O Herói (The Hero) (2004)
Director: Zézé Gamboa.
Starring: Makena Diop (Vitorio), Milton 'Santo' Coelho (Manu), Maria Ceiça (Maria Bárbara aka Judite), Patrícia Bull (Joana), Neuza Borges (Flora), Raúl Rosário, Prospero Joao, Orlando Sérgio (Minister), Fernando Lupach (as Fernando Ferreira), Catarina Matos (Rute), Miguel Hurst (Doctor Luís), Thierry Darrigrand (Doctor Thierry), Nelo Helder, Adelino Caracol, João Carlos Miguel.
20 year civil war veteran returns to the capital of Luanda, Angola
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Luanda, Angola. The boys are playing basketball. Manu's throw is blocked by another player's face. Manu tries to soothe the matter over but the other guy isn't receptive. So Manu leaves the game.
Vitorio, who is missing his lower right leg from action in Angola's Civil War, approaches the doctors and asks them why has he had to wait for two months to get a prosthesis? The doctor starts to say if it was only up to him, but Vitorio cuts him off saying: "You're the one who cut my leg off. You're responsible for what you did. I'm not leaving without my prosthesis." Another doctor asks what's going on and the surgeon says: "Nothing. He's just a simple soldier." Vitorio says he is not just a simple soldier. He is a sergeant. The surgeon tells him he is not making any promises, but come tomorrow at 9 a.m. and he will see what he can do for Vitorio
The boys from the basketball court plan on stealing a bicycle. The owner starts approaching the area and a look-out whistles to the guys. They take off with just a tire and the handlebars as the man yells to the robbers to bring back the tire.
Manu's grandmother has to bring water to the house in a big plastic container. When Manu complains to her about the dinner being late, she complains to him that he never helps her around the house. He says he is busy doing his homework. Grandmother complains that Manu always waits for the evening before the assignments are to be turned in to do his homework.
Overnight Vitorio slept on a bench. When he awakens he asks a nurse if Doctor Luís has arrived. When the woman says that the doctor does not arrive until the afternoon, Vitorio starts cursing to himself.
At school, a young girl named Teresinha asks Manu if he had a good summer vacation. Her father is with her and he tells her to come straight home after school. Manu tells the girl that she is a spoiled brat having to bring her father to walk her to school. Teresinha tells him he's jealous.
Vitorio waits around the hospital until his doctor shows up. He takes Vitorio into a hospital room and asks him some questions. Vitorio tells him he was in the civil war since he was just 15 years old for a total of 20 years. The doctor is impressed. He fits a prosthesis onto the leg stump and tells Vitorio that the nurses will tell him the details of how to manage with the prosthesis. He also tells Vitorio that there will be some itching at first, but it is very important not to scratch the itches. He ends with: "Goodbye and be strong, Sergeant."
Vitorio goes to the physical therapy room. It's a large room filled with many, many people who have lost arms and legs. Vitorio decides to use the parallel bars to help him walk without his crutches.
Manu and his friend have to run into a house to escape a gang of boys who indicate they want to beat up Vitorio. The leader of the gang in named Caca. At home grandmother balls Manu out for failing to come to the market to help her. He says he forgot and she asks what is she going to do with him? If only his father were here!
Grandmother sets up the breakfast table as a woman on the radio says that more than 120,000 soldiers have been demobilized and will be unemployed. Vitorio is homeless and unemployed. He sleeps on a mat on the street. He gets up in the morning and starts walking. A truck filled with soldiers passes by him, but he pays no attention to it. He sees a sign: "No jobs."
A pretty, light-skinned teacher explains to her students that the second grade teachers are on strike as of today. So, there will be no classes for a whole weeks. The kids seem pleased at this. This irritates the teacher and she scolds the kids saying that education is very important for their futures. And she wants them to do some homework each day and bring it in when they return. As the kids leave, teacher grabs Manu to warn him that he better behave while not in school. She says Manu is smart, but won't get anywhere by misbehavior. Manu just says: "It doesn't matter."
