Marcelo Gomes’ new film for global sale by Brazil’s O2 Play

Portrait of a Certain Orient
Portrait of a Certain Orient

Marcelo Gomes’ new film, ‘Portrait of a Certain Orient’, is to be presented globally by Brazil’s O2 Play. The film received approval with its premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, where it competes in the big-screen competition.

O2 Play is part of the O2 Filmes group, best known for its ownership by Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles of ‘City of God’, ‘The Constant Gardener’, and ‘The Two Popes’ fame. The company is led by Meirelles, along with Andrea Baratta and Paulo Morelli. Founded in 2013 by Igor Koupstas, O2 Play has released over a hundred films theatrically in Brazil, including notable films such as ‘Drive My Car’, ‘The Irishman’, and most recently Sofia Coppola’s ‘Priscilla’.

Gomes, best known for his 2005 debut film “Cinema, Aspirins, and Vultures,” funded by the Hubert Bals Fund, returns with his eighth feature. The film is based on the eponymous 1989 novel by renowned Brazilian-Lebanese author Milton Hatoum, which explores the segment of Lebanese immigrants in Brazil.

Gomes stated, “In my film, I try to show that the only way to deconstruct prejudices is to see the world through the eyes of others as an antidote to fanaticism.” In light of the numerous crises enveloping us around the world, this seems more important than ever.

Igor Kuptsas, who is the director of “Marcelo’s body of work, is proof that he is one of the most renowned Brazilian filmmakers working today, and his sensitive and incisive treatment of questions of migration and belonging go to the heart of one of today’s most pressing global issues in a family saga that is universally relatable.”

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Speaking exclusively to Variety ahead of the film’s premiere, Gomes says he was drawn to Hatoum’s work because it was “unfilmable,” adding that he liked the notion of adapting a book with multiple streams of consciousness. The plot, about two Catholic Lebanese brothers who encounter a Muslim Lebanese guy on a boat to Brazil, felt like a “puzzle” to the “Joaquim” director.

I wanted to depict the Amazon through the eyes of someone who had never been there before, as well as Brazil from a foreigner’s perspective. My first film is about a foreigner in northeastern Brazil, and I believe it helped me understand my country more than any other film,” he continued. “I love the idea of someone traveling from the Middle East to the desert and landing in the Amazon.

The director went on to call the making of a film a “saga.” “This film is miraculous! We were three days into shooting when we were forced to stop because of the epidemic. We all returned home and had to find funds again later to resume production. Despite the hurdles, Gomes was able to produce a film in multiple languages, including Arabic, French, and the Tucano Indigenous language, with an international cast that included Wafa’a Celine Halawi, Charbel Kamel, Zakaria Al Kaakour, and Eros Galbiati.

This was crucial to the director because Manaus, Brazil, is portrayed in the book as a Babylonian city where immigrants arrive from countries like Spain, Portugal, and Lebanon to labor on the numerous plantations and factories in the area. Gomes stated, “I felt this film needed to be in multiple languages because it was a very cosmopolitan city.” “I had to extend an invitation to Lebanese actors because I required actors who could talk in their own tongue with their unique accents as well as performers who had never visited the nation. This, in my opinion, would add crucial realism to the movie.

In addressing contemporary issues such as land demarcation and immigration in a period picture, the filmmaker stated, “Immigrants want a place to call home.” This is a situation we face in Brazil. Farmers in the Amazon aim to seize land from indigenous peoples. The book was published in 1981, but I am a person living in 2024 who is affected by the issues around me. I have to address Indigenous concerns in the film, as well as Middle Eastern issues and the immigration dilemma.

The film’s premiere in Rotterdam holds special resonance for Gomes, who describes the festival as “the most important of my career.” “I’ve shown my short films there, and when I was working on the script for my first feature in the late 1990s, I didn’t have any money. So I applied to the Hubert Bals Fund and won a grant. Because of that money, I was able to write the script, apply for more grants, complete the film, and show it in Cannes.” The festival resembles my mother.

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