La terra degli uomini rossi (Birdwatchers) (2008)
Director: Marco Bechis.
Starring: Claudio Santamaria (Roberto), Alicélia Batista Cabreira (Lia), Chiara Caselli (Beatrice), Pedro Abrísio da Silva (Osvaldo), Matheus Nachtergaele (Dimas), Ambrósio Vilhava (Nádio), Ademilson Concianza Verga (Irineu), Leonardo Medeiros (Moreira - the farmer), Eliane Juca da Silva (Mami), Fabiane Pereira da Silva (Maria).
set in Mato Grosso do Sul , Brazil, the destitute local Indians stage an uprising against the wealthy fazenderos (owners of coffee plantations)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A group of bird watchers are going up river watching for colorful birds. They pass by a village of naked indigenous people who just stare at the bird watchers. After the birdwatchers pass by, the people walk over to a truck and get paid for their performance. Now everyone puts on t-shirts over their formerly nude bodies.
In the village a young villager Irineu (son of Nadio) asks Osvaldo (son of Lia) to go hunting with him. Osvaldo says he will go with him. The boys catch a ride on the back of a truck and then hop off at their destination. They go onto a farmer's land and the farm hand on horseback chases the boys. The farmhand says he will shoot the boys sooner or later. The boys come upon two female bodies hanging from the branch of a tree. Irineu says he will tell the others and runs off. Osvaldo says to the bodies: "Now you'll go where you can feel good."
Other Indians gather to bury the two bodies. Two farm hands watch the activity. Back at the village a woman, saying that she doesn't want to live here anymore in the house, has her house burned down. A sign in the village says: "Native Reserve Protected Area". The houses are more like thrown-together shacks. A family of Indians goes into the city. Irineu tells his family that Osvaldo dreamed about Elma. He knew she was going to hang herself. The grandfather says they can't keep living on the reserve. They need to return to their own land, to the tekoha or they will all die.
There is a law against selling alcohol to Indians. But there are ways around this restriction. On the news is the story about the two suicides on the Dourados Native Reserve. The store owner Dimas gives a bottle of liquor to a guy working at the deli and he puts the alcohol on the table in the back room.
Nadio and two boys arrive at the general store. Dimas says hello to Nadio and Nadio sits down beside Dimas. Nadio has a whole list of things he wants to get from the store. Dimas tells him that he is not going to give Nadio any more credit. Nadio already owes him a lot of money.
The two boys with Nadio go in the back of the Deli department and drink some liquor from the stashed bottle.
Nadio says Dimas can take his horse and buggy. Dimas agrees he will give 1,000 to Nadio for it. He now goes into the store to have someone pick up everything on the list.
The Indians get in back of the truck driven by Dimas. He drives them along the road and Nadio suddenly tells him to stop here. Dimas objects that this land belongs to Moreira. He tells Nadio that he will take them back, but Nadio says they are staying here. They cross over the road to look at the land. Nadio says that this is their tekoha. Their ancestors are buried on this land. Nadio says this plowed land used to be all forest.
Moreira and his wife start to turn onto their farm road, but the husband spots the Indians looking at his land. He drives over to the Indians, but just looks at them and leaves. He tells his wife that if you give the Indians an inch, they will take a whole yard.
The family starts building a shelter for a home close to the road.. A fellow comes up on a bike and says he is going to stay with them.
One of the boys, Osaldo, has dreams that are said to come true. So grandfather tells him the he will teach him to be a shaman. He gives him a maraca.
After they build a fire, the family holds a ceremony in step with the sounds of the maraca and another percussive instrument.
The next morning Osvaldo goes to a river to get some water. He is a bit afraid because of the evil spirit that lives in the forest. He grabs his maraca and shakes it hard. He also shouts: "Go away!"
At Moreira’s house two teenage women in bikinis lay out in the sun by the pool. Mrs. Moreira tells the maid Neo that her lounging chair is dirty. Neo says every time she cleans, the birds return to make another mess on the chairs. The lady of the house says if the birds keep messing up the chairs, then Neo will just have to keep cleaning up after them.