Vitorio tries to convince a construction boss that he can do all the work of an able-bodied man, but the boss wants someone who is "normal". The disabled man even shows the boss his war medal for heroism. That doesn't help because the overall boss is Portuguese. The construction boss gives Vitorio some money for lunch and sends him on his way.
At home grandmother tells Manu that he must study during the strike. She is counting on him to take care of her when she is older. He asks her about his father. Can't he help her, or has grandmother given up on her son? Grandmother looks so discouraged and says maybe one day with the help of God Manu's dad will return. Manu is worried that his father won't recognize him after such a long time. He also asks his grandmother about his mother, but grandmother shoos him off to bed.
Vitorio has a drink in a club with women who dance with the customers. One of the girls asks him to buy her a drink. He gives her some money to get a drink for herself and a beer for him. She comes back with the drinks and asks Vitorio if he will dance with her? He shakes his head no and with his crutches, he starts to get up. The girl laughs at him, but quickly apologizes for hurting Vitorio's feelings. Now she tells him it doesn't matter. With the little money Vitorio has left he asks to have sex with the young woman. She takes him to a back room. She also tells him that her name is Rita.
Manu and his group decide to sell the bicycle tire and handlebars on the black market. The black market fellow says he has no cash, but he will take the goods in exchange for something he has in the back. Vitorio goes to the back and comes out with an AK-47 assault rifle. The man just laughs at Manu. So, Manu grabs a toaster. He shows the guys, but they are not impressed. Manu takes them around the coroner and shows them a big knife in a good holster that he stole. Now the boys are impressed.
Vitorio sells his crutches for 1,100 Kwanzas and a walking cane to a woman at the market. With the money he buys a pair of pants and a shirt. He wants to get out of his army clothes and into some civilian dress. He negotiates with the female seller and gets the clothing for 400 Kwanzas instead of 500.
Manu's teacher visits with grandmother. Manu comes home late and grandmother gets angry with him. Teacher intervenes so that things don't get out of hand. Manu lies and says he found a toaster in the garbage and had to clean it up, which took a long time. He gives the toaster to grandmother and now she is much nicer in her reproaches. The teacher thanks grandmother for dinner and says goodbye.
Vitorio returns to his sleeping place. He is dressed in his civilian clothes and, in addition, has acquired a blanket and a book. The electricity goes out. Vitorio is angry that he can't continue reading his book. Grandmother wonders how long it will take the authorities to get the power back on.
The next morning Vitorio sticks his hero's medal onto his undershirt and starts walking. The women wait in a long line for water. Vitorio goes up to the front and uses the water source to wash his upper body. The women start getting angry and yell at him, so Vitorio hurries up and gets out of there.
Granmother sells some produce in the market. She gives a basket to deliver to Palmira's house and then he is to go to see Teacher Joana. He is to give the teacher the box of cookies in the basket. Manu is not happy doing what he says is a "girl's job". He makes the first delivery, but on his way to the teacher's place, he is waylaid by the gang of boys who want to hurt him. The leader says he won't stand for any competition on his turf, so Manu will have to work for him. Manu refuses, so Caca tells his boys to give him a quick beating. The leader then tells Manu that next time he sees him, Manu had better have $50 dollars with him or they will kill him
They leave and, crying, Manu picks up his books. The boys took the cookies. He walks to see the teacher, who doesn't seem to believe Manu's story. He asks her why she is involved with his family so much and she says she met her father seven years ago. She says she was a teenager when she met him, but she liked him. She adds; "I miss him too." Joana describes him as tender and caring. She gives him some juice and they start studying from Manu's book.
Vitorio goes around asking for a job as a car mechanic. Later at the bar, he tells a story of a man who came to the army guys and offered his wife and two little girls in exchange for food. He says the soldiers abused the girls. Vitorio tells a friend that he would be better off dead. His friend tries to cheer him up, but Vitorio insists that things can only get even worse for him.
At home Manu looks through the photo album for pictures of his dad. At the dancing club, Vitorio gets a bit drunk and falls down on the floor. He tells the bartender that he wants to see Rita, that she's in love with him. The bartender throws the man out onto the streets. Vitorio tries to pick up a prostitute, but she wont do it with him. Vitorio returns to his sleeping place. He has a flashback to the war at the time he stepped on a land mine and got part of his leg blown off. When he awakes from the nightmare, he finds that someone has stolen his prosthesis.
