When reservation life becomes intolerable, family head Nadio (Ambrosio Vilhalva) takes his people back to their Tekoha (ancestral homeland), now a cattle farm. Here in magical, poetical microscosm we are shown the major conflicts characterising modern Brazil: agricultural land vs virgin forest; conservation vs modernisation; native Indians vs descendants of the European conquistadors. All are portrayed subtly through everything from the lead female Indian (Alicelia Martins Cabreira) sleeping with the farm's handsome, gentle security guard (Claudio Santamaria) to get his gun for the group, to the soundtrack - with modern dance music blaring from radios on the reservations and choral music (by 18th c. missionary Domenico Zipoli) accompanying their forays into the forest.
There is some excellent acting here. A lot of the most powerful moments are when little or nothing happens, the quiet stillness of the Guaranis in the face of adversity embuing them with the nobility the other characters lack - and giving the observer the space to imagine the depths of their unarticulated feelings. The non-Indian actors are also excellent, with a good performance from Fabiane Pereira da Silva, the young actress who plays the spoilt, dope-smoking rich girl who falls for trainee shaman Osvaldo. Again, what we don't see here is as powerful as what we do. And nor do the characters embody good vs evil as purely as they might in a Hollywood version of this tale (heaven forfend) - though the film clearly wears its sympathy for the Indians on its sleeve. We feel the depth of the problem as Fazendeiro (ranch owner) Moreira (Leonardo Medeiros) implores Nadio to make the squatters leave the land that his father worked for 60 years. Nadio's response is to silently eat a handful of soil - the same soil that provided the life and sustenance for all of his ancestors. Who has the right to decide ownership in such a case?
Amazingly, and not mentioned in the titles of the film (read more at the film's website: www.birdwatchersfilm.com), the central plot (the relocation) is lifted directly from reality: and Nadio/Ambrosio - the political leader in the film - is a real political leader, leading a real Tekoha relocation. Such a crossover between art and reality is obviously extraordinarily rare in film; so is the plea to donate to the Guarani Survival Fund (www.guarani-survival.org) which appears at the closing titles. The optimism of this approach is refreshing. The film's close is sad and awful but here we are given a chance to change the ending in reality. Like the film itself, this is an amazing and powerful thing.