“Lula, Son of Brazil” is proof that even charismatic political figures, in this case, Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, can be felled by the requirements of the standard biopic genre.
Directed by Fábio Barreto and based on the eponymously titled book by Denise Paraná, the film covers his life from 1945, when Lula (as he is known) was born into extreme poverty, through 1980 and his activism in the Steelworker’s Union in São Paulo – long before he became Brazil’s 39th president in 2003. (He left office, after two terms, in 2011.)
We see his mother Dona Lindu (Glória Pires, in the film’s only remarkable performance) raise her children single-handedly while handing down life lessons to her brood. The young Lula helps support his family shining shoes and selling fruit. He graduates from a technical school and becomes a lathe operator in an auto factory. His beautiful wife Lurdes (Cléo Pires) dies in childbirth, along with his son. He slowly becomes politicized at the factory, as Barreto injects occasional newsreel flashes of militant unrest in the country.
Because the context of Lula’s political transformation is skimped, his activism seems generic. So does the performance of Rui Ricardo Diaz as the adult Lula. He is positioned as a man destined for greatness, even though his charisma has to be taken for granted. In fact, just about everything in this film has to be taken for granted. The film is more testimonial than drama. Grade: C- (Unrated)