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River of Desire reviewed: "Best Cinematography" at Tallinn Black Nights Fest

River of Desire by Sérgio Machado (Brazil): World premiere at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, official competition

Review by Lopa Kaul

While films made with the principle of art for art’s sake are all well and good, River of Desire not only gives us a story that engrosses the viewers but also sends a very important message without being too didactic as it also makes the Amazon rainforest a character, a living breathing element that should be protected just as much as the next human being. And that is what Brazilian filmmaker Sergio Machado does as he uses romance, one of the world’s favourite genres to direct attention to a pressing matter.

River of Desire follows the three Rocha brothers finding love in one girl Anaira, and portrays a modern Greek tragedy akin to The Odyssey. Daniel De Oliveira’s Dalberto Rocha, a disgruntled policeman quits and follows his dream of buying a boat after he meets the girl of his dreams, the fiery Anaira played by De Oliveira’s actual wife Sophie Charlotte, leading to a whirlwind but short romance that ends with them getting married. However, an accident has Dalberto turning to smuggling illegal goods that take him away from his home to journeying through the Amazon while he leaves his wife in the care of his two brothers. And while they try to be the respectful in-laws, they can’t help but bond with her as she fills the missing mother figure in the Rocha family. The brothers find their solace in the young woman, reminding them of their mother who abandoned them after falling in love with another man. But it is the decision that Anaira takes that ends up tearing the family apart.


Like the twists and turns of the Amazon river that take Dalberto on a perilous journey, the script weaves a beautiful but heartbreaking tale of love between husband and wife, son and absent mother, and siblings. River of Desire fully immerses the viewer into the story with its exciting folk music and breathtaking locations that do their job of reminding us how blessed we are to live on a planet with the likes of the Amazon rainforest. And while we get an aerial view of nature’s gifts, it is juxtaposed with close-up shots and dramatic lighting of the characters as they go through a rollercoaster of emotions. Colours and candlelight are used to create a metaphoric atmosphere to reflect what the characters are going through like the red neon lights illuminating Anaira and the youngest brother Armando to highlight the wrongness of their actions. Darkness swallows them, allowing only their faces to show their turmoil as in the case of the eldest brother, Dalmo as he walks a tightrope between loyalty and love. And while the film is on desire, it keeps the passion subtle, and sophisticated with its lighting and sensual silhouettes a unique take that was rewarded with the award for Best Cinematography at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

The characters are also equally fleshed out, letting each viewer root for their favourite brother. Can be considered the protagonist and the antagonist, Anaira is as grey as they come as she wants to do something with her life, wants to live life to the fullest and instead of waiting, creates opportunities for herself. Romulo Braga’s Dalmo is the older grumpy brother who is quiet but loyal till he is not. A coward who runs away, he waits for his opportunity, hiding in the shadows, a strategy that may or may not work at all times. Gabriel Leone’s Armando, the younger brother is rebellious but listens to the other two. He starts out as a simple character but starts unravelling slowly, young and reckless, who doesn't know how to channel his anger as he is taken for granted by everyone including Anaira. Finally, Dalberto starts off as the hero of the film before the viewers realise that it is not a straightforward love story about a man and a woman. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, falls fast and hard and which also becomes his downfall.


The river is also another character, the heart of this tragedy, central to Brazilian myths or folk tales. The river is part of everyone's life there and we see that as the central action happens on the river or is used as a platform that takes us to the climax. The Amazon symbolizes the character’s destiny which is repeated through the betrayal of the mother and Anaira - it is the Rocha brothers’ fate. And even though we sympathise with each character and hope for some kind of justice, in the words of Machado, River of Desire is not a film about betrayal but passion.



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About Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Started in 1997, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival has grown into one of the biggest film festivals in Northern Europe and busiest regional industry platforms, hosting more than 1000 guests and industry delegates and over 160 journalists. The festival screens around 250 features and more than 300 shorts and animations and sees an attendance of 80 000 people annually. In 2017 the festival was covered in 71 languages with a potential global media audience of over 1.1 billion people.

As of 2014 the festival holds the FIAPF accreditation for holding an international competition programme which puts the festival into the so- called A-category of film festivals, alongside other 14 festivals in the world (including Cannes, Berlinale, Venice, Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Shanghai, Tokyo etc).  

Black Nights has an umbrella structure with two sub-festivals PÖFF Shorts and youth and children's film festival Just Film taking place concurrently with the main festival,
two off-season festivals - Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival and Tartu Love Film Festival - and a fully-fledged film industry platform Industry@Tallinn, organised jointly with the Baltic Event Co-production market.

Black Nights Film Festival 16 Nov - 2 Dec
PÖFF Shorts 20 Nov - 25 Nov
Just Film 16 Nov - 2 Dec
Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event 26 Nov - 30 Nov



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