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“If the world had its way, there would be no place in it for me.”

Friday, April 4 @ Angelika
Saturday, April 5 @ Angelika

These words give us our first glimpse into the life of João do Santo Cristo, an orphan who becomes an outlaw in the outskirts of Brasilia. Brooding, dark and determined, João (Fabrício Boliveira) leaves behind a life of poverty for the high risk and reward of being a high-end drug dealer. As he struggles to make a life of his own, he must overcome racism, rival gangs and the perils of falling in love.

Director Rene Sampaio’s debut feature film, BRAZILIAN WESTERN (FAROESTE CABOCLO), is based on the epic folk ballad of the same name by the Brazilian rock band Legiao Urbana, whose songs of heartbreak, protest and justice became a cultural watershed during Brazil’s final years of military dictatorship. In the film, Sampaio blends elements of thriller, spaghetti Western and romance. The result not only adds another layer to this cultural legacy but to the Western genre as a whole.

braz_western_articleDIFF: What does the song “Faroeste Caboclo” (translated as Brazilian Western) mean to you as a Brazilian? And when did you decide to turn this famous song into a film?

Rene Sampaio: In 1987, when I heard the song for the first time, I thought, I’ll do this movie. It’s clear that at 13 it didn’t seem a very real goal. But, 26 years later, here we are talking about the movie. At that time I was at home during the hot, dry Brasilia afternoons, waiting for the song play so I could push my recorder’s pause button at the exact moment it started, because at the time I didn’t have the disc yet and I wanted to record it on tape. It was certainly my favorite Legião Urbana song and the most played on the radios at that time. The film is made for Brasilia, about Brasilia, inspired by a song about the city and composed by the most famous rock band in Brazil in the 80′s.

DIFF: What separates João from the average criminal?

RS: João is a real character and without stereotypes. He’s a poor black migrant seeking his happiness and fleeing the fate of being a nobody. He’s a guy who tries to succeed in life, trying to make some right decisions but also wrong ones, which takes him to a life of crime and all disorders that revolve around it.

DIFF: The film takes Western archetypes and sets them in 1980s Brazil. Did you grow up inspired by American Western films?

RS: I always loved the Western Genre, especially the films of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. But this film converses more with the spaghetti western, specifically with films of Sergio Leone.

braz_westernThe city of Brasilia is an important character in the film. We use a lot the architecture, the social division between Plano Piloto and satellite towns, the contradictions, large open spaces and huge horizon. But, we also tried to escape from postcard scenery and focus specifically on life in this period. It was necessary to find the locations that were best preserved in the Plano Piloto.

DIFF: What do you believe are the core elements of a Western?  What separates BRAZILIAN WESTERN from other Western films?

RS: But the film is not a pure western, instead a fusion of different genres: thriller, romance and so on. Really it’s also blend of pop culture, making a bric-a-brac that revisits these conventions in a new and very Brazilian way, with originality. Indeed, beyond the moral conventions of the western, especially in regard to the villainy, the good versus the bad, and the lone rider, the real western thing is the final duel. The rest really is a fusion of different genres. And I think that is the most interesting in a new narrative construction, merge, amalgamate different things to make a new project with a new look.

DIFF: Throughout the film, João is mistreated not only for being poor and illiterate but specifically because of his skin color. How has the treatment of caboclo (mixed race or predominantly black) people changed since the 1980s in Brazil?

RS: The life for a black person in Brazil has never been easy, especially in big cities, capitals. They are affected by a social and racial prejudice. Differences between blacks and whites are visible in the workplace, on issues related to justice and police. Racism still exists today and is 80% of the causes of deaths of blacks in Brazil. But you can feel a new fresh air in our culture is coming, through law quota for minorities in our universities and especially since we have a new rising middle class in Brazil formed mostly by descendants of blacks and mestizos indians. Money is power.

DIFF: At times João is fighting for love, for his girlfriend Maria Lucia. But what else is he fighting for?

RS: Besides the love of Maria, João seeks to get out the invisibility, become someone, to grow! He is an ambitious man with a thirst for happiness and change. In fact, this is his main motivation, the searching to be someone, for his own personality and place in the world.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 4.50.24 PMDIFF: Actor Fabricio Boliviera has a very intense look about him. How soon after meeting him did you decide he fit the role of João?

RS: Fabricio Boliveira has the look, the vibe and João’s breath, and this the most difficult to find as it was a very specific profile. Before him, we passed numerous tests, very nice people, but they had not the energy I wanted to give to the character. Fabricio is one of the best actors of his generation. He is talented, intelligent and indulges in direction. To make the film, he lost ten pounds in less than two months. There was a time when I doubted the truth of it on stage. Then we were convinced that we found the right marriage between actor and character.

DIFF: The film (and song) include a lot of Biblical imagery and names.  João “do Santo Cristo”—who, like Jesus, is also a carpenter—and Maria Lucia, “Mary of Light.”  What would you say these elements add to the story?

RS: All these elements are present in the original song. I think it gives the story a biblical and poetic dimension. Like in many cultures, these concepts are deeply rooted in our Latin and Western culture, providing another layer of meaning and also reflection.


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