Lula, Son of Brazil

A Hollywood-style biopic about Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (still living), “Lula, Son of Brazil” follows its subject from his 1945 birth in extreme poverty to his embrace of national leadership in the late 1970s.

This film was Brazil’s submission for foreign language Oscar in 2011 but did not garner a nomination.

Director Fabio Barreto fails to bring depth and character to what turns out to be typical biopic material: Lula (Rui Ricardo Diaz) is great because of where he came from—the son of an abusive, alcoholic father (Milhem Cortaz) and a strong, saintly mother (Gloria Pires), who sticks by him no matter what happens.

The film centers mostly on Lula as devoted son to his mother. But since their relationship is fairly static, “Lula” never gains the momentum it should and winds up overstaying its welcome. The film wants to be a family melodrama in addition to political biography but lacks the requisite family drama after Lula’s mother leaves her husband early on. The film’s depiction of Lula’s romantic life is also on the dull side.

“Lula” painstakingly details how Lula’s mother supported his education, including his blossoming at technical school, and then his career. Not politically inclined, Lula found himself in the midst of violent strikes once he started factory work. He eventually got involved in union activities and awakened to his political destiny.

This awakening is also not too dramatic in “Lula.” He kind of falls into his leadership role, becoming more serious about it only when he loses a couple of loved ones and feels he needs something to keep his mind occupied.

Viewers who do not know their modern Brazilian history will likely be lost in terms of most of the national developments covered in “Lula”—this despite the clever interweaving of archival footage throughout. The film, aimed primarily at Brazilian audiences, never takes the time to explain the political backstory for audiences outside the country. This is a shame since Lula’s movement against social inequality seems to have some resonance with the Occupy movement.

Diaz (who evidences at rare intervals the kind of smoldering sexuality Édgar Ramírez brought to “Carlos”) and Pires both give soulful performances. But the screenplay, by three writers, does not give them much to work with.

Perhaps “Lula” treats its subject too gingerly. With the official stamp of approval of the current Brazilian government, it was unlikely that this examination of a beloved living legend would do much to humanize Lula in terms of revealing any faults.

The final result is much like a commercial for Lula, which is accentuated by end credits that feature endless photo ops of the real Lula with world leaders from Bono to Obama.

Cast

Dona Lindu – Gloria Pires

Lula – Rui Ricardo Diaz

Marisa Leticia – Juliana Baroni

Lurdes – Cleo Pires

Aristides – Milhem Cortaz

Credits

A New Yorker Films release.

Directed by Fabio Barreto.

Written by Daniel Tendler, Denise Parana, and Fernando Bonassi.

Produced by Paula Barreto and Romulo Marinho Jr.

Cinematography, Gustavo Hadba.

Editing, Leticia Giffoni.

Original Music, Antonio Pinto, Jaques Morelenbaum.

Running time: 126 minutes.