Down by the river, Osvaldo is shaking his maraca and performing a ceremony to drive away the evil spirits. The two girls from the pool have come to the river to smoke some weed and they run into Osvaldo. The smaller of the two girls, Maria, tells Osvaldo to go talk to his god somewhere else because they want to swim in the river. They go into the water, but keep smoking their weed.
Three other members of the Indian settlement come to the river with buckets. They get some water in the buckets and then they just stand on shore watching the two girls. The girls decide to get away from the four people on shore. They leave.
The Indians start walking back to their shelter. They walk across the plowed fields. Moreira is there with his farm hands. He doesn’t like what he sees. He gives the lead hand a pistol and says that they can’t have this happening on his land. The fellow with the gun is supposed to stay in the little trailer left here by the boss. The boss now drives away with the two other farm hands. The Indians watch their watcher.
Mrs. Moreira show slides of Brazilian birds to English-speaking people at her house. Then she starts to show slides of local Indians. The two girls ask Mrs. Moreira if she has told her guests that their type of Indians eat people. Mrs. Moreira calls in her husband to speak to the girls. He tells the girl to go away.
Nadio sees the white trailerman coming and tells Lia to talk to the white man who carries something stuck into his belt. Mimi asks the fellow what does he want? He says he needs some water. Mimi tells him to go get his own water. She refuses to give him any. But Lia gives him some water. He goes back to his trailer a bit angry because the Indians started laughing at him about what is he going to do with that gun?
Now there are quite a few shelters set up for the people who want to live on the Moreira land. Dimas stops by. He finds Nadio and tells him that he will take Nadio for free to work at Fazenda Santa Rita. For how long? 10 days. Nadio says 10 days is too much. Tito says he will go, but Nadio tells him if he goes, don’t come back. So he decides to stay. Dimas gets no workers and is a bit peeved. He tells Nadio not to show up at the store anymore.
The two boys go out hunting again. This time they kill a cow. They bring back just a little bit of the cow, the leg and thigh. Moreira comes driving by and stops to ask where the meat came from? The boys indicate that it was in payment for work they did.
Other residents of the shanty town come over to see what is going on. Moreira tells everyone: "You can’t camp out here." Their land is on the reserve. He asks them why they came here, but no one answers him. Frustrated, he gets back in his truck and drives away.
The boys cut up the meat and distribute it to the settlement residents. Grandfather comes over and tells Osvaldo that he can’t eat that meat from a cow. He has to go hunting and kill a different animal. Osvaldo tells grandfather: "There’s nothing left to hunt."
Moreira asks his wife, who is a lawyer, what can he do? She remains silent.
Maria drives a motorbike into the forest. She stops and starts smoking weed. She walks over to the river and comes up behind Osvaldo who is performing a little ceremony. She says hello and Osvaldo says she cannot watch him. So she sits down closer to the water with her back to Osvaldo, who decides to wade into the river. He asks her what is her name? Maria.
Lia brings some water to the farm hand. In return she asks for some cookies for the children. She gets her cookies, but she also wants some cheese from the cheese wheel. The farmhand gives her a wedge of cheese. He starts touching her hair and she acts as if she is going to bite his hand. He tries again and she tells him that he stinks of cheese. Doesn’t he ever bathe? Now she grabs her cookies; she grabs the whole cheese wheel; and she grabs half a loaf of bread.. She leaves.
There are now at least 11 men and large boys at shanty town. They all walk out into one of the plowed fields and stick an arrow in the earth. Grandfather and Osvaldo start shaking the maracas and grandfather sings a chant.
The farm hand in the trailer hears the maracas and wakes up. He grabs his pistol and goes out to see what’s going on. Another farmhand rides his horse over to see the Indians. Both white men tell the Indians to leave. They leave.
One of the cows dies and the farmhand on the horse tells the boss that the cause of death was the curse of the Indians. "It’s the shaman."
The trailer man washes himself in the river. Six Indian women come down to the river for water. He tells them they have to leave. The women start to leave. Lia tells the man that he is always asking her for water, so now he can carry the water for her. He says he will as long as they leave. He carries the water.
