years
The Dead and the Others (Chuva é Cantoria na Aldeia Dos Mortos) by Renée Nader Messora (BRA) and João Salaviza (PRT)
Cast: Henrique Ihjãc Krahô, Raene Kôtô Krahô
2018, Brazil and Portugal, 16mm, 114min
UK release date: TBC