From Beginning To End
Last weekend, my friend Oura and I watched the controversial Brazilian film From Beginning to End, which has just been released on DVD. Here's what we thought of it.
Liberator Émigré Éire says...
o Começo ao Fim (English: From Beginning To End) was always going to be a victim of its own hype. Critics generally seem to have given it the thumbs down, disappointed at a perceived lack of insight into the taboo that gets everyone - one way or another - hot under the collar: incest.
Incest. Even the word is somehow icky. A little too much like insect, or cesspool. It somehow conjures up visions of babies with three eyes and eight legs, and is thus necessarily largely illegal (although one would hope brothers and sisters - outside of certain religious sects, and the British upper classes - don't need the law to tell them it's wrong to breed). But what of gay brothers practicing brotherly love with gay abandon? Could it be the ultimate victimless crime?
The arguments for and against will rage from here to eternity, but we're not here to discuss that in any depth: nor does director Aluizio Abranches' film of two brothers growing up in a comfortably well-off family in Brazil; the mother, a doctor and the father, an artist. We witness the boys - Francisco and Thomás - growing up, from Thomás' birth through until the boys' twenties.
It's slow and meandering, progressively building a picture of an unusually intense bond between the brothers, against a backdrop of some very handsome cinematography, and an impressive musical score. It's subtle, and understated, but a journey nonetheless, and one punctuated with sudden, startling visceral thrills (yes, there is sex and nudity).
"To understand our love," Francisco, the older brother, says at one point, "they'd have to turn the world upside down."
It's a hugely profound piece of dialogue, that instantly, and almost certainly, renders the entire audience as a pitchfork-wielding mob, à la Frankenstein. It forces those of us who are fuming, sniggering, or otherwise judging to pause and reflect, and begs the question, "How could any of us possibly understand?"
The picture perfect Cosby Show set-up works equally well for the film as it does against it - we, the audience, constantly anticipate the dark forces of the "real" world breaking through and tearing everything apart. Much of the film's audience will similarly be wishing for a moral denouement that sets the boys straight.
Reactions to the love portrayed in From Beginning To End often veer from "UGH" to "MMM", as if the act of physical lovemaking - of sex - is somehow subject to judge and jury. Puerile minds just can't see beyond that.
Oh, how we gays love to judge. The good and righteous thrive on shaking their fists and proclaiming how "wrong" this or that is, how yukky, how depraved! And as is the case with vitriolic homophobes, one has to wonder why they protest so much... Moreover, are we all so full of self-loathing that we need to hang yet another scapegoat out to dry?
As the brothers' mother says, "I don't know exactly what they are doing... But we cannot tell them it is a bad thing." Indeed.
From Beginning To End is beautiful, in every sense of the word. Its soul is unblemished by self-loathing, unblighted by prejudice, and free from the scars of a world that seeks to beat to a bloody pulp anything it doesn't understand.
Truly unique - and truly misunderstood - this is a beautiful love story, of a depth and intensity few of us will ever experience, let alone comprehend. And I can't help but think that's our loss, isn't it?
On the surface of things, this film is essentially a love story between two men, with a twist. The twist being that the men happen to be brothers.
When I first heard about this film from Liberator Émigré Éire, I will admit I was disgusted. All the things that a raging mob might think about the subject suddenly went through my head and I could easily have found myself being a pitchfork wielding peasant. However a few days later I happened to see a video that made me think about the subject slightly differently by adding a little humour.
As comical as that video is, by the time I actually sat down to watch the film I’d had some time to do a bit of thinking. My pitchfork and branding irons were firmly set aside and I have to say I’m glad that I watched with an open mind, because if I had gone in still being disgusted and sceptical, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the film as much as I did. Having said that I am extremely 50/50 in my opinion.
The story is told in two parts, the first showing the brothers bond as they grow through childhood, and the second showing their relationship as young men somewhere in their twenties. Both parts for me are amazing and cringe-worthy at the same time. In the first section I thought the way the story was told and the relationship is explained, was all very well done. The issue of incest is brought up and looked at... But it’s never really talked about, which to a certain degree is understandable, what family would ever really talk about something like that openly? After a while though, I got the feeling that this was deliberate.
As things progressed I found myself thinking “this is too perfect”, and it started to get annoying. Yes the story telling was beautiful, and the perfect house with the perfect garden and perfect parents are all beautiful too. They understand, they won’t judge their children. They’re family after all, they all love each other and they’ll learn about these things together... All very beautiful, after a while though I couldn’t help feeling that all this beauty was a very subtle (or maybe not so subtle) distraction.
The second half of the film takes a different turn. Rather than shoving beauty in your face it now decides to shove naked bodies at you instead (though actually, the brothers are beautiful so maybe it still is going down that route). I got the feeling that this part of the story was trying to display how the relationship had matured over the years, and that is was just as beautiful (loving that word right?) as it had been when they were younger. I will admit that it does achieve this, and it is very moving, however this part of the story becomes punctuated with over dramatic, overblown and unnecessary attempts to persuade you of what’s happening.
I found it quite jarring, one minute I was watching a film that had a decent rhythm, and the next minute I’m watching something that’s trying to convince me of its own sincerity. “Can you see how much they are in love?” Yes actually I can, please stop asking that question now.
The strange situation the brothers are in gets brought up again, and again it’s glossed over and dismissed as if to say “is this really an issue?” It’s not flippant, but it doesn’t really get addressed properly at any point either, and again I found myself thinking it was all a bit too perfect. No one objects to them being together, and whenever the subject comes up, you get this perfect family response of love and support which is periodically reinforced throughout the film. It fits nicely, but it’s a fantasy image. These are not realistic responses to such a delicate topic.
In the end, I have two different opinions on the film. Which one I lean towards will probably depend on whether you want to talk about a love story or controversy. I really enjoyed watching the love story, even with its cringe moments and picture perfect settings, us romantic folk will always go fuzzy for a nice love story. However, if you’re looking at this film to speak on incest in any meaningful way you’ll be disappointed by its deliberate avoidance of the subject.