Maria drives out into the forest again on her motorbike. She stops when she spots Osvaldo. She asks who is he praying to? He says he prays to Nhanderu so he can have the ability to see people’s futures. He asks her to show him how to ride a motorbike and she willingly consents. He hops on the back and kisses her neck. She tells him he has to behave. Soon Osvaldo is driving Maria around the edges of the plowed fields.
The farmhand that was on the horse is fondling the Indian house maid.. Mrs. Moreira calls for her and the farmhand takes off fast. The maid goes to her boss and the boss hands the maid some money to give to the squatters. They can work for her for awhile, but they must agree to go back to the reservation. The maid says that the money is not even enough to cover the transportation. So the boss gives her more money.
The maid and her farmhand boyfriend bring food over to the trailer man, who asks the maid: "You’re not staying with me tonight?" She says no.
The maid comes over and explains to Lia what her boss wants from the Indians. Nadio hears the explanation and asks the maid when is she going to move into the little settlement? She doesn’t even answer Nadio. What she wants to know from Lia is what should she, the maid, tells her boss? Lia comes over and takes the money from the maid, but she doesn’t say anything. The maid leaves.
Nadio asks Lia to give him the money because he needs to buy a lot of different things, because more people are coming to the settlement. Lia says no because they need food. Nadio says they will hunt for food. Lia says there’s nothing out there in the forest.
Irineu gord down to the river to help Mami carry back the water. On their way back, he stops and tells her that he wants to be with her. She says he is too young for her. He tells Mami that he loves her. She says: "Me too, but you’re too young for me." She grabs the water and walks back to the settlement.
The too young boy tells Nadio, his father, that Mami doesn’t want to be with him. Dad says that his son is just too young for that girl. The boy says: "I’m going to marry her."
Dimas arrives and calls everybody over to talk with him. He says he has lots of work to be done at one of the fazendas. They pay 20 reais a day, plus meals.
Nadio shouts: "No one’s coming, this is the center of the movement." Lia asks how many days of work will there be? Five days, 100 reais total, plus meals. Lia says that there’s no food left so everybody should hop on the truck. But Nadio says again no one is going. Nadio, however, just did finish a round of alcoholic drinks and now he falls down onto the ground. People start getting on the truck. Even Nadio’s boy gets on the truck.
Maria comes riding her motorbike to the settlement. She sees how big the settlement is getting. She turns her bike around and leaves.
Osvaldo goes down to the river. There on his ad-hoc altar he sees Maria’s bikini. She is in the river telling him to come into the river. He pulls off his shorts and goes into the water. They kiss in the water.
Mrs. Moreira is talking on the phone doing business. Mr. Moreira comes over and starts talking to her while she is talking on the phone. He is angry that his wife would interfere in his business and give the Indians money. This makes the wife angry at him and she tells him if he speaks to her that way again, she is leaving. He says: "I know how to resolve things."
It’s raining. An airplane flies over the settlement releasing some type of gas that makes the inhabitants keep coughing and coughing.
Ireneu works cutting sugar cane. One day he goes into town. He sees a pretty girl and asks her name: Jessica. He then goes into a shoe store to look at the shoes there. At night the workers return to the settlement.
Nadio’s son comes home in his brand new pair of sneakers. Dad asks if Ireneu doesn’t feel a bit ashamed? After all, he left the center of the movement and then went to work for the owner of a fazenda. He has obligations that he doesn’t fulfill and he doesn’t obey his father. So Dad tells Irineu that he wants hiim to leave the settlement. Ireneu leaves. Grandfather tells Nadio that he is too hard on his son.
Tito asks Lia if he can be with her. She says no, she doesn’t want him. He says she’s alone and he’s alone. But Lia says she doesn’t like him. He tries to force himself on her, but she hits him in the groin and that stops him.
Two women give one the new tennis shoes belonging to Ireneu to Nadio. Nadio has a knife and he and Osvaldo start walking to the trailer. All of a sudden Nadio goes down. Osvaldo looks around and in the forest sees Ireneu hanging by the neck dead.
