River of Desire is the wondrous new film directed by Brazil’s Sérgio-Machado.
River of Desire director Sérgio-Machado interview by Andrew Threlfall
River of Desire (O Rio do Desejo) follows the captivating and emotional story of three brothers who find the delicate balance of life on the banks of the Amazon river rocked to its core by romance, heartache and violence. Award-winning director, Sérgio-Machado (Lower City and The Violin Teacher) has crafted a beautiful document of working-class Brazil and the people who inhabit its intense landscape. The film is a mesmerising journey into family and relationships inspired by the novel “The Brothers” by Brazilian literary prize-winning author Wilton Hatoum.
Director, Sérgio-Machado talks to us about his beloved Brazil and the future of the Amazon.
AT: The powerful, never-ending flow of the Amazon is the emotive backdrop to your beautiful examination of human emotion in River of Desire. What is the magic of the river basin?
SM: Shooting in the Amazon was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I think that everyone should have the opportunity to feel the wind touching their face while sailing through the Amazon river, see the water lily, the exuberance of the kapok tree, the endless dance of the birds and the animals in every shape and colour.
It is an absolutely stunning region, that has been threatened over the last 5 years by a fast process of destruction. I hope it changes with this new government.
In addition to this unforgettable experience, getting to know the Amazon, protecting it is something that everyone in the world should do, not only Brazilians since the future of the whole world totally relies on it. The film and Milton Hatoum’s work also casts a light on the people that live there. A very friendly people, that welcomed the film with open arms.
AT: Do you think the defeat of (now former Brazilian president) Bolsanaro in the recent election will be crucial for the future of the Amazon?
SM: My feeling is that we are now waking up from a terrible dream that lasted for 4 years. In addition to the destruction of the Amazon, we have also seen the return of hunger, the slaughter of the indigenous communities, an increase in the number of weapons held by civilians, persecution of science and culture, an increase in the religious fundamentalism, and persecution of the African religions. Hundreds of thousands of people died after not being vaccinated because our president encouraged them to go out without wearing a mask.
Unfortunately, we are living in a world where fascist ideologies are getting more space, not only in Brazil. Over the years when Bolsonaro was our president, all the racist, sexist, and homophobic people felt free to be proud of their own ignorance.
I have the feeling that the world was not fully aware of the danger we were under with such fast-paced destruction of the Amazon Forest. This devastation is a worldwide concern.
I am full of hope that the country will rapidly improve with our new government. Bolsonaro managed to unite the far-right wing and the ultra-capitalist liberals, so I think we’ll need all the strength and support of the rest of the world to rebuild our shattered country.
I hope that those accountable for the destruction of the Rainforest are judged and go back to the shadows they should have never left in the first place.
AT: Why is Brazil not the greatest country in the world? We are all in love with Brazil, the sun, the energy, and the football! But it feels corruption always held back this magical place.
SM: Brazil is a contradictory country, built upon slavery and injustice. These are deep wounds that were never healed. It is a country that expanded with the invasion and rape of indigenous lands. It is very much still an unjust, sexist and racist country, where the income share is one of the worst in the world. The ones who committed several crimes during our dictatorial period have never faced trial. As Tom Jobim [Brazilian composer and musicion] used to say:
“Brazil is not for beginners”
On the other hand, it is also the country of Samba, football, Carnival, Forró [rhythmic music and dance from Northeastern Region of Brazil], and Candomblé [a religion with music and dance at the heart of its worship]. There is an exuberant nature and a very welcoming people: Jorge Amado, Pelé, Luís Gonzaga, Dorival Caymmi, Gilberto Gil, Fernanda Montenegro, Tom Jobim, Ailton Krenak e Elza Soares…
Over the last years, going against the growth of the far-right ideology, we also had an increase of the feminine, black and LGBTQIA+ representativity. It is a moment of rich transformations. Despite all the problems we are facing I truly believe that we’ll thrive over the next years.
The Brazil I love will come back, as the song by Paulo Vanzolini says:
“It is time to get up, shake it off and come back on top”
You may also like to read Ukrainian film director, Valentyn Vasyanovych talking about the difficult emotions he faced with his new film, Reflection.