Image: Vera Nilsson


Commentary on the film by Affonso Uchôa and João Dumans

Arabia argues that everyone, including the quietest, has a story to tell. The film written and directed by Affonso Uchôa and João Dumans, winner of the best film award at the Festival de Brasília in 2017, shows in an exemplary way how the demanding treatment of a narrative issue allows advancing in the presentation of complex social problems.

The film follows the years of Cristiano's (Aristides de Souza) career, a poor young man with no family from the outskirts of Contagem who has, in the succession of unskilled and poorly paid jobs, the only tangible alternative to criminality. After a year in prison, he leaves his place of origin and, hitchhiking, embarks on this road movie of the precarious proletariat in the interior of Minas Gerais, sleeping where possible, accepting the jobs that appear: harvesting gossip, building roads, transporting cargo, textile and metallurgical industry, among many others. Dialogues about the worst and best load to carry or the best place to sleep in the absence of a bed illustrate the everyday life of lowered expectations of a young man who has nothing but his own strength to work.

the merit of Arabia it is not limited to having put on stage the trajectory of an individual representing a large portion of the Brazilian population, a recurrent issue in the vigorous cinema that emerged in the last decade in the region of Contagem. His main interest resides in showing a complex process by which such an individual elaborates his own narrative voice when selecting and reconstituting in a writing work, reproduced in the voice in off in first person, the decisive stations of your journey. It is for this reason that Arabia dedicates its first twenty minutes to building the narrative frame that will make it possible to give voice to the character of Cristiano.

His story is preceded by another, that of a teenager who lives in the working-class village of Ouro Preto, the last stop on Cristiano's journey. In the absence of his parents, who are permanently away on the road, André (Murilo Caliari) divides his time between wandering around the city and taking care of his younger brother, receiving assistance only from his aunt, a nurse with sporadic contact with Cristiano. When he collapses and is taken to the hospital, André is tasked by his aunt with picking up clothes and documents from Cristiano's house. It is there that he will find the notebook where the story narrated below was written.

The notebook contains the dual position of the autobiographical account: that of the narrator who looks to the past and punctuates his trajectory with questions about its meaning; and that of the character who experiences the succession of narrated events. Both touch on the occasion that generated the story, explained right at the beginning: writing something about one's own life is a challenge given by the factory theater that Cristiano attends to escape his loneliness. It is significant that it is an external stimulus, as he is a young man with a low level of education who does not hide his inability and discomfort with words, whether to express his own feelings in relation to other characters, or to write about his life.

In addition to indicating the initial motivation for writing, the first sentences in the notebook also explain the direction of the report: when taking stock of his life, he takes on the objective of narrating the moment of greatest happiness, dating a co-worker who had made him something tangible to overcome the limitations of your starting point and alter the course of life. The breakup, in turn, exposes, in addition to disillusionment, perhaps insurmountable distances between the characters. Narrating will therefore be a way of resuming that moment of happiness to which he would like to return.

It is in this movement that Cristiano's particular bias materializes the idea that everyone has a story to tell. For the oppressed individual, this is certainly not a succession of exemplary events crowned by victory over adversity, but the erratic trajectory of disconnected episodes in which the manual worker is repeatedly forced to start over from scratch in changing jobs and cities. Repetition, however, does not prevent learning. As the story progresses, Cristiano's voice gains in reflexivity, expressing an acute awareness of the obstacles to facing loneliness, poverty and oppression. The occasion for writing is therefore not reduced to the presentation of an experience, but it is itself the occasion to try to verbalize what has been lived and to recognize in past events a story to be told.

If the succession of scenes is organized by a literary component, so to speak, given by Cristiano's writing, which places and comments on the images, Arabia gives the songs the function of expanding and commenting on the narrator's point of view. It is no coincidence that several of them are performed by the characters, such as “Caubói fora da lei”, by Raul Seixas, in a guitar circle on a night off, explaining the complicity between these occasional friends, the same circle of temporary workers in front of the in which, in a similar scene, one of them reads the affectionate letter received from the mother.

“Homem na Estrada”, by Racionais MC, sung and performed by Cristiano on the guitar, serves as a mirror for the protagonist himself, a possible destiny in the life circumstances of the peripheries that squeeze poor young people between the threats of crime and execution by the police , a fate he tries to escape from prison and hit the road in search of work. “Roots”, by Renato Teixeira, played in the background during the protagonist's reflection on the many jobs undertaken during the years on the road, although it exposes the protagonist's perseverance in his evocation that “dawn is a lesson from the universe that teaches us that it is necessary to be reborn”, sounds somewhat idealistic in the context in which each new work is a relapse into what is always the same.

Especially significant is the relationship between “Três Apitos” by Noel Rosa and “Marina” by Dorival Caymmi. The first of them, reproduced twice in Maria Bethânia's version, punctuates the love encounter with Ana (Renata Cabral), both at the beginning of the narrative, when he chooses it as the most important event to narrate, and in the memory of the day of the first kiss. at an amusement park. The song, however, speaks of unrequited love, foreshadowing the differences between the two that will lead to their breakup. A serious fact – a miscarriage – explains the difficulty of using language to deal with what happened. As she verbalizes her pain, he reacts silently.

