‘Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury’

Move over Pocahontas. Disney might have told your story with cute animals and made it a politically correct romance, but “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury,” looks at history from a decidedly Native American point of view–one that’s bloody and often sad. “Love and Fury” opens on Friday at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7.

This Brazilian movie, “A Story of Love and Fury,”  is one of 19 features submitted for the 86th Academy Awards Best Animated Feature and “Love and Fury”  (Uma História de Amor e Fúria) is an animation for adults. It features nudity because the original Native Americans in Brazil didn’t have much use for clothes. As is typical, the male genitals are represented in a subtle manner. The female breasts are given prominent nipples.

Directed and written by Luiz Bolognesi, the movie won Best Feature at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival.

At first we hear voices and sounds of guns against a black screen as the credits roll. This is a city and yet we hear there are guerrillas on the roof. We seem to be in modern times, but this is actually the future. The immortal warrior begins to give us his back story and we are transported to the forests of Brazil because the warrior tells us, “To live without knowing the past is to walk in the dark.”

In Guanabara 1566, when the immortal warrior was born “Brazil was the name of a tree.” We see a tree falling down. The warrior, Abeguar (Selton Mello)  tells us “I’ve been alive for nearly 600 years.”

Abeguar  is a Tupinambá Native American. On the very day that he attempts to become a warrior by killing a jaguar alone as is the tradition of his people, he meets his true love Janaína (Camila Pitanga)  in a jaguar skin and they flee from a wounded and angry black panther (jaguar). Brought to the edge of a cliff, they jump and miraculously survive.

Their shaman explains that the flight was a message from their God Munhã. Abeguar must lead his people away from the coming destruction the Kingdom of Anhangá.

By 1566, the first Europeans had already been to Brazil (Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500) and at first for Guanabara there were the French, who tried to settle in the Rio de Janeiro area, but the missionaries were in Sao Paulo and made allies with some of the natives. With the natives, the Portuguese drive the French out. This is portrayed in “Love and Fury,” but Abeguar’s tribe sides with the French. After an initial victory where they eat some of the missionaries and French, Abeguar’s tribe battles a larger Portuguese force brought by boats and with his tribe defeated, his love is killed and his people are enslaved to work on the sugar cane plantations.

Nearly 200 years after the death of Janaína, Abeguar finds her soul again, reincarnated into another woman’s body and they have a family.  They are not slaves, but they make baskets. They bring them to a cotton plantation where African slaves work. Although they attempt to sell them to the plantation owner–a captain in the army, the baskets are confiscated for government use.

Abeguar is cheated out of the money, and then, despite not resisting, the captain comes to Abeguar’s modest farm and Abeguar is accused of helping escaped African slaves. The movie suggests that Abeguar’s daughters and wife are molested or raped by the soldiers. This isn’t shown, just alluded to as the screen fades to black. Burning down their home that has been desecrated by the rapes,  family flees to the city where they meet other displaced farmers and start a revolution.  The Native Americans are joined by escaped African slaves. Although the slaves have knives and guns, the army that eventually forms to protect the colonists has horses and rifles. Abeguar escapes in death by transforming into a bird, but his wife and daughters are enslaved and die three years from yellow fever and malaria.

Others escaped into the forests to live life away from the colonies in freedom.

Abeguar returns again in 1968. The 1970s which might have been post hippy and disco dancing for Americans, but for Latin America, it was a time of authoritarian military dictatorships. For Brazil, that ran roughly from 1964 to 1985.  When Abeguar finds Janaína again, she is a member of a student group fighting for democracy. She also already has a lover. When Abeguar and this incarnation of Janaína are caught by the police, they are stripped naked and tortured. Labeled a traitor by his comrades, he remains a prisoner for seven years.

In the future, Brazil is at war about water. Rio de Janeiro is billed as one of the safest cities in the world because it is protected by private militias. But these private militias kill anyone, even children, who are found with stolen water. Half a glass of water is worth more than a whole bottle of scotch. There is democracy in Brazil, but it’s only a facade. The Amazon is a desert.  The man who controls the water, lives in Rio. This time, Janaína is a prostitute, but also a fighter in the guerrilla group, Water for All.

The story is told without bitterness, as a tragedy for all concerned. The animation is beautiful and the violence is tastefully portrayed–no excessive gore and while we see decapitated heads and body parts, we don’t see the evisceration or eyes hanging out of sockets–the stuff of animated and live action horror movies. Both a history lesson from a seldom used point of view and an eco-warning message movie, “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury” reminds us of the small players on the stage of history, the common person who loved and struggled against injustice and often lost. It is not pre-occupied with kings and princes, princesses and waifs who become princesses via marriage. This is a mournful tale of a Native American man and his true love and how they lived throughout an often brutal history in the land of their heritage as they watch the natural beauty being enslaved for human desires.

In the end, Abeguar and Janaína attain a type of immortality. Abeguar concludes, “Even without noticing everyday, we’re fighting for something” and that every day is history.

“Rio 2069: A Story of Love and Fury” is playing at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena starting today, Friday (ending 28 Nov. 2013).

In Brazilian Portuguese with English subtitles.

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