Across the Brazilian countryside, the search is on for new souls

Travels Through Faith

As the title suggests, Faith () explores the world of faith in Brazil. It documents spirituality at the end of the Twentieth Century in this vast and diverse nation, showing us all types of religious celebrations, rituals, sacred offerings, and pagan cults. From the lower Amazon to the arid northeast, from the black Bahia to the industrial São Paulo, pilgrims travel long distances to participate in such events, to find spiritual fulfillment in a kaleidoscope of ways. The film is a visual fest. The camera catches seas of faces, endless lines of people pressing, squeezing against one another in a frenzy to get close to some sacred image to offer their love and respect. There are ritual dances, states of possession, healers, processions, ecstasies -- an entire mysterious cosmogony waiting to be revealed.

The theme of religion in Brazilian cinema is not unusual. The northeastern region, the land of mythical cangaceiros, has inspired films based on the ancient tales of pilgrims who defied bounty hunters and bandits in their spiritual quests. One of those merciless bandits was the subject of Glauber Rocha's fabulous film Antonio das Mortes. And there was the naked view of religious fanatics and political corruption in Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Os Fuzis. In Bahia the synchronicity of African and Catholic divinities gave birth to one of the biggest religious events in Brazil: the celebration of Our Lord of Bomfin, which inspired the film O Pagador de Promessas, by Anselmo Duarte.

But Faith's informative style produces a more distant approach to this world of faith. In the style of a traveler's guide, the cinematography by Adrian Cooper and Carlos Ebert records the multiple occasions with a naturalness, yet with a strangely unemotional view toward the events. This National Geographic-type sociological treatment conditions our emotions, leaving us detached and unable to share in the magnificence of all that involves a leap of faith.



Playing as part of the Brazilian Film Festival on Thursday, June 8, at 7:00 at the Regal South Beach Cinema, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach.

The way the film compiles these clips of religious life gives the impression that Brazil is indeed a country completely devoted to the spiritual world. The absence of a narrator creates a sort of peaceful rhythm to the piece, and those being interviewed are left on their own to tell their versions of various religious rituals, giving their own interpretations of what faith is without imposition of an outside context. For some of them, it remains a superior force: "Faith is an inner light given by God," says one. For another: "Faith runs hand in hand with man's needs and with man's hopes." One of those interviewed is a psychiatrist who explains the hold faith and ritual have: "This is a great space where the government is not present, and does not operate. [Here] the saints concentrate their power, offering the believers a cultural identity that society denies them." He concludes, "For most of the people devoted to these divinities, [to hold faith] is more important than to be Brazilian."

Director Ricardo Dias shot his first documentary film in Super16, and later blew it up to 35mm. His tireless journey across the Brazilian spiritual landscape seems in itself to be a heroic act of faith. Though at times it can feel like a megalomaniac's outburst, with an emotional temperature below zero, the director is willful and talented enough to communicate the greatness of a nation as fantastic as Brazil.

Faith is a rare product that will survive as an important documentary sheerly because of its scope, regardless of the naivete of the director's treatment and production. Faith is the expression of religious people, and this Faith accomplishes a remarkable feat by comprehensively expressing the voice of religious Brazil.


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