Friday, May 27, 2011

Santiago: Another Endearing Eccentric

Two weekends ago I went to the MOMA to catch the very end of their In Focus: Cinema Tropical series. The last decade has been a period of prolific production in the history of Latin American cinema, and the series featured exemplary films and documentaries from this recent renaissance. Two of the screenings where of Brazilian productions: O ceu de Suely (Love for Sale/Suely in the Sky) and Sanitago. Of course, I had planned to see both films, but in the end, I was only able to catch one of them.

Santiago, a 2006 documentary by João Moreira Salles, is named after the director's family butler, who lived and worked for his parents for 40 years in their home in Gávea, Rio de Janeiro. Salles interviews Santiago about his childhood in Italy, his adolescence in Argentina, and his tenure working for the director's distinguished family in Brazil. From his own apartment in Leblon, Santiago enthusiastically recounts his life history in a delightful mix of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, all delivered with an beautiful Argentine accent and wild gesticulation. I took quite a likely to this elderly man. If he hadn't passed away already, I might just have paid him a visit on my next trip o Rio. 

Santiago embodies many of the qualities I love about Brazilian people and culture. He is an eccentric individual, proud of his experiences and eager to share his wild stories and interpretations, passionate about his interests, and dedicated to his faith and spirituality. We learn Santiago was a talented pianist and classical music lover. He was a historian, who in his spare time authored 30,000 (if I'm remembering correctly) typed pages of histories covering almost every civilization that's graced this earth. In the film, Santiago proudly proclaims that his closest friends are the historical figures who populate his papers, which neatly fill an entire bookcase in a corner of his apartment. Santiago worked hard for his employer's family and guests, but took more from his professional experiences than the job took from him. His frequent encounters with diplomats and aristocrats at the lavish dinner parties he put on for his employers added only color and meaning to his own experience, never resentment.

Here is the trailer for the documentary, followed by an 8 minute clip from the film.

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