In Father’s Chair Brazilian star Wagner Moura (the star of Elite Squad and the sequel, The Enemy Within, as well as recently delivering an eye-catching supporting turn in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium) gives an affecting and versatile performance as a selfish man consumed by self-pity who begins to iron out his personal flaws. He effortlessly guides us through this endearing road movie about a fractured family, the directorial debut from Luciano Moura. Fernando Meirelles, the director of the great City of God, lends his skills as a producer. Moura stars as Theo, a successful and hardworking doctor, husband and father who has chosen his career over his family. But when he faces the loss of everything he holds dear – a bitter union with his wife Branca (Mariana Lima) and a pending separation, and newfound estrangement from his 15-year-old son Pedro (Bras Antunes) – he is thrust into a journey of self-enlightenment. Suddenly, Pedro disappears, which sets up an intriguing mystery. Has he run away? Was he abducted? Theo begins a desperate search for his son, travelling across Brazil, finding himself and re-evaluating what he values most in his life.
What I admired about this film were the shifts in tone – domestic melodrama, thriller, amusing spiritual odyssey - and how the story held together. The importance of Theo being reunited with his son remains, but as he begins to learn more about Pedro’s quest from the strangers on the road and better understands his motivations, he becomes prouder of his son and less concerned.
The assortment of encounters – a generous ferryman who lives with his family aboard a floating house and escorts Theo across a river, a group of stoner hipsters who have broken down on their way to a concert and whom Theo offers a lift, and a mechanic who adorns his shop with hand drawn pornography, including a piece from Theo’s talented son – mean that the journey is occupied by larger than life characters. Capturing a broad stretch of the Brazilian countryside, the land is stunning, the photography handsome, the production slick and polished.
Theo comes to realize that he would never have had the guts to embark on a quest such as the one his son has and as he flounders in pursuit, harassing the locals who reveal any sign of being in contact with his son yet finding himself liked and embraced by generations both younger and older, he realizes that he must repair his own relationship with his father if he is to live a fulfilling life with Pedro and Branca.
The bitter conflict between Theo and his wife is initially frustrating, but very accurate. When people are as at odds as these two are, there is resentment in their tone, they are unnecessarily aggressive and have little patience. While Moura is the film’s star, Mariana Lima does a terrific job in these early sequences to help convey just how broken and angry Theo is and it is clear how he evolves personally with a desire to prove to Branca that he is re-committed to his family.
Father’s Chair is screening at the Latin American Film Festival and should be one of the highlights. It is an unorthodox fable of middle-aged crisis and how the courage of youth can stir one’s own spiritual enlightenment on the road. Grounded in the importance of valuing your family above all and with an optimistic outlook on national togetherness, director Moura delves into the emotionally challenging relationships between parents and children, and how our destiny is defined by the relationships we cherish most.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22