The Middle of the World boasts expansive Brazilian vistas, beautiful Brazilian music and an original idea for a road movie. Unfortunately, the film does not boast of a coherent story, playing more like 85 minutes of episodic television than one dramatic tale.
The first scene of the film sets the tone for the film: A mother and father (Claudia Abreu and Wagner Moura, respectively) turn their back on their baby for just a moment, and the child ends up in the middle of the road, in front of an oncoming truck. Much screaming follows, and the truck screeches to a halt in front of the child. This very traumatic episode is never referred to again.
Abreu and Moura, playing Rose and Romao, are traveling across the country with their five children on bicycle. Romao is looking for a job that will pay him a living wage (which in Brazil translate to a meager $300 a month). They stop in different towns, not finding work for different reasons. Romao's faith is an underlying premise, but the scene in which he is revealed to be "without sin" goes nowhere and, again, never comes up in the rest of the film.
The closest through-story in the film is that of the eldest son, Antonio (Manoel Sebastiao Alves Filho), who is close to full adulthood and turns out to be not only nonplussed about the bicycle trip, but also religion. But there is no character beyond the brooding teenager; he is paper-thin and certainly not enough to carry the whole film.
Under the steady direction of Vicente Amorim, the film at least looks beautiful. Brazil is a beautiful country, and the cinematography shows that off throughout the movie. Of course, it could be argued that "beautiful" is not appropriate in a film about oppressive poverty.
Of the acting performances, Abreu stands out from the pack. Although slightly unrealistically cast (not to be offensive, but it's hard to imagine a woman is such dire living conditions looking so beautiful after the birth of her fifth child), she balances Rose's desires and beliefs with her willingness to be subservient to Romao and makes both points of view believable.
The Middle of the World is presented in anamorphic widescreen, the standard for Film Movement DVDs. The picture shows some grain in the bright outdoor scenes, but the color palate is varied and distinct and the gorgeous Brazilian landscapes look as vibrant as possible.
The soundscape is presented in 5.1, though the rear channels are almost exclusively reserved for the score. Dialogue is overpowered in some scenes by the "background" score and effects, but it is not a big distraction for those of us that do not speak Portuguese.
The Middle of the World has a disappointing lack of extras, especially compared with other discs in the Film Movement series. There is no director's commentary, which is a shame considering the types of obstacles that had to come up in shooting a road movie like this. It would have been nice to hear stories of that kind of production and how the below-the-line team was able to succeed in pulling off a film of this scope.
There is a trailer for The Middle of the World included, but no trailers for other films in the Film Movement series. There are also short biographies for some of the actors involved, along with one for director Amorim.
The most intriguing extra is the short film included, The Ecology of Love. It's a well-made homage to French New Wave filmmaking, but it is most notable for the film debut of Pharrell Williams, best known as the face of hip-hop production team the Neptunes and lead singer of N.E.R.D. As a rapper-actor, Williams is better than P. Diddy and Eve but not quite on Ice Cube's level; he does a solid job as Andre, a filmmaker with a recently-broken heart.
There are aspects of The Middle of the World that work, moments and episodes that are funny or heartwarming. But never do the vignettes ever gel into a full film, which makes for an 85-minute experience that drags and lurches its way to conclusion.