Gabriel And The Mountain


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Gabriel And The Mountain
"Barbosa's film painstakingly recreates that journey and, in so doing, also gives viewers an oblique insight into the director's feelings about the loss of his friend."

"I'm Brazilian," says Gabriel (João Pedro Zappa), touring his way around Africa, when somebody explains the modern meaning of the term mzungu to him. "I'm not white like that."

"Here," he is told in no uncertain terms, "you are mzungu."

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He's accepting of it - it's said, after all, in a friendly way. That openness to different perspectives is one of Gabriel's most endearing qualities. He's a young man keen to make friends, to share experiences, to connect with people living different lives. But he's naive, innocently self-centred, entranced by the difference he can make here with just a little money, not really grasping how that power difference positions him as he casually pays for each stage of his journey with what would, to many locals, be a month's wages.

It's two of Gabriel's friends who find his body at the start of the film, lying amid a tangle of undergrowth on the slopes of Malawi's Mount Mulanje. Supposedly this is the same spot where these non-professional actors found the real Gabriel back in 2009. This film was made by his old schoolfriend, Fellipe Barbosa, whose greater awareness of social and political complexities informs what we see but doesn't detract from his sympathy for the dead man. Indeed, everybody seems to like Gabriel even if we see that they found him frustrating, and he makes an engaging enough protagonist even if, at two hours, this episodic film is testing its audience's staying power.

Gabriel, who had been planning to start a PhD after returning from his travels, originally went to Kenya because he wanted to understand poverty. He travelled to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and beyond wearing a robe given to him by a group of friends who declared him an honorary member of the Maasai people. Barbosa's film painstakingly recreates that journey and, in so doing, also gives viewers an oblique insight into the director's feelings about the loss of his friend. We glimpse their once shared experience of the central myth of privileged youth: that death is far away. Buoyed by endless narratives about the wonders of backpacking as a route to wisdom and self-discovery, Gabriel took risks that will seem absurd to many viewers. Each time he got away with it, his sense of invincibility was reinforced. But it's one thing to take chances with human beings. One can't expect mercy from a mountain.

The film could have done with more aggressive editing. There's a lot here that's unnecessary and Zappa is a strong enough actor that we can see what he's experiencing without needing so much commentary. Yet by staying the course, viewers get a sense of what the journey meant to him, of the rhythms of his searching and the means through which assorted fictions came to distort his perception of reality. It's an affecting portrait and even though the film doesn't carry the weight it might have done, it makes its point.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2018
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Before entering a prestigious American university, Gabriel Buchmann decides to travel the world for one year... finally reaching Kenya.

Director: Fellipe Barbosa

Writer: Fellipe Barbosa, Lucas Paraizo, Kirill Mikhanovsky

Starring: Caroline Abras, João Pedro Zappa, Alex Alembe, Rashidi Athuman, John Goodluck, Luke Mpata, Rhosinah Sekeleti, Leonard Siampala

Year: 2017

Runtime: 127 minutes

Country: Brazil


Cannes 2017

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