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‘The Buriti Flower’ review: Indigenous history unfolds in a striking mix of non-fiction and drama


A lively, intimate fusion of ethnography and poetic narration, The Buriti flower (Crow) explores memories specific to the Krahô people of Brazil. And yet the story it tells, steeped in cultural tradition, political defiance and deep connection to the land, is in many ways the story of America. It is a story of trauma and resilience: Indigenous people slaughtered, the survivors displaced from their ancestral habitat. And, like the recent documentary The territory made clear, it is the story of an ongoing, urgent struggle to protect entire ecosystems from destruction and extinction.

This is the second feature film by director duo João Salviza and Renée Nader Messora, who explored 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 taking the Ensemble Prize – they’ve created yet another portrait of colonized Brazil, and one that strives for something other than documentation and interpretation through Western eyes. For The Buriti flowerwhich they shot over 15 months in four villages within the Kraholândia Reserve – the area in the state of Tocantins assigned to the Krahô – they share the screenwriting with three locals, two of whom are also central figures on the screen.

The Buriti flower

It comes down to

Charged and lively.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Form: Ilda Patpro Krahô, Francisco Hỳjnõ Krahô, Solane Tehtikwỳj Krahô, Raene Kôtô Krahô, Débora Sodré, Luzia Cruwakwỳj Krahô
Drivers: Joao Salaviza, Renee Nader Messora
screenwriters: João Salaviza, Renée Nader Messora, Ilda Patpro Krahô, Francisco Hyjnõ Krahô, Henrique Ihjãc Krahô

2 hours 5 minutes

Blending non-fiction and fiction in ways that are sometimes seamless, sometimes well-defined and always compelling, the film revolves around three related villagers: preadolescent Jotàt (Solane Tehtikwỳj Krahô); her mother, Patpro (Ilda Patpro Krahô); and Patpro’s uncle Hỳjnõ (Francisco Hỳjnõ Krahô), a shaman.

Patpro is the feminist heart of the film and is eager to attend a large indigenous demonstration in the capital to protest the Bolsonaro government’s pro-agriculture policies. In her balanced way, she is turned on by female indigenous leaders, including activist politician Sônia Guajajara from the nearby state of Maranhão, whose speeches she watches on her phone. But Jotàt, who has terrifying visions in her dreams – suggesting possible shamanic powers – worries that her mother will go to Brasilia, where she will be vastly outnumbered by the little cup. Whether that term, which is repeated throughout the film, specifically means “white,” “European,” “violent exploiter,” or some combination of these, is never made clear, but the impact of the word is felt every time it is uttered. .

At the reserve’s gatehouse, Hỳjnõ stands guard against poachers encouraged by a long history of wealthy farmers claiming (i.e., stealing) land to raise cattle. The cameras are there when he and a few others, including an intrepid female elder, rescue one of the area’s beautiful macaws from an intruder’s backpack; the birds fetch high prices in the big city.

Through a sparkling stream of Edenic beauty, Hỳjnõ and his pregnant wife discuss the need to be vigilant against those who rob the nests and those who cut trees, erect fences, and set up their cattle ranches. Villagers gather to discuss whether to attend the upcoming meeting in Brasilia. On one side of the debate, led by Patpro and her uncle, is a hopeful forward-looking vision; on the other, the pent-up pain of experience.

A pivotal chapter in that brutal history, a massacre in 1940, is reenacted in a sequence around the middle of the film. There are no titles to set the date; Salaviza and Messora plunge the viewer into the terrible chaos of deceit, invasion and betrayal, accompanied by a voiceover. The lingering effects of the carnage reverberate years later, when mothers beg their sons not to attend military training in the distant city, fearing an ambiguous plot to attack the village once the young men are gone.

But the film is also imbued with festive energy. Today, the villagers are preparing for a big celebration, Ketuwajê, and The Buriti flower bustles with children’s play and the rituals of coming of age. Messora is the cinematographer, working with expressive 16mm, and the collective narratives come to full bloom in the images, whether those images reveal iridescent nightscapes, wandering ghosts or, thanks to the remarkable access the directors were given, an unusually powerful — as opposed to just graphic – scene of a woman giving birth.

Salaviza and Messora’s film offers an intense capsule version of nearly a century of encroachment and genocide, and a vivid picture of how the struggle for justice continues. What the moneymakers see as fallow land, ripe for commercial exploitation, the Krahô see as sacred. It’s hard to imagine the former ever considering anything other than profit, or really listening to people who choose to live in harmony with the land rather than conquer it. But again, barriers break in unexpected ways. At one point in the film, Hỳjnõ recalls a visit to the village by schoolchildren from the town, and how stunned he was when they asked to touch him and the other Krahô children. “Perhaps,” he muses, “they wanted to know if we were flesh like them.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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