Birdwatchers a fragmentary but ultimately convincing tale

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      Starring Ambrósio Vilhava and Leonardo Medeiros. In Portuguese and Tupi-Guarani with English subtitles. Unrated. Plays Friday to Thursday, February 4 to 10, at the Vancity Theatre

      The feature drama Birdwatchers, which begins and ends with aerial shots of the shrinking Brazilian rain forest, takes its name from the ecotourists who trek to that country's remote Mato Grosso do Sul to photograph nature's colourful pageant. If they're lucky, they'll get fleeting glimpses of near-naked indigenous people on the banks of a river, shooting impotent arrows at passing boats. By the time the cameras have moved on, these “wild Indians” will have wiped off their war paint, put on their Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts, and been paid for their actorly efforts. What's left is the long drive back to a dusty reserve where the hunting is finished and there's little to do but drink and maybe dream of a better time.

      Watch the trailer for Birdwatchers.

      After stumbling on the suicides of two young Guarani girls—the latest in an epidemic among teenagers—born leader Nádio (Ambrósio Vilhava) leads a small band of followers back to the ancestral land, where there are still streams and wild animals. Unfortunately, that tract is currently “owned” by an upper-class farmer (Leonardo Medeiros) who—like most viewers, by implication—is torn between self-justification and the plight of the pitiful-yet-determined survivors.

      Director Marco Bechis, an Italo-Chilean (who grew up in Argentina and Brazil) using Italian funding and cowriters, auditioned many nonactors before coming up with this fragmentary but ultimately convincing tale of two wary groups still coming to grips with each other. His hand-held camera clearly identifies with the beleaguered natives, and especially with young Osvaldo (Pedro Abrí­sio da Silva), who is studying to be a shaman amid the blare of TV game shows and soap operas. The soundtrack music, which is sometimes overbearing, was written three centuries ago by a Jesuit missionary to Paraguay. He was determined to turn the local Guarani into angelic choirs back then—even if it killed them. They've been quietly singing in the trees ever since.