The couple breaks up, he returns to the road and, after meeting an old prison companion, he gets a job in Ouro Preto, from where he keeps in touch with her by phone. The perhaps insurmountable difference between the two is evident in their ability to express their own situation. In his notebook, he writes that he cannot bring himself to tell her that he has not stopped loving her. She, in turn, sends him a letter in elaborate language, almost far-fetched in its literary bent, in which she states her intention to be together. He does not respond to her in the film, but registers in his notebook a fatalistic interpretation of abortion, as a sign that “it will always be like this”. The film then plays “Marina”, by Dorival Caymmi, sung by a local musician. The subject of the song censures Marina for unnecessarily painting herself, retouching her own nature, and thus angering the one who loves her. It would be possible to deduce that the more sophisticated language of the letter would have hurt Cristiano for making the difference between them explicit just when Ana was trying to get closer to him. As he registers, she knew how to say things while he just tried.

The notebook is the scope of these attempts. Just as Cristiano puts in writing what he can't say to her, he also recounts events he never got around to verbalizing. One episode is exemplary. In charge of buying beer at night for the place where he worked, he runs over someone on a deserted and poorly lit road. The scene takes place in silence: driving he feels that he has hit something, stops the truck to check what happened and then discovers the body of a dead person, which he ends up dragging to a lake or river beside the road. Only then does he report that he managed to clean the blood off the car before returning to work, completely concealing the fact. What leads him to act like this, turning the accident into a crime, is precisely the fear that the accident would be seen as a crime, which would return him to the prison from which he tries to keep his distance from the beginning. If he never reports the fact to anyone, but puts it in writing, one notices that his original note-intent changes. They are certainly no longer intended for the theater of the factory, but for themselves as an exercise in self-understanding.

If the entire film is aimed at exposing the protagonist, this intention also affects the other characters, becoming a way of filming. The camera stopped in medium shots is careful to intervene in the speeches of characters and registers in unusual framings speeches and dialogues that situate particular data in a general process without didacticism. Leonardo Feliciano's cinematography contributes to this with the pictorial effect of certain shots in an open plan, as in the images of the factory with workers in the backlight of the ovens or in Cristiano's settling of accounts with the owner of the farm having the gossip plantation in the background.

It is a rich contrast to the traveling opening, in which the camera accompanies André on a bicycle along the winding road that leads to Ouro Preto, and with images of the road typical of the genre of road movie. Especially when it touches on the issue of work and oppression, in the words of a friend from prison times or the former union leader who had organized a gossip pickers' strike, this way of filming is close to documentary cinema, which, however, not only does not come into conflict with the subjective perspective of Cristiano's writing, but also becomes an ingredient of his learning, as can be seen in his final considerations on working at the factory, which are much more reflective than didactic.

The film ends with no ending. The reunion with Ana, a possibility signaled by her letter, is left on hold while Cristiano remains unconscious in the hospital in Ouro Preto. In place of the denouement, we hear the group's reflection recorded in the final pages of the notebook, which even reverses the perspective of the beginning of the film by reserving a mention of André's loneliness in the smoky panorama of the working village. An analogous loneliness punctuates the beginning of the final considerations as awareness of the absence of personal and affective ties with the place and with his co-workers.

This isolation is opposed, in turn, to the desire for everyone to leave the factory, return home and rid the body of the ore. What articulates the passage from the individual to the collective, in which Cristiano expresses the generalizable character of his experience, is the sharing of the same demeaning situation: they are all old and tired horses. Immediately, however, the appeal to common ground is dismissed as ineffective, as it is not what others would want to hear.

This results in a profoundly contradictory consideration: on the one hand, the fatalism that life is and always will be a mistake, which also resonates, albeit in a different register, in the joke told by the construction workers from which the film takes its title; on the other hand, the strength of resistance implied in the awareness that what one has is “that strong arm and the will to wake up early”. Strength and will are physical and psychic conditions capable of confronting the disillusionment of those who are permanently faced with adverse conditions, but do not harbor fantasies about changing the course of things.

The account of the dream in which Cristiano finds himself alone in a forest while people stop looking for him confronts him once again with his own loneliness, from which he draws the conclusion that “he was alive and could still breathe”. The fact that she also describes her comatose state in the hospital might suggest that the life of the anonymous manual worker is fundamentally indistinguishable from a vegetative state. the merit of Arabia it's keeping that extreme consideration alongside the emphasis on work ability and the willingness to move forward.

Cristiano's account closes this lesson. If it were left with only one of these aspects, the film would fall back on fatalism or an uplifting message. However, he does not abandon the acute awareness of adversity, on which his critical perspective depends, nor does he give up all the energy in conducting the lives of these individuals to the oppressive social process, which confers a character of resistance to the trajectory of his protagonist. what makes of Arabia a remarkable film is the meeting of these very contrary forces in the composition of a subjective experience with such a state of affairs.

* Luciano Gatti He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Constellations: criticism and truth in Benjamin and Adorno (Loyola).



Brazil, 2017, 96 minutes.
Direction and script: Affonso Uchôa and João Dumans.
Director of Photography: Leonardo Luciano.
Art Direction: Priscila Amori.
Cast: Aristides de Sousa, Murilo Caliari, Glaucia Vandeveld, Renato Novaes, Adriano Araújo, Renan Rovida, Wederson Neguinho, Renata Cabral.


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • The melancholic end of Estadãoabandoned cars 17/06/2024 By JULIAN RODRIGUES: Bad news: the almost sesquicentennial daily newspaper in São Paulo (and the best Brazilian newspaper) is rapidly declining