Boy and the World

The film started from very specific issues in the world, in particular Latin America, but halfway through the journey we felt the necessity to have more universal ideas that were not so specific. They didn’t need to be specifically South American or Latin American. Instead we discovered we were talking about human beings in general. We realized that these are not issues only pertinent to Latin America: poverty, misery, consumerism, etc.

-Alê Abreu, “How ‘Boy and the World’ Director Alê Abreu Handcrafted His Heartfelt & Dazzling Animated Masterpiece”

When things get busy, I like to take a moment to ask myself what I need. Is it calling up a friend to make plans, or do I need some time alone to center myself?  

This week, it was the latter, which is how I ended up at the IFC Center to see Boy and the World.

It’s a Brazilian animated film about a little boy who’s world changes after his father leaves home in search for work. It’s vibrant and powerful and the animation style is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

I originally wanted to go because I’m perpetually excited for the opportunity to hear Portuguese. As it turns out, there’s no dialogue in the film. Instead, all of the dialogue is based on a language created by the director, Alê Abreu, that’s primarily comprised of Portuguese words pronounced backwards.

The story is told from the point of view of little Cuca. Just like a child, we don’t fully understand what’s going on. The adults speak in their jibberish and all of the signs and information around Cuca are shown backwards or upside-down. To a child, it’s all meaningless anyway.

Instead, the world is experienced through feeling and sensation: the rich, layered colors of his small village in contrast to the dark, militaristic police state in the urban center. Cuca giggles and gasps throughout the movie, never saying anything, but expressing himself nonetheless.

As the movie progresses, and as Cuca learns more and more about the world outside of his small village, the art changes. Gone are the organic, free-flowing, bright colors of nature. Instead, they’re replaced by dark, shadowy figures and collages built from advertisements where everyone looks the same,  where each individual is easily replaced and replicated.

Cuca’s innocence provides the contrast we need as adults to see Abreu’s criticism of globalization, consumerism, and industrialization. At one point in the movie, the animation is interrupted by a harsh, realistic sequence of videos showing environmental destruction. (Especially apropos in light of Rio Doce.) This is when we completely break from Cuca’s innocent perspective so that we can clearly see our cold reality.

The entire film is gorgeous and so unique. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age style films, and this one is unlike any other. From the music to the endearing giggles of the quiet main character, Boy and the World is absolutely amazing.

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