Italy, 1944. A small group of Brazilian soldiers forming the Brazilian Expeditionary Force have been sent to Europe after the country declared war on Germany in response to shipping losses in the Atlantic. A front line observation post comes under fire at night and the Brazilian soldiers scatter, four of them regrouping the next morning and heading for another observation post which they find abandoned. They encounter a journalist who tells them about a nearby route which is heavily mined and has stopped the American forces in the area advancing. Worried that they might be labeled deserters for not reporting back to command, the four accompanied by the journalist set out to find and clear the road...
During the Second World War, 25,000 Brazilian soldiers were sent to Europe and fought on the front line in Italy during 1944. Their contributions are now almost completely forgotten by even the most avid wartime historians. Written by director Vicente Ferraz, A Estrada 47 could have gone down the route of French film Indigènes (2006) (a French film about the now forgotten contribution of many North African soldiers in the war) which incorporated the neglected soldiers into a pretty conventional war story, instead he does something very different, eschewing any normal genre trappings in favour of a languriously paced and philosophical film, more remniscent of a French art-house film than a war movie. There is no firm narrative drive here; the soldiers are not sent on a particular mission, nor is there a new starter or grizzled veteran around whom the storyline flows, we rarely see anyone outside of the lead group and there is no attempt to provide a broader context of the war, instead the five main characters just adapt to the events they find themselves in, making the film's direction hard to predict and it feels far more like a real soldier's account than most war movies.
Despite patriotic temptation (particularly given the large amount of governmental funding behind this film) Ferraz's soldiers are not heroes in a conventional sense - their decision to carry out the dangerous mission is more to save themselves from the charge of desertion than any urge to duty; the soldiers as a group seem to represent the Brazilian war effort as a whole, their admirable bravery and courage is instantly forgotten and ignored. A voice-over from the lead charcter Guima takes the form of a letter he is writing home to his father - throughout the film he provides occasional thoughts on the war and their contributions to it. While the running theme through the narration is of the pointlessness of war and particularly Brazil's involvement in it, Ferraz again avoids the common "war is hell" themes of many modern war films (which is normally just an excuse for gratuitous bloodletting) or the shoehorned political diatribes of many Vietnam era American war films.
Stunning snow-bound vistas provide backdrop for much of the film, providing stark contrast to the soldier's warm Latin American homelands - Ferraz shoots these scenes beautifully but avoids turning the film into a travelogue - buildings and people look dirty and tired, for all its beauty the pristine white snow hides mines and death. Filmed in Italy the locations all look authentic as does the military equipment on display. A varied soundtrack ranges from Brazilian samba beats, to etheral sounds and there is some strong sound design in the early scenes as Guima's hearing is damaged by an explosion.
The Brazilian cast are all strong, lead by experience film and television actor Daniel de Oliveira. Regularly cast as a German soldier, Richard Sammel (most recognisable as the doomed Sgt. Rachtman beaten to death early on in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds (2009)), plays a very haunted German defector. Italian actor/director Sergio Rubini has a brief part as an Italian soldier.
A Estrada 47 is a powerful exploration of the futility of sacrifice in wartime and the emotional cruelty of conflict that manages to completely avoid all of the usual genre clichés. With surreal undertones, few action scenes and deliberately langurious pacing it will certainly not appeal to viewers wanting a conventional or action packed war film, but fans of cerebral cinema should certainly enjoy. Highly recommended.
|Anyone famous in it?||No-one well known.|
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Vicente Ferraz - a Brazilian director who has helmed a few documentaries, as well as co-directing El último comandante (2010) about Nicaraguan dictatorship.|
|Any gore or violence ?||Some blood|
|Any sex or nudity?||None.|
|Who is it for?||Fans of art-house films will certainly enjoy this.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The clean digital print, no transfer issues.
|Audio||Stereo & 5.1 Portuguese (with some German, Italian and a few lines in English) - sounds clear throughout.|
|Subtitles||English - translates all languages (except the English dialogue), no problems.|
|Extras||The disc includes:
|Region||Region 0 (ALL) - PAL|
|Availability||UK DVD release - title|
|Other regions?||No US release at present.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is Portuguese, retaining the title card and opening text (translated by the subtitles).|