Brazil: Where a shoeshiner became president

Along with Brazil's incredible economic growth, charismatic president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva now has a film on his resume.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the premier of “Lula, The Son of Brazil.”

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

With Brazil on the rise, the country’s charismatic president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, spent much of 2009 adding accomplishments to his considerable political CV. But starting 2010 as the star of a new movie gives him a whole new dimension.

“Lula, The Son of Brazil” opened in 500 cinemas across Latin America’s biggest nation on Jan. 1, exactly one year before the president will hand over the sash of office to his successor. The film is a dramatic and emotional portrayal of Lula’s early life. Born into poverty in Brazil’s impoverished northeast, at age 7 Lula came to São Paulo, where he was mistreated and beaten by an alcoholic father.

He left school to shine shoes and sell peanuts but returned to technical college to get the qualifications necessary to find a job as a metalworker in the area’s car factories.

There, after seeing his wife and son die in childbirth, he became active in the local union and rose to lead hundreds of thousands of workers in famous strikes at the end of the 1970s.

Taken together, that rise from poor to powerful is “a fairy tale,” according to the film’s director, Fabio Barreto. Mr. Barreto said the two-hour epic had to be both “melodramatic and emotional” to do justice to Lula’s early life.

“You couldn’t do this at a distance,” Barreto said. “This is the story of many Brazilians who don’t complain, don’t feel self-pity, and can never be counted out. They fight to survive.”

Initial reviews have been mixed. A renovated film studio in Lula’s adopted city of São Bernardo do Campo hosted more than 1,000 people, many of them former union colleagues. Few were disappointed at the saintly portrayal.

“I was there during a lot of these moments,” said Salvador Feitosa Lacerda, a retired metalworker who served in the same factory as Lula. “It really was like that. I thought the film was great.”

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