Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Barren Lives (Vidas Secas) (1963)

Vidas Secas
Man, some movies are just so depressive that they are hard to watch.

True to form for 1963, “Vidas Secas” or “Barren Lives” is another difficult-to-watch movie. It is a Brazilian movie following a family of migrant workers in north-eastern Brazil in the 1940’ies. Migrant in the most literal sense. Mum (Maria Ribeiro), Dad (Atila Iorio), two sons (Gilvan Lima and Genivaldo Lima) and their dog wanders on foot from place to place to work as cow hands (or whatever comes their way). They start being on their way, find a place to work and eventually wanders off again. In between, they work, make a little bit of money, loose it again, drinking, gambling and shopping. Dad gets imprisoned by corrupt police and eventually the drought kills the cows.

It is misery on misery on misery. Even the few moments that bring on a bit of light to the story, only do so to prepare us for another round of misery. When they get a bit of money, it is in order to lose it. When the children play with the dog it is in order for them to suffer when the dog dies and so on and so forth.

To me, true horror is to watch poverty and misfortune like this. To know there still are people out there for whom this is their bitter reality. It has a bigger impact than any slasher or ghost story and I frankly do not enjoy it. I suppose that sort of movies are important, but it does take a level of masochism to get through them. In the case of Ray’s Apu trilogy there is enough (just enough) light to take us through and a level of technical and artistical brilliance. Vidas Secas is a far more naked story in line with Italian neo-realism. I am sorry to say that I see very little to recommend it.

Instead of dwelling on this miserable tale, let me tell another one.

In 2012 I visited this area, up in Rio Grande do Norte. It looks exactly as it does in the movie. Dry and barren, completely covered with this thorny, 3 m high vegetation growing on sandy soil. The villages are desperately poor, some of the poorest I have ever seen.

But this is all changing because this area has a resource that has now become valuable: It is incredibly windy. In fact, it is one of the windiest places on Earth, a steady, persistent wind, ideal for wind turbines. Wind farms are spreading all over the land, hundreds if not thousands of them. The locals may not own all these turbines, but it has caused such an influx of wealth, or relative wealth, into this area that these towns are in the process of changing. Roads are being paved, schools are built, houses are repaired or torn down to build something better and it is happening to the regular people there.

I was there visiting a planned wind farm and went into the towns with my local guide. He was a bit afraid of the locals, but they were the nicest people. Food was still poor, but you could see hope and a feeling that their lives were changing. Maybe they were just being paid off to accept the wind farms, but rarely has money hit so dry a spot and it was more than just bribe. The sheer activity level had finally boosted life into these desolate towns.

I felt proud of my job.


  1. Employment is a transformative thing! Good for you!

    1. Well, it was finally time for them for some luck.