Portuguese directing duo João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora have crafted in The Dead and the Others an incredibly evocative piece of cinema – almost too much so for its own good.
The film is the product of months of prior research in which the pair lived among the indigenous Krahô tribe of northern Brazil, who take up roles here despite their non-professional status (which does, admittedly, show in many of the performances). As an authentic portrayal of the turbulence that comes with tribal life in a modern world, it is a resounding success.
In spite of its cast’s actorly shortcomings – possibly because of them – it’s a significantly image-based feature. Long dialogue-free stretches play out, framed in the ambience of the natural surroundings.
The film’s opening, in which young tribesman Ihjãc (Henrique Ihjãc Krahô) converses with his recently-deceased father at the bank of a babbling brook is especially spellbinding, and a perfect distillation of how The Dead’s – and the Krahô’s – relationships to both the natural and the supernatural world are intrinsically linked. This magical realism returns at the film’s coda in an equally powerful moment of allegory and enigma.
Unfortunately, most of these lengthy stretches wear thin over time – sequences quickly become taxing and exasperating as a genuinely riveting storyline is held at arm’s length, consistently pushed into the background by hazy, repetitive dreamscaping and long takes that could easily cut away a half-minute sooner or more.
Ihjãc’s struggles with the memory of his father, his responsibilities to his young family, his mystical shamanic destiny and his tentative curiosity about the outside world are a perfect encapsulation of indigenous people’s concerns worldwide. It’s a shame the film’s execution doesn’t grip from start to finish as much as it does at its start and at its finish.
CAST: Raene Kôtô Krahô, Henrique Ihjãc Krahô
DIRECTORS: João Salaviza, Renée Nader Messora
WRITERS: Improvised by the cast
SYNOPSIS: A 15-year-old indigenous Krahô from the north of Brazil flees his village for the city after the death of his father.