Osveldo goes up the tree and cuts the rope holding Ireneu up in the air. Nadio denies any responsibility at all for what happened to Ireneu. According to Nadio, Ireneu did it all to himself. He says to his son’s grave: "I’ll forget you and leave you. You were my son, my family, but now I want nothing more to do with you."
At night the shaman and the apprentice shaman perform a ceremony together. People’s faces and bodies are finger painted. More shamans arrive via a van.
Lia now goes to the trailer man. She brings a bottle of liquor with her. She calls him big dick man and he calls her lovely Indian. Trailer man wastes no time and has sex with Lia while she still has her dress on. He then goes to sleep. While he is sleeping, Lia takes the pistol from his cabinet and returns to the settlement.
Around 30 men come out of the forest. Crouching they proceed to the trailer. They have bows and arrows, machetes, bats, etc. When trailer man sticks his head out she sees the 30 Indians, most of them with their arrows pointed toward his heart.
The Indians tell trailer man that they want him gone. The man starts running for his life and is chased by the Indians. Now around 100 men, women and children are led into the plowed fields by the shaman. The larger group heads to the returning band of warriors.
A negotiator comes to say that this matter will have to be worked out in the courts. In the meantime, the negotiator doesn’t want Nadio to let his people go into any other cultivated fields. And they are not to go near the residences. As for Moreira, he has to agree to keep his people from entering the settlement area. If either side breaks the agreement just stated, the negotiator says he will call in the federal police.
The Indians say the land is theirs. Moreira picks up a handful of dirt and says his grandfather came to this area some 60 years ago. Moreira himself was born here and his daughter grew up here. Nadio picks up a handful of dirt and eats it.
In Moreira’s truck, a group of land owners talk of finding the queen Indian and killing her like a queen bee in a bee hive. Moreira says if any dead Indians are found, the suspicions would fall directly on Moreira himself. The land owners are afraid that what is happening to Moreira and his land will happen to all the land owners.
Something suspicious is taking place in the general store owned by Dimas. It looks as though a group of landowners are recruiting disaffected Indians, like Tito, to help them. Dimas gets well paid for setting this up at his place of business.
At night five men with rifles come to see Tito. He tells the men that Nadio is sleeping in the third hut. Tito gets in the boss’s car. The assassins grab Nadio and he starts to fight them. Then the men all start shooting Nadio.
When the assassins return to the automobiles, someone forces Tito out of the car. Tito says they can’t do this because the Indians will kill him. Osvaldo starts walking to where Tito is screaming in pain as he is attacked by the Indians.
Moreira and his family are packing up the truck to leave. He tells his farm hands that he will be gone up to four months. Maria is by pool side sliding her hand back and forth in the water. Osvaldo arrives screaming, saying that the Moreiras are the ones who killed Nadio. He even blames Maria and calls her a whore.
The family gets into the truck and leaves. Now the two farm hands tells Osvaldo to leave or be killed. Osvaldo tells the men to tell Moreira that when he comes back Osvaldo is going to cut his head off.
Osvaldo runs through the forest screeching and screaming his head off. It looks like he is going to hang himself. He ties one end of the rope to a tree branch and puts the noose around his neck, but then he takes it off. He says: "I won, you lost."
When the first Europeans came to Brazil, in 1500, there were more than 5 million Indians. 5 centuries of massacre, exploitation and illnesses destroyed a big part of the native population of which there only remains a trace of the indigenous people. The genocide continues.
In Guarani-Kaiowa del Mato Gross do Sul they are fighting to survive and to reconquer their land and their life.
Good film. It has the audience wondering when the violence is going to start between the indigenous people and the landowners? One expects violence because the two parties involved are not willing to budge from their positions. And the landowners are not going to just let the Indians settle on the land belonging to the landowners themselves. The character of the Indian leader Nadio is that he is very taciturn. He doesn't really talk with the land owner at all. He should have at least told the landowners about their plight. Perhaps negotiations between the two parties could have started a lot earlier. There is a bit of inter-racial love making but it's pretty tame (no nudity). Unfortunately, the Indians keep suffering from their clash with a completely different culture and one that virtually holds all the power over them.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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