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The odyssey of little Lula

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

LOS ANGELES — Quick! Who is Luiz Inacio da Silva? Or do you know him as “Lula”? Would it help if you were told that Time Magazine had named him one of the Most Influential People in the World in 2010? That Forbes ranked him One of the World’s Most Powerful People? And Esquire called him One of the Most Influential People of the 21st Century? Of course, the century is young, but still…

Okay, so you give up. Well, Luiz Inacio da Silva is a desperately poor boy from the Northeast of Brazil who grew up in hardship and squalor to become a legendary hero and the 35th president of his country.

In a 2009 film being re-released this week in the United States, Lula’s personal story is being told with passion and pathos by director Fabio Barreto. Called Lula, Son of Brazil, the film’s release highlights the 50th year that the Barreto family has been producing feature films.

It also highlights the extraordinary beginnings from which the man, Lula, arose. He was the seventh of eight children born to an illiterate, abused woman whose husband abandoned the family and left her to cope alone. A devoted mother with practical wisdom, she established a close nurturing relationship with her youngest son and, recognizing his natural intelligence, she ensured that he received an education.

Graduating technical school with a machinist’s certificate, he spent most of the 1960s working in a steel factory. Personal tragedies and political events combined to turn him into an activist, and because he had the personal charisma and persistence to influence his fellow workers, he rose steadily in the Steel Workers Union to eventually become its leader.

The story of his rise, his intellectual growth, the workers’ strikes he led, the oppression of the government and police, and his time in jail are the focus of the film. His two terms as president are noted in brief subtexts at the end of the film because, as director Barreto points out, “Everyone knows the political life of Lula, but few know his personal story… and that’s what interested us.”

In telling the story, which covers the period from 1945 to 1980, the filmmakers worked with 130 actors with speaking parts and 3,000 extras in 70 locations. And because the trajectory of the film tracked the children (Lula and his siblings) from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, there needed to be 21 actors for those parts alone. And they all had to resemble one another! And, as an aside, the actor chosen to play Lula as a 7-year-old, Felipe Falanga, is one of the most beautiful child actors since Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet!

Lula’s life is an engrossing journey for Americans unfamiliar with both the man and his history, The film also provides an eye-opening glimpse of a largely unfamiliar country and its culture and its struggle to better the lives of its people in the last half of the 20th century.

Lula, Son of Brazil opened in Los Angeles on January 27th.

Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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