Peter's Journey

Yayoi Kusama, Luster of Pain, 2016/2018


Commentary on the recently released film by Laís Bodanzky

In April 1831, after abdicating the Brazilian throne, D. Pedro I sailed back to Europe on an English frigate. There are few records about the two months that the crossing lasted. In this historical vacuum, Laís Bodanzky built Peter's Journey, a fictional exercise that combines several things: investigation of the emperor's personality, discussion of a handful of issues related to national identity and, putting everything together, a reflection on the relationship between virility and power, a subject that revealed itself to be grossly topical at the 7 of September.

It is the writer-director's most ambitious film, both in terms of thematic breadth and size of the production, which includes meticulous period reconstructions, multinational cast, etc. The least that can be said is that she tackled the task with courage, imagination and competence.

From the first image – an equestrian statuette of Napoleon in a warlike posture, under comment in off of Empress Leopoldina (Luise Heyer) – the question of the masculine desire for power and glory is central. And Pedro's (Cauã Reymond) main torment on his ambiguous journey (is he leaving for exile or returning from it?) is, quite frankly, his difficulty in getting an erection.

symbolic impotence

Soon Pedro, who had seven children with Leopoldina and many others out of wedlock, and who in conversation with the ship's captain bragged about having ejaculated seven times in one night, now he is unable to have sex with his second wife, Amélia (Victoria Guerra ). Real or fictitious, the former emperor's erectile dysfunction acquires a powerful symbolic character here.

Another affliction that tortures Pedro on the crossing is guilt, fueled by flashbacks in which he treats Leopoldina with stupidity and violence, in addition to humiliating her by bringing her main lover, Domitila (Rita Wainer), the Marquise of Santos, to court. To rid the former emperor of Leopoldina's tormented soul, the ship's haughty Malê cook (Sérgio Laurentino) prepares an ebó (dispatch, offering) for him, in one of the most inspired moments of the film.

To the contradictions of the protagonist – liberal in ideas and authoritarian in actions, macho and impotent, Brazilian and Portuguese – are added to the friction inside the ship, in which there is a deaf conflict of power between the servants of the former emperor and the English crew. . The ship's hold is a babel of languages ​​and ethnicities, and the black travelers there are in a kind of limbo between slavery (still in force in Brazil) and freedom.

realism and allegory

To account for all this complexity, the narrative travels between historical realism and allegory, distancing itself both from the patriotic pride of Independence or death (Carlos Coimbra, 1972) and the mocking satire of Carlota Joaquina (Carla Camurati, 1995). Poetic freedom is provided by Pedro's delusions and nightmares.

Some technical and language options call attention, such as the frame format (1.33:1), more “vertical” than usual, accentuating the chaotic agglomeration of characters and objects in the claustrophobic environment of the boat. The predominantly nocturnal setting and the movement of the camera accompanying or simulating the oscillation of the ship contribute to the construction of an atmosphere of uncertainty and danger.

Equally interesting are some montage solutions, in which a portrait, a piece of jewelry, an epileptic fit or music provoke a fluent passage between present and past, real and imaginary.

The desire to talk about everything – issues of race, gender, culture shock, religion, morals, geopolitics and national identity, among others – occasionally results in a certain dramatic dispersion and runs the risk of stunning the viewer with an excess of unexplained information.

But it is undeniably a great cinematographic feat, with formal maturity and remarkable confidence in the direction of such a heterogeneous cast, in which, in addition to Cauã Reymond, the Irishman Francis Magee (as captain of the ship) and the great actors stand out. Isabél Zuaa (Portuguese who has shone in Brazilian cinema) and Welket Bungué (Guinean who acted in Berlin Alexanderplatz, crimes of the future e Joaquim, between others).

*Jose Geraldo Couto is a film critic. Author, among other books, of André Breton (Brasiliense).

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG


Peter's Journey
Brazil, 2022, 96 minutes
Directed by: Lais Bodanzky
Screenplay: Luiz Bolognesi
Cast: Cauã Reymond, Luise Heyer, Victoria Guerra, Rita Wainer, Sérgio Laurentino, Francis Magee, Isabél Zuaa, Welket Bungué

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