Landless

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Landless
"Freitas' dedication to the cause is admirable but this film needs a much tighter edit."

There's no doubting Camila Freitas commitment to her documentary about the Landless Workers Rights movement (MST) and its grassroots efforts for land reform but the end result, shot over four years, is frustratingly shapeless.

She adopts an immersive approach that aims to take us to the heart of the movement but the story she is trying to tell would benefit greatly from having some of the intertitles that are included, almost like a book, at the end, included at the start, so that viewers unfamiliar with the situation in Brazil could be oriented to the situation as regards land ownership before she dives in.

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Instead, we're left to eavesdrop on conversations between activists who have founded a camp on the land of a factory that has been in debt to the government for years. There's no doubting their commitment to the cause - "this is not a weekend" movement - but there's a lack of detail regarding the bigger picture. Freitas takes us inside a courtroom where judges are wrangling over the eviction of the protesters, who work the land already as though it is their own, but though it proves how baffling the legal arguments can be for the layman, it doesn't do much to further our understanding of the arguments.

This is a collective movement - made up of many small and medium-sized units who have occupied land here and there - but Freitas' would have been better served by trying to keep her focus more on one or two people, so that we could follow a single story as part of a whole. There is some attempt to do that with "PC" and "Grandma", who we see discussing how they'll use their allotment of land near the start of the film, but Freitas drifts too readily away from them. The lack of any direct-to-camera interviews, adds to general sense of rambling. In order for Freitas to illustrate her points, we have to watch large stretches of dialogue roll by, much of it inconsequential to the subject of the documentary.

Ideas are left uninterrogated. There is talk of over-use of pesticide and, among several striking visuals, we see a crop sprayer at work, but Freitas never follows up on that thread beyond the vague conversations of MST members. The film would also benefit from more of a face being given to the people the MST is opposing - we see the workers at impassioned demos, with their rallying calls of "If you can't cope with the ants, don't mess with the anthill" but by keeping Big Agriculture and politicians largely out of the picture, Freitas makes it hard for us to fully grasp what they're up against. Freitas' dedication to the cause is admirable but this film needs a much tighter edit.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2020
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In an occupied land belonging to a sugarcane processing plant, the Landless Workers Movement fights to press the government into making land reform and settling the families encamped.

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