Executive Order, ‘Medida Provisória,’ the dynamic, often poetic dystopian thriller draws one in with its immediacy. Shot on location in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, though set in the distant future, its contemporary issues prove stunning. First, the narrative feature aligns with the BLM movement and reparations for cultures formerly oppressed by institutions of slavery. Additionally, the authoritarian control and discriminatory deportation mirrors the treatment of immigrants by the former Trump administration. These issues resonate with horrific, thematic fury.
Directed by Lázaro Ramos, Lusa Silvestre and Ramos wrote the film. The screenplay received additional input by co-writers Aldri Anunciação and Elisio Lopes Jr. The writers adapted the script from the play Namíbia, Não! by Aldri Anunciação (2009-2011). The narrative feature (in Portuguese, with English subtitles) won an award for best screenplay at Indie Memphis Film Festival. Judges at Moscow International Film Festival and Indie Memphis FF nominated Ramos for Best Narrative Feature. Ramos, a first time filmmaker, previously acted in films with successful renown.
The music, poetic script, cinematography, and spot-on acting talents indicate why the film won awards. Alfred Enoch, musician/actor Seu Jorge, Taís Araújo, Mariana Xavier give dynamite performances. Most probably more awards will follow through this film festival season at 2021 SXSW and elsewhere.
From the outset the opening scenes alert us to trouble ahead. We discover that the high-melanins have been cheated out of reparations indemnifying a 500-year history of slavery. Filmmakers satirize racism and political correctness. For example, the word black has been banned from use in the culture. Mrs. Elenita, selected as the symbolic representative to receive reparations to indemnify the country’s history of slavery, never receives payment. The government locks her out of the bank and breaks the promises it made. Later, Antonio overhears an official claim that giving reparations would bankrupt and crash the economy. Indeed, the official identifies the problem.
As a result Attorney Antonio (Alfred Enoch) sues the government for reneging on its promises to high-melanins. He requests an alternate compensation program. This sets in motion an increasingly noxious series of events to thwart the just payment of indemnifications.
Initially, the film’s comedic tone presents the positions of the officials versus the discussions of Antonio, his friends, and wife. His relationship with his journalist and roommate Andre (Seu Jorge) follows throughout the film. Capitu, (Taís Araújo) Antonio’s pregnant wife and Andre’s white girlfriend (Sarah Mariana Xavier) contribute to the humor until the tone changes
When the government offers a volunteer program to “go back from where they came from,” the discrimination clarifies. This program instituted by the “Ministry of Return” substitutes for monetary reparations. Against this backdrop, Antonio, Andre, Capitu, and Sarah appear successful as middle class contributors of society. Surely, their move up the social and economic ladder affords their right to remain in the country of their choice. Their birthright stamped on their passports gives credence to this. However, as the net closes around them, circumstances worsen.
Initially, the classy volunteer program entices high-melanins to leave on a “one way ticket” to their dream spots in Africa. There, they may settle in a country of their choice. Of course, the campaign to “return yourself,” remains a failure. Brazilians refuse to go because of their positions of social comfort with their language, culture, family, and friends. Africa remains a continent with countries as remote, unfamiliar, and unappealing as Antarctica.
Not finding even Angola (formerly colonized by Portugal) comforting, the high-melanins stay. Thus, the conditions of institutional racism persist and become terrifying. Indeed, the government moves into authoritarianism and tyranny. It passes Executive Order 1888 to legally deport its high-melanin population. Using law enforcement and the army, the government rounds up all who would stay. Interestingly, filmmakers use the number 1888, the year that Brazil abolished slavery.
We assume that the deportations succeed and the high-melanins arrive at their destinations. But we never see this. Filmmakers emphasize the brutality of the “round ups,” the confusion and chaos. Also, filmmakers reveal the wickedness of the government officials as cogs representing the banality of evil. Finally, the deportations occur swiftly so no outside countries intervene. Themes of genocide, the holocaust, the injustice of deportation, racism, discrimination rise to a haunting level.
However, the Ministry of Return loses control of its “smooth operation.” Problems occur. The “hold-outs” and resisters go into hiding. Antonio and Andre remain in their apartment building. They attempt to stay strong despite the officials and European types trying to starve and dehydrate them. One by one elements of survival are cut off. They lose their lights, their power, and their cell communications. Filmmakers add a convenient loophole so that the police cannot storm buildings to pull out the resisters.
Throughout, Antonio’s wife Capitu, a doctor, struggles hiding in an Afro-Bunker. Separated from Antonio, both must fight their personal resistances to avoid capture. Some of the most poetic and striking scenes occur in their places of refuge. The conflicts between Antonio and Andre heighten the dramatic tensions in their friendship. As they struggle, they spur their own resistance movement that goes digital, gains global attention and inspires the nation.
Executive Order grapples with vital themes and contemporary topics making it acute, insightful and powerful. Strengthened by its superb performances, non-stop tension and excitement, filmmakers excel in their cinematic storytelling. Additionally, the high concept builds in the fear factor. It reminds us that this surreal story currently happens in parts of China, Russia and elsewhere on the planet. A must-see, the film empowers toward human rights advocacy and social justice.
Executive Order can be found at 2021 SXSW platforms. Look for it at its roll-out online.
LIVECHAT / EXECUTIVE ORDER @ SXSWLivechat with Director / Co-writer Lázaro Ramos Thursday, March 18 at 3:00pm PDT / 5:00pm CDT / 6:00pm EDT