During the release of his internationally praised film Central Station, Salles read Broken April, a novel by Ismaïl Kadaré. Struck by the brute symbolism of the story and awed by its touching universal theme of family and love, Salles, despite other projects and commitments, could not stop thinking about this project. Salles explains, "When I realized how obsessed I was by this, I immediately began to adapt the book. I abandoned those other projects, which were certainly easier and more accessible. "
The challenge was to take Kadaré's book, which is set in Albania, and make it work in a world that Salles understands-his native Brazil. A long process of research was necessary to properly adapt events that happen in the book to be distinctly Brazilian, without sacrificing the core of the story. "We needed to understand the character of the wars between families in Brazil," notes Salles. "These conflicts, usually carried out by landowners, came to define the frontiers of certain territories in the northeastern badlands, like that of the Inhamuns Badlands, in Ceara State, the setting for the war between the Montes and Feitosa families in the first half of last century. " Authenticity was key if the story was going to translate.
Following a long period of research, Salles contacted Ismail Kadaré to discuss his film, the proposed alterations, and to get his blessing. "A man of acute intelligence, Kadaré freed us from the obligation of following every step taken by the characters in the book. " Continues Salles, "This was very necessary in order to proceed. Due to the cultural differences between Brazil and the events Kadaré recounts in Albania - the Kanun, the code that governs blood feuds in that country, which has no equivalent in Brazil. " Salles needed to be given some creative flexibility.
At Kadaré's suggestion, the filmmakers immersed themselves in a second round of research, studying Greek tragedy, and more specifically, the plays of Aeschylus. These familial battles were the basis for countless plays. This research helped to further elucidate the timelessness of the themes and the universality of the story.
Producer, Arthur Cohn, advised Salles that the film should be a universal story because, ultimately, it is a tale of brotherly love and loyalty. Salles was inspired to create a story that all audiences could relate to and understand.
Salles decided to make a film that would have a fable-like quality to it, that wouldn't have to be tied to a specific geographic locale. This story could have taken place in the Brazilian badlands at the beginning of the last century, but also in other eras and in other latitudes. Ultimately, it is a story of the relationship of two brothers.
The film was infused with innocence, optimism and hope. Salles chose, as he has done in previous films, to tell the tale through the eyes of a young narrator. "To this central nucleus of the story, I looked to add creative elements of my own. As in Foreign Land and Central Station, I chose a narrator who, in the midst of all that chaos, still was able to preserve some clarity and innocence (Pacu)," says Salles. "I preferred an outcome that would in some way give certain characters a second chance; finally, I was interested in investigating the relationship between the brothers of the Breves family - Tonio and Pacu. "
The bond between the brothers is very unique. Pacu's innocence and fierce love for his older brother Tonio, helps Tonio open his eyes to the world and to experience bliss. Tonio is finally empowered to break the cycle of years of taxing familial tradition and obligation. Likewise, Clara discovers that there is pure joy beyond her life as a circus entertainer, when she falls deeply in love with Tonio. "The relationship between the brothers is so interesting because even though Pacu is younger," notes Cohn, "he is going to protect his brother and try and protect his happiness. "
Despite the somewhat fable-like nature of the film, great pains were taken to create an accurate world and one that would be full of symbolism to support the story. "What we learned from our research helped to determine the texture of the film, from structural choices, to the props we used," explains Salles. For example, the wheel of the sugarcane crusher symbolizes the inexorable cycle the Breves family cannot escape. The film is full of these metaphorical touches.
Behind the Sun is an intimate family portrait and an epic story of two families who have been dueling for decades. In summary, Salles notes, "I wanted to reveal a world of contrast that mirrored their world of conflict. Between immobility and movement; between archaism (the world of the Breves family) and modernity (the world beyond their gate); between the order decreed by the father and the disorder heralded by Pacu, the youngest brother; between time viewed as the cyclical repetition of the wheel of the crusher and time suspended, when Tonio and Clara are falling in love. " Through a relatively straightforward tale, Salles weaves a beautifully complex web.
About the Production
Director of photography Walter Carvalho and assistant director Sérgio Machado joined Salles once again on his latest project. Often they chose to film on location, to take advantage of the dramatic natural light of northeast Brazil.
As in Central Station and Foreign Land, the filmmakers also chose to mix experienced actors with non-actors. The casting process conducted by Sérgio Machado consumed a year of work. More than 1500 people were auditioned. Only nine professional actors worked in the film. All of the others are making their debuts in Behind the Sun. The boy Ravi Ramos Lacerda (Pacu) comes from street theater, Flavia Marco Antonio (Clara) from the circus
For almost two months, actors and non-actors prepared for their roles in the actual locations of the film. Often they lived without electric light, learned to work with animals, how to operate the sugarcane crusher, cut cane and make molasses.
To make Behind the Sun, each member of the film's first unit traveled more than 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) on bad roads. Every day, the cast and crew drove more than 120 miles (200 km) by car to get from the town where they slept to the set. The average temperature was over 100o (40o c. ). For all these reasons, Behind the Sun was a difficult film to shoot. "But leaving that universe, at the end of filming, muses Salles, "was even more difficult. "
The History of Blood Feuds in Brazil
Written in the 1940s, the book Lutas de Família no Brasil (Family Feuds in Brazil), by Luiz Aguiar Costa Pinto, allowed the filmmakers to understand how the conflicts that took place in Brazil are similar to - or different from - those experienced in Kadaré's Albania. Based on an analysis of the confrontations between the Pires family and the Camargo family, in São Paulo, and between the Feitosas and the Montes, in Ceará, the book proves that vengeance, in Brazil, takes place in the absence of legal authority. It is very useful to elucidate what Tonio was up against: years and years of very specific tradition, with very specific rules.
These studies were critical to the creation of the characters of the father and mother of the Breves family, played by José Dumont and Rita Assemany. The Breves are landowners bound to the sugarcane monoculture, which began to decline after the abolition of slavery at the end of the 19th century. Their rivals, the Ferreiras, are landowners on the rise - they raise cattle.
Below are some of the codes established by these families in an attempt to regulate the blood feuds, excerpted and compiled by Sérgio Machado from the book Lutas de Família no Brasil.
"Vengeance is an absolute and unquestionable duty, an obligation that cannot be escaped, under penalty of banishment. In such cases, the disgrace is not only the individual's, but the entire family's. "
"For the family, the struggle is a struggle for its own survival. To avoid this would break the rule, go against tradition, and threaten its own existence and social harmony. "
"The excessive growth of the power of the families and the weakness of governmental power cause the problem of private vendettas in Brazil. "
"The duty of taking revenge falls naturally to the relative closest to the victim. "
"If the closest relative doesn't carry out his duty, the offense to the dead man will turn back against him. "
The men are not the only people affected. Though it is rare that a woman would avenge the death of a family member, it is her duty to "sustain and encourage hatred, keeping alive the spirit of revenge. If it is a blood feud, they display the blood-stained clothes of the dead man; they live in permanent mourning, not leaving the house, lamenting the dead man night and day, recalling and exaggerating his good qualities, arousing longing, remorse and the desire for vengeance. " The fabric of the entire family is destroyed; anger and revenge are paramount.
In the case of vendettas between families, right is never on both sides. It migrates from one side to the other, subject to the killings committed. It migrates, consequently, from man to man, from family to family, from faction to faction, from country to country, in an unending cycle.