Behind The Sun review

Blood feuds, a cute kid and itinerant circus folk are the winning recipe for Walter Salles' compelling follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Central Station. Based on the book Broken April by Albanian writer Ismail Kaderé, the action has been transported seamlessly from the Balkans to the Brazilian badlands of 1910 - an unforgiving landscape where, as one character remarks bitterly, "the dead command the living".

The story begins with a blood-stained shirt fluttering on a line, its yellowing marking the time before its owner can be avenged. Arcane rituals like this dominate the feud between the Breves family and their neighbours, who have been locked in an eye-for-an-eye conflict longer than anyone can remember. The reason? Ownership of a dusty parcel of land where the only way to survive is to spend every waking hour mashing sugar cane into molasses.

When his brother is slaughtered, Tonio (Rodrigo Santoro) is commanded by his father (José Dumont) to exact retribution, resulting in a thrilling chase through the cane fields. For his part in the vendetta Tonio is doomed (the cycle of revenge is never-ending) so he makes the most of his final days by running off to the circus with Flavia Marco Antonio's sexy fire-eater and her over-protective cousin (Luíz Vasconcelos).

Seen through the eyes of Tonio's younger brother Pacu (Ravi Ramos Lacerda), who comes to play a pivotal role in the tale, Behind The Sun juxtaposes scenes of back-breaking physical toil with images of transcendental release (real-life circus performer Antonio on the trapeze, for example). The result may be conventional, but it's still a rich, heady melodrama whose message (the chain of violence can be broken by love) has a poignant relevance in these uncertain times.

A gripping and symbolic fable of family and love, stirringly filmed by Walter Salles with a cast comprising several first-time actors. Raw, intense and emotional.

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