Jul 27, 2007

The Miracle Of Being A Black Hero

When Hercules awakened from a temporary insanity that made him kill his own wife and children, he was shocked and regretted by what he had done. He prayed to the God Apollo for guidance, and he was told to to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years, in punishment for the murders. As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve Labors that they seemed impossible.

In Ricardo Elias’ The 12 Labors (2006, original title Os 12 Trabalhos), 18-year-old Heracles (Sidney Santiago) is just out of the State foundation for the well-being of the minor juvenile, a detention system called Febem. At the beginning we see Heracles’ eyes as he realizes that he must pay the price to be reformed and adapted to the society. We also listen to his thoughts: “Depending on where you were born, your story is already written before it starts”. With a big majority of black population, Febem opposes to the situation in any given classroom in a federal university, where there is a majority of white faces. That’s probably the most important statement in this film: if you are black and poor in Brazil, you will have to go through a daily struggle and suffering almost impossible to avoid.

His cousin Jonas (Flavio Bauraqui) finds him a job as motorcycle courier. In an overpopulated São Paulo with highly congested traffic and more than a quarter million motorcycle delivery boys, Heracles must overcome 12 diligences in a parallel with his Greek demigod. The phenomenon of motor-boys exploded onto São Paulo during the last ten years due to high unemployment. Far away from having impossible tasks to accomplish, Heracles’ risks in this tale are being easily fired, or even worse, to die in a road accident (the statistics show the incredible number of twenty five motor-drivers being injured per day in the city, and at least one of them dying). These labors increase the level of difficulty as Heracles’ existential crisis and uncertain future emerges.

He has also a very interesting sensitivity and power to “fix things in mind”. In a way, he can predict others’ future. This extra-sensorial experiences merge with the 12 labors, which then turn into 12 predictions: a little kid, the pastries girl, the airport passenger, a street vendor, and his own boss are part of stories where his philosophy and personality lead him to self-respect and confidence. Here is where Ricardo Elias also succeeds, where the parallel to Greek mythology emancipates from the film to be transformed not only into a reflection about Brazilian youth in poverty, but also about art and sensitivity as probably the only way to escape from it--beyond sports. Heracles’ imagination and artistic talent may be his salvation. A powerful scene of his comics turned into film suggests it, as it also laments how many of them will remain in anonymity.

With a gorgeous cinematography (Jay Yamashita)--a common currency in today’s Brazilian cinema--, and a vivid music score (André Abujamra), this film won awards in Havana, Recife and Rio de Janeiro Film Festivals, among them Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Score. A tunnel, the death, a beach: The conscious presence of the camera makes Heracles look to us, and invite us to share his dream or fate. By the end of the Labors, Hercules was, without a doubt, Greece's greatest hero. The miracle of being a black hero in Brazil (and in many other countries) seems to be impossible. Only a few will achieve, like Hercules, fame or immortality.

(Written for NYRemezcla)

The 12 Labors (original title Os 12 Trabalhos)
Director: Ricardo Elias
Writers: Claudio Yosida, Ricardo Elias

New York Latino International Film Festival (NYLIFF)
Category: International Features
Year: 2006
Format: 35mm / Brazil
Runtime: 90 min

Friday, July 27 | 1:00 PM
Director’s Guild Theater
110 West 57th Street

Sunday, July 29 | 12:00 PM
Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th Street

Picture by Simone Ezaki

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