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Renée Nader Messora & João Salaviza The Buriti Flower

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The Buriti Flower (Crowrã) | 2023 Cannes Film Festival Review

The Buriti Flower (Crowrã) | 2023 Cannes Film Festival Review

Rites of Resistance: Messora & Salaviza Provide Historical Ellipses of the Krahô

Researching a community without causing hindrance or harm has long been a concern for those who venture into unfamiliar cultures, even under the guise of an observer, which has justified many a documentarian’s excuses for permeating their subjects. Often, there’s little room to give back, at least beyond the potential of a film receiving a rare cultural impact beyond a film festival circuit. But directors Renée Nader Messora and João Salaviza strike a fine balance of uplifting without exploiting in their sophomore feature The Buriti Flower, also their second time dealing directly with Brazil’s indigenous Krahô, the subject of their 2018 debut The Dead and the Others. While their previous feature dealt specifically with a young man’s contending with destiny and cultural heritage, they’ve opened the scope of their focus this time, collapsing eighty years of Krahô history into a non-linear sort of memory poem which aims to showcase how a troubling present is irrevocably connected to significant trauma of the past, but not without a semblance of persistence.

Shot in over fifteen months in over four villages of the Kraholândia Indigenous Land, Patpro (Ilda Patpro Kraho) and Hyjno (Francisco Hyjno Kraho) eventually pull focus as guides through their peoples’ turbulent history. Ranging from a 1940s massacre through today, the Krahô still contend with the protecting of their land from continual desecration. Specifically focusing on denizens of the Pedra Branca village, the drifting narrative is a hybrid of recuperative documentary and melancholic ballad.

The buriti flower actually belongs to a species of moriche palm trees, often growing upwards of thirty-five feet. The metaphorical plant exists both literally and metaphorically here, referenced in the film’s opening ritualistic chant and later making an appearance as conduit for the Krahô’s worship. The Buriti Flower channels Messora and Salaviza’s efforts in ethnographic filmmaking, attempting to recuperate an erased history without contributing to considerable historical trauma. An infamous massacre which took place in the 1940s due to the actions of two farmers, is related through shared memories of the tribe’s elders, and the film goes back and forth between a contemporary reality and the tragic connective tissues of the past. How the past can deflate their future is poetically referenced in the character of Jotat (Solane Tehtikwyj Kraho), a young girl visited by ghosts of the past, temporarily arresting her development.

The pillaging of their lands by the cupe (the non-indigenous), which includes the stealing of macaws and their eggs, remains an activity in their ongoing depletion. And while death and destruction remain facets the Krahô contends with, Messora and Salaviza choose to highlight resilience through an attestation of their identity. The film offers the Krahô as a microcosm of a wider range of environmental destruction. Despite this, there is a vibrant sense of community, strengthened by the reality of continued generations in the most identifiable of all rituals – childbirth. The continued adherence to rituals, even those where more scatalogical elements have since diminished, are important to remember, even as they’re systematically diluted. Early footage of the tribe before the aforementioned massacre is one of the film’s most compelling moments, with commentary about a peaceable existence irreparably interrupted.

Reviewed on May 23rd at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard. 123 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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