Manu and a friend play in the old, abandoned fighter planes. A man drives up nearby to have sex with a prostitute in his car. The prostitute wants him to take her to a hotel to have sex. She gets out of the car and the man follows her to talk with her. When they are away from the car, the two boys start to steal things from the car. The man spots them and chases the boys off, but Manu was able to grab something out of the car. Manu shows the radio he got from the car to his smaller friend.
Vitorio goes back to the hospital. A nurse tells him the waiting list for a prosthesis if filled with hundreds of names. She says that all she can do for him is to put his name on the list and see if she can get him some new crutches for him.
Caca's gang stole the prosthesis belonging to Vitorio. They also have Vitorio's military medallion. Caca pins it to his shirt.
Vitorio returns to the dancing bar to ask if anyone knows anything about his prosthesis? The place is closed says the woman at the bar. She was the prostitute that rejected Vitorio last night. She tells him he had the prosthesis on when he talked to her. Vitorio starts to leave, but she gives him some coffee on the house and they talk some more.
Manu goes to the same black market guy to sell the radio. The fellow offers him $70 dollars and a choice of one thing from the back. Manu selects the leg prosthesis.
Vitorio stays at the bar until the woman he was talking to tells him she will finish with this one last customer and then they will go back to her place. Rita walks past him, but doesn't seem to recognize him.
Manu shows the prosthesis to the guys, but tells them he is going to keep it because his father might need it when he gets back from the war.
With her back turned toward Vitorio, the woman changes clothes. She asks Vitorio not to have sex with her, but just to hold her. He agrees.
Long lines of people wait to find out about missing soldiers or lost family members. Vitorio waits in one of the lines. The people wait to get a chance to look at the lists of soldiers and their situationsconditions and a list of people looking for their families. The press is there filming the stories of those looking for members of their families. Also waiting in one of the lines is the woman Vitorio was with last night. We find out her names is Maria Bárbara (aka Judite). She explains to the camera man that she is looking for her 12 year old son. She start crying while telling her story.
Joana goes to the dancing bar and dances with some men. There she meets a young man she knows. His name is Pedro. The two have a cup of coffee and talk. She talks about how difficult things are now, but Pedro says he wants to just have some fun. She tells him that he likes Angola because he has it made with money and education. Pedro tells Joana she has changed and Joana apologizes. They decide to dance, rather than talk.
Manu is being chased by Caca and his gang and whizzes right past Vitorio. The boys catch Manu and Caca threatens to knife Manu right now. All of a sudden, the knife is knocked out of Caca's hand and he goes down with the pain from the blow. Vitorio shouts that he will kill the first boy who touches his son. After Caca runs away Manu hugs his father's waist, so happy that his dad has returned. Vitorio explains that he is not his father. The word "son" just came out of him without his thinking about it. The two guys talk to each other. Vitorio tells Manu that he has to go to the hospital now.
Pedro asks Joana is she wants to come with him to his place. Joana says he is moving way too fast for her. She says she just wants to be taken home. Pedro tells her she is acting like a school teacher and Joana replies that he is acting like a spoiled, rich kid. Pedro is not paying that much attention to his driving and he hits a boy running across the street. They take the boy to the hospital. Pedro and Joana argue. They stop right across from Vitorio. He leaves and she sits down on a bench.
Vitorio also sits down on the bench. He tells Joana his story and it is a sad story. He asks Joana if she has children. She says she won't bring children into this land of misery. Joana falls asleep on his shoulder.
Grandmother is in church with Manu. After the service, he tells grandmother that he would bet her that he could bring his father back home faster with magic than her by praying. Grandmother doesn't like that remark.
Joana drops Vitorio off in town, but she has invited him to dinner on Tuesday. He walks the rest of the way home and finds Judite crying. It looks like someone has beaten her. She says a client did this to her, while her boss just watched and laughed. She cries some more saying she cannot stand this way of life anymore. Judite wants to buy a sewing machine with her savings and sew clothes for the rich people. She also wants Vitorio, a good talker, to drum up business for her.
