At times the tried and true formula works best and this is certainly the case in “Two Sons of Francisco,” a Brazilian box-office superhit that had the whole nation rushing to the theaters — over 5.5. million.
Directed by publicity film and advert director Breno Silvera, it’s a music biopic based on the lives of brothers duo Zeze di Camargo & Luciano, one of the most popular sertanejo (Brazilian country and western) musicians the country has known, selling something like 22 million CDs.
Subtlety goes out the window as Silvera hits that old nail again and again, gleefully rolling out every cliche in the book and manipulating audience tear ducts with the regularity of a plumber testing a water system.
“Two Sons of Francisco” is by no means a work of art, but it sure knows what it’s doing and made everyone connected to the project (including the real-life Camargos who funded the whole package) very rich. In this way, the film is a true reflection of the brothers’ lives, in a way that eludes other biopics.
Zeze di Camargo & Luciano had the odds stacked up against them: They were poor, their father Francisco (Angelo Antonio) was a sharecropper in a Brazilian hinterland called Goias and they had zero natural talent. Yet, from the moment the eldest, Mirosmar, a.k.a. “Zeze” (Marcio Kieling), was born, Francisco was determined that his boy make music, mainly because he saw it as the only exit from a lifetime of poverty. When other boys were kicking soccer balls Mirosmar and his younger brother Emival (Marcos Henrique) played the accordion and blew the harmonica (which Francisco procured by trading his crops), teaching themselves to play since no one in their family had a clue about music. For a long time it was a losing battle as the boys, not particularly inspired but reluctant to disappoint their father, played appalling tunes in the fields, on their way to school and in the family home in front of their long-suffering mom (the wonderful Dira Paes), who was either pregnant or nursing a new baby.
By the time the boys reached their teens they had seven other siblings and Francisco moved the family to the city for better opportunities. In a dank, leaky house in a slum area, the family quickly run out of food and seeing their mother weep into her apron, the boys take their music out on the streets in the hopes of getting a little cash. The rest as they say, is history.
What’s different about the story of the Camargo Brothers compared to other musicians is the lack of artistic angst that inevitably leads to drugs, booze, self-destructive impulses, bad relationships and early demise. Zeze, who makes an appearance in the end waxing nostalgic about the house he grew up in (“those were the happiest years of my life!”) is now in his 40s and looking extremely prosperous. His parents are alive and well and brimming with pride at how their sons have pulled them out of the gutter. In a way, it was the brothers’ lack of talent and artistic temperament that led to success; hard work and a relatively disciplined lifestyle was their ticket to wealth and Zeze didn’t allow himself to waver from the path, at least not in this movie treatment.
This isn’t to say the Camargos didn’t have their share of tribulations: The agent (Jose Dumont) that signs them on tells the parents casually he will be taking the boys out on the road for a week — it will be four months before they come home. There’s a tragedy too, and the family loses a son. Through it all, Zeze keeps working as do his parents, because they had never known any other alternative.
When the boys first come home from the road Mom insists that they give up music and Francisco lashes out at her: “For what? So they can become janitors?” That was the only other option, and Zeze’s face clearly registers that he’d rather stick to the music.
The boys playing the brothers (both are first-time actors) are fresh and engaging and Marcio Kieling as Zeze is a lad whose dark, brooding gaze is extremely effective, on-stage and off. As the eldest brother and the mainstay of his father’s hopes, Zeze has more than his share of familial pressure.
In a U.S. movie, perhaps, that would have led to a whole other story of rebellion and Freudian mumbo-jumbo but in this one, Zeze plugs away in his sole wish to liberate his mother from money worries. Having reached middle-age, how could he be blamed for wanting to make his own movie, to sell more CDs, give more interviews? He worked, he succeeded and, most important of all, he survived to tell the tale. Here’s to Francisco’s two sons.