By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A film charting the rise of ‘the most popular politician on earth’ (according to Barack Obama), Brazilian president Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, has been screened at a private gathering attended by many political luminaries, the President and First Lady Marisa Letizia included.
‘Lula, O Filho do Brasil’ (Lula, Son of Brasil) was shown to more than 2,000 guests last Saturday night at the Vera Cruz studios in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the city in Sao Paulo state where Lula first made an impact on the Brazilian political scene as a union representative in the Seventies. The lead role in the film is played by a relatively unknown actor, Rui Ricardo Dias.
Members of the audience were said to be reduced to tears during the film, which concentrates on the first 35 years of President Lula’s life, whilst O Globo was so enamored that they have declared it a certainty for Oscar nomination next year.
Directed by Fabio Barreto, the film is based on an official biography written by Denise Parana, and was first shown at the Brasilia Film Festival, though Lula was not present at its debut.
The film contains moving scenes of the arid north-eastern region in which Lula was born in 1947 into an impoverished family of eight children. After his alcoholic and abusive father abandoned the family he sought betterment, moving, like some 35 million of his regional compatriots, to the south and to Sao Paulo.
On arriving in Sao Paulo, Lula worked as a laborer in several of the suburban metal factories, eventually rising to become a respected union organizer during Brazil’s military dictatorship and leading many worker strikes in the Seventies.
Costing a reputed R$20 million, the film will not be officially released until January 1 next year, seven years to the day that Lula took office as president for the first time. The timing of the release has been questioned by some, in particular members of the opposition who fear that the film is intended to bolster the campaign of Dilma Rousseff – Lula’s chosen heir to the top seat in Brazil – in next year’s general election in October. International media, and most notably the BBC, have also called the film ‘controversial’ for it’s convenient timing.
Speaking to the media after its screening, education minister Sergio Haddad called the criticism baseless. “I hope that this is not seen as an electoral tactic. Lula is someone we are all proud of and that is how this must be seen,” he said. “This is not a film about a politician but rather about an ordinary man, his family and his extraordinary capacity for overcoming difficulties,” the director Barreto said.
In the main, the film focuses on the adversity faced by Lula and his family, including the death of his first wife during childbirth, and of his mother while he was incarcerated by the military junta. Some, however, have found this obsession with tragedy to be over the top: “I’m an admirer of Lula, but I found the film focused too much on cliches about his life, rather than on his union and political work,” said Raquel da Oliveira, a government official.
What nobody is denying however is the suitability of Lula’s life for the big screen; his is a life that certainly constitutes a story of courage and an incredible example of success in the face of adversity.