'The Buriti Flower' Review: Indigenous story unfolds in a startling mix of non-fiction and drama

‘The Buriti Flower’ Review: Indigenous story unfolds in a startling mix of non-fiction and drama

A vivid and intimate fusion of ethnography and poetic narrative, Buriti’s flower (Crowra) explores the specific memories of the Krahô people of Brazil. Yet the story it tells, steeped in cultural tradition, political resistance and deep connection to the land, is, in many ways, the story of the Americas. It’s a story of trauma and resilience: the natives slaughtered, the survivors driven from their ancestral habitat. And, like the recent documentary The territory clarified, it is the story of an ongoing and urgent struggle to protect entire ecosystems from devastation and extinction.

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This is the second feature film by director duo João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, who have examined indigenous culture and mythology in Brazil in The dead and the others (2018), which received the Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard. Returning to that Cannes sidebar – and receiving its Ensemble Prize – they have crafted another portrait of colonized Brazil, and one that strives towards something other than documenting and interpreting through Western eyes. For Buriti’s flowerwho shot over 15 months in four villages within the Kraholândia reserve — the area in Tocantins state that was allocated to the Krahô — share the script with three locals, two of whom are also central figures on the screen.

Buriti’s flower

The bottom line

Charged and vibrant.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Launch: Ilda Patpro, Francisco Hjonõ, Solane Tehtikwj, Raene Kôtô, Deborah Sodré, Luzia Cruwakwoj
Directors: Joao Salaviza Renée Nader Messora
Screenwriters: John Salaviza, Renee Nader Messora, Ilda Patpro Crow, Francisco Hyjno Crow, Henry Ihjãc Crow

2 hours 5 minutes

Combining non-fiction and fiction in ways that are sometimes seamless, sometimes sharply delineated, and always compelling, the film centers around three related villagers: preteen Jotàt (Solane Tehtikwỳj Krahô); her mother, Patpro (Ilda Patpro Krahô); and Patpro Hỳjnõ’s (Francisco Hỳjnõ Krahô) uncle, a shaman.

Patpro is the film’s feminist heart, eager to attend a major indigenous demonstration in the capital to protest the Bolsonaro administration’s pro-agrifood and anti-conservation policies. In her even-handed way, she is aroused by women indigenous leaders, including political activist Sônia Guajajara, from the neighboring state of Maranhão, whose speeches she watches on the phone. But Jotat, who is experiencing frightening visions in her dreams of her—suggesting potential shamanic powers—is worried that her mother will go to Brasilia, where she will be vastly outnumbered. in a cup. It’s never made clear whether that term, repeated throughout the film, specifically means “white”, “European”, “armed exploiter” or some combination of these, but the impact of the word is felt every time it is spoken.

At the reserve gatehouse, Hỳjnõ watches over poachers who are emboldened by a long history of wealthy ranchers reclaiming (i.e. stealing) land to raise cattle. The cameras are there as he and a few others, including a fearless elderly woman, rescue one of the area’s gorgeous macaws from an intruder’s backpack; birds fetch high prices in the big city.

Out of a shimmering stream of Edenic beauty, Hỳjnõ and his pregnant wife discuss the need to be vigilant against those who rob nests and those who cut down trees, erect wire fences and set up their cattle ranches. The villagers meet to discuss whether they should participate in the next gathering in Brasilia. On one side of the debate, spearheaded by Patpro and his uncle, is a forward-thinking perspective; on the other, the pain accumulated by the experience.

A crucial chapter in that brutal story, a 1940 massacre, is reenacted in a sequence around the film’s midpoint. There are no titles to fix the date; Salaviza and Messora thrust the viewer into the terrible chaos of deception, invasion and betrayal, driven by off-screen narration. The lingering effects of the bloodbath are reverberated years later when the mothers plead with their sons not to attend military training in the distant city, fearing a two-pronged plot to attack the village once its young men are gone.

But the film is also imbued with celebratory energy. Nowadays, the villagers prepare for a big celebration, Ketuwajê, e Buriti’s flower it is alive with children’s play and training rituals. Messora is the cinematographer, working in expressive 16mm, and collaborative storytelling is brought to full bloom in the images, whether these images reveal iridescent nocturnal images, wandering spirits or, thanks to the remarkable access afforded to filmmakers, an unusually powerful – as opposed to the simple graphic scene of a woman in labour.

Salaviza and Messora’s film offers an intense capsule version of nearly a century of usurpation and genocide, and a vibrant depiction of the ways in which the struggle for justice persists. What the wealthy see as wasteland, ripe for commercial exploitation, the Krahôs hold sacred. It’s hard to imagine the former considering anything more than profit, or truly listening to the people who choose to live in harmony with the land rather than conquer it. But, once again, barriers are breaking down in unexpected ways. At one point in the film, Hỳjnõ recalls a visit to the village by the city schoolchildren and how bewildered he was when they asked to touch him and the other Krahô children. “Maybe,” he reflects, “they wanted to know if we were made of flesh, like them.”