72 of 1001 Movies: Vidas Secas (1963)

Vidas Secas, or Barren Lives as it is also called, is probably one of the most depressing movies you will watch. Nelson Peireira dos Santos doesn’t disguise human traits, or the brutality of poverty in his film featuring a Brazilian family. While the 1963 footage seems years behind many other films released during the same time it is just intriguing. The quality sort of adds to the harshness in it’s own way.

Fabiano and his wife, Vitoria are traveling across the desert in Northeast Brazil along with their 2 children, and a dog named Baleia. They are searching in the hopes of improving their lives, and find some when they arrive at a house, and Fabiano is able to begin working with the ranchers. A run in with the law, and other disasters though put them at risk again of being impoverished especially when greed becomes wrapped up in their livelihood only a short time after leaving their poverty roots.

The land was so bright in the film, and I don’t think anyone used anything to try to work with it to keep the cast faces from being too shadowed, or the background at times from being completely gone. It did make the weather look scorching though, and you could feel the hardships of the dried up land they were living on. The film is also in black and white yet they still capture that vibe.

The acting also makes the family seem real. All the actors seem to capture the quality about the characters that mad them human, and brought it to life. Fabiano for example starts off seeming like a guy who just wants to provide for his family, but once him and his wife make some they seem to be wanting to spend in on the grand. This doesn’t necessarily seem bad until gambling gets involved. Also the two little kids were so young, but yet seemed authentic in their roles as well. Surprisingly, though the character you find yourself really intrigued by is the dog, so much so she got her own feature film.

The quality of the film isn’t the best though, but there is something characteristic to the film to make it work. There are times when the actors completely disappear and we can’t see their faces though. Also, the movie doesn’t have a lot of talking, and it doesn’t really need it because he acting is good enough to move past the words, and convey something in just how they are acting. For some reason though the way the dog interacts with the kids especially when they need comfort is some of the powerful scenes.

Don’t expect this movie to give you a needed lift though. It shows characters that are so flawed they aren’t hugely likable, but you can’t judge them either because they are human, and the way it is shot only adds to the somber feeling. Especially when you see the happiness of the kids and the world they live in that is unknowing to how much their parents struggle to provide, because you know one day their ability to be naive will disappear.

Rating 3 of 5.

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