Film Review: The Pilgrimage – The Best Story of Paulo Coelho

Não Pare Na PistaThis weekend Maria and I went to see the recently released “Não Pare na Pista: A Melhor História de Paulo Coelho” the film biopic of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. This translates as “Don’t Stop on the Track” with the film’s full English title becoming “The Pilgrimage – The Best Story of Paulo Coelho”.

I am sure Coelho needs little introduction as the author of The Alchemist, selling over 165 million books (all titles). Coelho is the only author in the world to be more translated than Shakespeare,  and has won numerous literacy awards around the world.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

It is interesting that Coelho appears to have a much lower profile here in Brazil than his global success would suggest he warrants, and as I could not find many English-language reviews, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on what turned out to be an excellent portrayal of his incredibly intense teenage and early adult years.

The film is not a linear progression of Coelho’s life. It weaves a number of narrative threads through three periods of his life – his late teenage years, his late twenties and thirties, and his life as it is now. The younger Coelho is convincingly played by Ravel Andrade, with both the adult and old Coelhos played by Júlio Andrade.

Ravel Andrade

Ravel Andrade

Guti Fraga

As a troublesome teenager, Coelho is incarcerated in a mental hospital where is he administered horrendous electric-shock treatment by Doctor Edgar Mutarelli, played by the very wonderful actor Guti Fraga, who Maria and I had the pleasure to meet in 2011 when he spoke at that year’s Strategy Execution Summit about his work teaching children to act in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. For all its glamour, Brazil is a tough country to live for many, and there must be hundreds of thousands of extremely moving stories yet to be told to the rest of the world here.

Coelho harbours a dream of being a writer, a dream that continues into his early twenties, an extremely strange period in the history of Brazil which saw both the start of the brutal dictatorial period, as well as a flourishing underground movement which unlike the loved-up psychedelic sixties of Britain, had a much more darker edge, with the disappearance, brutal beatings, torture and killings of thousands of young dissenters.

Ravel Andrade

Ravel Andrade

I thought that the transition from teenager to adult was fantastic, the director seguing the manic dancing of both Coelhos together, capturing the excitement of the freedom and energy of the young artist. As Coelho starts his alternative sci-fi managzine 2001, he meets singer Raul Seixas, played by Lucci Ferreira, himself a larger-than-life musician whose own biopic is also well worth watching if you are interested in Brazilian music of the 60s and 70s.

Júlio Andrade and Lucci Ferreira

One of the slightly queasy aspects of living in Brazil, especially as a Brit, is the fact that the consequences of the dictatorial period, being so recent, are still resonating in Brazilian society today. This connection of the present to the past really impacts on one key scene, where Coelho, like so many other musicians, artists and intellectuals were rounded up and imprisoned. I won’t spoil the film to say what happens next.

As  I mentioned before, the film cuts back and forth to the modern day, where Coelho and his wife Christina Oiticica, played by Fábiana Gugli, are in Spain for the launch of the 25th anniversary edition of The Alchemist. If there was one aspect of the film which didn’t work for me, it was the heavy prosthetics required to age Andrade, which kept knocking me out of the experience of the film somewhat.

Santiago de Compostela

That aside, director Daniel Augusto’s treatment of an older Coelho reflecting on his life, perhaps yearning for his more rebellious years, and rediscovering friends as he accidentally finds himself back on the road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, the path of pilgrims which Coelho undertook in 1986 and which would lead to his own spiritual awakening and the inspiration for The Alchemist, was well-crafted and gives the film some inspiring textured emotional and philosophical layers.

I myself first read The Alchemist in 2005 as I flew to India where I would live for some months. At this time Coelho’s books were near omnipresent, although I myself knew little about the writer. It can be a slight shock to discover his alternative past, which not only was psychedelic but also included periods in which he took part in occult ceremonies, an aspect of Coelho’s life which the film does not run from or try to diminish.

For all its potential sensationalism his life offers, I felt that this was a sensitive and well-observed attempt at capturing the whole life of Coelho, a feat surely difficult to undertake if it is to be contained within a film of little under two hours.

Julio Andrade

Julio Andrade

It was interesting as there were a couple of groups of young teens at our showing, teens who were rudely being noisily boisterous despite shusshing and countless warnings from the cinema staff. I don’t know why they went, as I thought that it was maybe not so suitable for them, and to the relief of the rest of the audience, they left after around maybe half an hour or so. Maybe they thought the film would be full of sex and drugs, and while these are referenced, we never lose sight of the writing, the philosophy, the spirituality and the reflections of one of the most influential authors in the world.

You yourself may or may not be a fan of Coelho’s writing, but either way, this is a hugely enjoyable film, capturing every side of this complex thinker, spiritual guide and story teller. I don’t know if the film has been released outside of Brazil yet, but it really deserves to do well. Sensitively acted, beautifully portrayed, textured, profound and exciting, I can definitely recommend this to all of you.

 

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