Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Fellipe Barbosa's hybrid docu-drama GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAIN opens in NY and L.A.

Not quite like any movie I've seen previously and yet not so different in content and style as to seem at all "strange," GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAIN is a kind of memorial to Gabriel Buchmann, a long-time friend of the filmmaker -- Fellipe Barbosa --  as well as an exploration of the last period of Gabriel's too-short life and a possible, though not-particularly-tidy explanation of his untimely death.

To his great credit, Barbosa decided to make his movie as narrative film, rather than a documentary, casting actors both professional and not and then mixing them so well, while using a story format that appears to follow real life closely enough, that a kind of vérité is quickly achieved.

The filmmaker, shown at right, seems clearly "invested" in this movie-- not just financially and artistically but emotionally, too.

And yet, instead of allowing himself to be either overly constrained or, conversely, undisciplined by his closeness to the material, Barbosa has used his understanding of what docu-drama can achieve to produce something nearly sui generis and very much worth experiencing.

His movie is too long -- it could have lost 15 to 20 minutes and been much stronger -- but it is still, despite this, memorable. Once seen, neither it nor its main character, Gabriel, will easily be forgotten.

As played by the remarkable young actor, João Pedro Zappa (shown above), Gabriel is at once full of life, energy, wit, smarts and attitude -- occasionally, so much of the latter that he begins to annoy. Yet he's kind and caring and always bounces back into your (and his girlfriend's) good graces.

Initially we see Gabriel with the various folk he's encountered along the way on his African adventure. He's come there as a kind of educational project to study poverty from the viewpoint of the people who are living through it and who, not coincidentally, seem to have embraced Gabriel fully and lovingly. In documentary style, each of these people tell us a bit about their own encounter with the young man. One of the side attractions of the film is that it makes the countries of African that we visit seem like the kindest and most welcoming places on earth.

Once Gabriel's girlfriend (played equally well by Caroline Abras, above and at bottom) joins him midway along, the movie becomes a kind of love duet that's also full of spice and ginger, politics and economics, and some quarreling, too, in which we view a bit of Gabriel's not-so-nice side -- which makes his character register all the more strongly and fully.

Gabriel is so full of life, in fact, that this gives the movie an odd and moving melancholy, since we have seen from its onset that he is now dead. And yet he lives. Boy, does he live! Along the way we visit the Masai people, see Mount Kilimanjaro, spend some time at the sea and finally return to Mount Mulanje in Malawi, Gabriel's final destination.

As the movie grows longer, it loses some stream because during the final 30-40 minutes we learn little more about Gabriel's character, even though the film itself continues and becomes somewhat repetitive. (The heavily accented English of the Africans is also sometimes difficult to decipher; English subtitles would have helped.) Still, the need to learn what happened to this young man, and why, is strong. The result -- in which we somewhat know and yet don't fully know -- is very well-handled by the filmmaker.

From Strand Releasing and running two hours and eleven minutes, Gabriel and the Mountain opens this Friday, June 15, in New York City (at the Quad Cinema) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal). In the coming weeks the movie will expand to at least another half dozen cities across the country. Here in South Florida it opens, Friday, July 13, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Click here, and then click Screenings on the task bar midway down, to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. 

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