Pedro goes to see Joana at home. He asks about the kid and she says he is alright. He says he has come to apologize to her for how he acted. They decide to go to the beach together. At dinner at the beach, Joana tells him she volunteered to help this old soldier Vitorio, but she needs Pedro's help too. She says she wants to push his situation as a national cause against the treatment of the disabled soldiers. But, Joana says, she will need help from politicians like Pedro's uncle. Pedro gets upset and laughs. He tells her to forget about his uncle in that plan of hers.
Vitorio and Judite have a beer while watching television. Young kids tell their sorrowful stories and Judite's eyes become watery. Back at home they have some wine and Judite tells Vitorio that she is very happy being his "wife". He promises Judite that they will stay together forever. This makes her very happy. They have sex at night.
Pedro speaks with his uncle about the soldier with the stolen prosthesis. Caca goes into the dancing bar. Vitorio is there and he sees Caca wearing his war medallion. Vitorio lunges at Caca and grabs the medallion off his t-shirt, while Caca runs out of the place. This gets Vitorio in trouble with the bartender, who is intent on really hurting Vitorio. Judite arrives and busts a bottle over the bartender's head. She then grabs the man's money and helps lift Vitorio off the floor. They both go home.
Manu prays that his father might come home. This pleases his grandmother.
Vitorio eats over at Joana's place. She tells Vitorio all about her plans and says that Pedro has set it all up. The program will go over the radio on Thursday. Vitorio tells Joana she is beautiful, grabs her right hand and then lets it go to start walking over to her. Joana gets a bit nervous about this, but Vitorio backs down.
Vitorio goes down to the radio station. Pedro and Joana show up. At home Manu and grandmother listen to Vitorio's story. After Vitorio speaks, the uncle speaks about the need for solidarity among the Angolan people. He asks for the person who stole the prosthesis to bring it down to the radio station. After the program is finished, the two men with smiles on their faces shake hands. Joana is a bit disappointed that the uncle seemed to turn the program into a bit of a political rally. Pedro doesn't understand why Joana is upset and Joana is a bit peeved that Pedro doesn't understand her.
Grandmother finds the prosthesis and starts whipping her grandson for stealing the prosthesis from that poor man Vitorio. She then tells Manu to get dressed.
Reporters crowd around the uncle asking him what he will do to solve the problems of the demobbed soldiers? A reporter tells him that people are afraid to go back to their lands because of all the land mines planted around the countryside. Uncle says that they are starting to de-mine the country. He walks over to many people with missing limbs and tells them that they will all be helped.
Pedro now gets jealous about this Vitorio guy. Joana says he's just a friend, but Pedro says that Vitorio seems to think they are more than friends. Joana smiles, tells him he is jealous and gives him a kiss. Pedro tells her they will go home and make love. Grandmother now appears with Manu before Vitorio. Manu gives him the prosthesis and tells Vitorio that he did not steal the prosthesis, but rather bought it from the black market. Vitorio believes him.
At home Vitorio tells Judite all about what happened. He says the grandmother was so ashamed that she asked him to come to dinner. And, what really pleases Judite, Vitorio is inviting Judite with him to the dinner. On Sunday Vitorio and Judite arrive at the home of Manu and grandmother. Judite, thinking of her own son who is missing, grabs Manu and gives him a big hug, which Manu has to pull away from.
On another day Manu visits Vitorio at his job. He is the driver for one of the government ministers now. Vitorio and Manu for a ride together in the fancy car.
Good movie. The movie reminds me a bit of a movie by Pedro Almodovar, a Spanish director, who like to film stories where different and diverse people come together to form a family that helps sustain them all. The film is about different and separate people who stories start to merge more and more and the disparate people come together to help each other and be something like a family. Pedro's movies are funny films, but Angola is a rather sad place compared to the wealthier and less war-torn Spain. The Angolan drama is appropriately more serious.
I thought the acting was very good, which, of course, makes the film better. This is especially true of Makena Diop as the war hero Vitorio.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Na cidade vazia (Hollow City) (2004)
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