Reviews Short Narrative

Capibaribe (2019) – 2.5 stars

Director: Francisco Catao

Writers: Pedro Pantoja, Francisco Catao

Running time: 3mins

As well as being one of the world’s most crucial ecosystems – hosting half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests, and one in every ten known species on Earth – there is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet. The rain forests contain 90-140 billion metric tonnes of carbon, helping to stabilise local and global climate. The loss of this will likely release significant amounts of carbon, which could have catastrophic consequences around the world.

Between 15% and 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost, and if the amount of cleared forest land reaches 25%, there will not be enough trees cycling moisture through the rainforest for it to sustain itself – and it may well fall victim to desertification, hastening a global climate collapse in the process. And the situation is getting worse. Since the proto-fascistic Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s President, his Government has ramped up the destruction, with deforestation increasing nearly 30% between August 2018 and through July 2019 compared to the 12 months prior. That marks the highest rate of deforestation since 2008, while amounting to a cleared area larger than Yellowstone National Park.

When asked about these alarming figures, Bolsonaro’s chilling response reporters in Brasilia was, “Deforestation and fires will never end. It’s cultural.”

In that context, Francisco Catao’s Capibaribe is a very important cultural intervention. Now more than ever, it is clear that we have to spark conversations on the plight of the Amazon, as well as the self-inflicted crisis humanity is perpetuation with its unending destruction of the natural world – and if nothing else, Capibaribe will spark further interest in the topic.

With a style reminiscent of a children’s book, the animated story charts a young capybara’s heart-breaking flight from the wreckage of a logging crew. The story is set out in a simple and recognisable plot format; a loving family unit of the cutesy animals frolics in the river (so far, so Disney) before their idyllic lives are shattered by the encroachment of modern humans. While Capibaribe sets off in a distinctly Bambi-ish direction, however, its ending does little to deliver its presumably young audience any kind of closure.

This is admirable in many ways; I know for a fact that had I seen this when I was small, I would have grilled my parents for information on the plight of the capybara, and the Amazon as a whole. As a result, the film will undoubtedly serve as an important point of departure for further research on the part of viewers becoming aware of the state of the world. In another way, however, this is only satisfactory if we bill Capibaribe as a public information film.

Thanks to this ability to wrong-foot audiences before prompting them to think about something, one could quite easily make the case that Capibaribe is a public information film. As previously mentioned in my review of Sharp Point, the very best examples of this sub-genre do their best to make the viewer forget they are watching an announcement, establishing a safe and familiar environment which they then disrupt with a sudden shock, leaving the audience to ruminate on the distilled message that comes with the film’s often-chilling conclusion.

The issue is that – as was also the case for The Record if we consider it in more general cinematic terms, it does become apparent that it has a number of short-comings. Technically speaking, the film is largely on-point – visually it is warm, bright and sharp, while its animation is solidly realised. The music is unremarkable, but it does what is needed to help foreground the sudden, dark shift in tone. There is, however, a troublesome lack of a narrative arc in the film.

Capibaribe has the opposite problem to Muffin Goes Clubbing then. While the former is exquisitely crafted as an animation, it requires a more engaging storyline to help build for a significantly stronger call to arms in its conclusion. Stronger charicterisation would also help here; while the creatures are undeniably cute, there is not nearly enough on display to illustrate their playful nature, or to help children identify with them. As it is, our lead capybara ends the film stranded alone in the waters of a modern city, with no discernible means of long-term survival – but we don’t feel an especially potent urge to help it!

Rather than being provided with an example of what we could do to help change this for the real-life inhabitants of the Capibaribe river – maybe some environmental campaigners or animal rescue volunteers could save him and release him to some other wilderness – we are left thinking, “Oh that’s sad… Now, what will I have for dinner tonight?” That pause – where you ruminate on a movie before you go about your daily business – absolutely has to be filled with some kind of action point. If you are looking to change the world through filmmaking, there is arguably no greater sin.

Smart visuals alone do not make for a convincing call to arms in the face of a global climate catastrophe. While Capibaribe will have younger viewers asking many of the right questions about the state of the world, it does little to encourage them to try and change the situation. A film of this kind must empower viewers to speak truth to power in these dire times, or it will have little impact on the issues clearly close to the filmmakers’ hearts.

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