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You wander around doing the best you can and then you die. Or something like that.

Such is the not-quite-uplifting message of “Araby,” a meandering exercise in existential dread. Of course, audience members can always take some solace in the hopeful fact that their own lives aren't quite as miserable as the film's protagonist.

The film's protagonist, by the way, isn't initially the film's protagonist. That would instead be a teen named Andre (Murilo Caliari), who lives in a shack near a factory in Brazil with his sickly younger brother (their abode is covered in likely toxic dust from the factory). Mom is gone who knows where.

One day a worker collapses at the factory and is taken to the hospital. Andre is tasked with going to the worker's house to get a change of clothes. While there he discovers the worker's memoir and we discover said collapsed worker, Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), is our actual protagonist. Andre disappears; his dramatic purpose having been more than a bit fuzzy.

So we learn about Cristiano, who stole a car when he was young and went to prison. Upon release, he begins a life of seemingly aimless travel. First, he crosses the country to a tangerine farm, where he picks fruit for no wages for three months before realizing he's being taken advantage of. Then he gets a job helping to build roads. Then he hires on to fix up a brothel.

Eventually, he's hired at a textiles factory and falls in love with a co-worker named Ana (Renata Carbral). Things look pretty good until they don't anymore because, you know, life is misery and it's that kind of movie.

Which leads to his eventual employment at the toxic factory near Andre's house where he'll eventually collapse due to unspecified reasons, just like most of us.

“Araby” -– the title has something to do with cement workers in the desert (maybe) -– does offer a glimpse into the bleak world of Brazil's working poor, which is likely parallel to the world of the working poor everywhere.

It glances at the cruelty of capitalism, the virtues of unions, the hope art offers and the joy of brotherhood among the oppressed. And in its closing moments, it hits particularly bleak, effective dark notes.

It's doubtlessly true, relentlessly dreary and certainly part of the modern conversation. The question is: Does it add anything to that conversation?

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

'Araby'

GRADE: C+

Not rated

Running time: 97 minutes

 

 

 

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