Starring João Pedro Zappa. In English and Portuguese, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
To get the most out of Gabriel and the Mountain, you need some background. The most impressive thing about this long-form travel diary is that Brazilian filmmaker Fellipe Barbosa (who made 2014’s Casa Grande) went to the same African countries his friend Gabriel Buchmann visited on an almost year-long trip, before the latter lost his way on a Malawi mountainside and perished there, alone, in 2009.
It’s an intense portrait of courage and stupidity, and also a sympathetic introduction to the real people our hubristic hero (played by João Pedro Zappa) met and genuinely befriended in his truncated journey. English is the lingua franca that connects the Kenyan farmer, Tanzanian truck driver, and Rwandan customs officials he meets along the way, among many others. These nonactors still seem pleasantly baffled that this odd fellow came into their lives briefly and still has some resonance today. The only other professional on hand is Caroline Abras, as Gabe’s Brazilian girlfriend, shocked to see how monomaniacal the guy has become on his travels. (Curiously, these are the film’s flattest scenes.)
The new movie has been compared to Into the Wild, about another naif who thought he was well prepared for survival. But this doesn’t have a structure built around a diary or any other singular source. The result is more kaleidoscopic, and the colours extend to all the impressive places and cultures our pale-faced protagonist wandered through. (And to the most outrageous versions of “native garb”, making him look like Barney Rubble while most locals wear jeans and T-shirts.) At 130 minutes, however, the dynamic is quite repetitive: Gabriel arrives, pushes his way into people’s lives, sometimes obnoxiously, and even so makes a positive impression. Ultimately, the movie does have subtle things to say about colliding worlds, class privilege, and human unpredictability.