ARABY, not rated, Violet Crown,
Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa) is so inconsequential that we don’t even know that this movie is about him until somewhere around the 20-minute mark. Up until then, it seems to be about a lonely teenager named André (Murilo Caliari), who takes care of his little brother in the absence of their parents, who are always off traveling. Their aunt Márcia (Gláucia Vandeveld) stops in a few times a week to check on the boys.
When Cristiano, a laborer at the factory where Márcia works as a nurse, is felled by an industrial accident, she sends André to his apartment to collect some clothes and his ID. There the boy stumbles upon a notebook with jottings by Cristiano about his life. As he sits down to read it, about as far into the film proportionally as it comes in this review, the main title appears, and we pick up Cristiano’s story.
It’s a bleak life. Brazilian writer-directors João Dumans and Affonso Uchôa relate it with glum despair, fashioning long slow passages that describe the hopeless dead-end jobs available to Cristiano and men like him (picking fruit, factory labor), and the futility of standing up for his rights as a human being. He’s done a bit of time in jail for a foolish choice as a young man. But life itself is a jail, with no possibility of parole.
At one job in a textile mill, he meets Ana (Renata Cabral). They have an affair, but it ends, and he moves on. She writes him to declare her continuing love, but although she is the one good thing that has ever happened to him, he can’t manage to respond in kind.
A ’60s folk blues that plays over the opening scene of the movie declares, “Wherever I have gone, the blues are all the same.” Cristiano’s story is every person’s story, wherever they are poor and downtrodden. The film’s title comes from a joke one of his working buddies tells about an Arab laborer. The punchline has to do with a desert full of sand. For Cristiano, beautifully and sensitively played by de Sousa, his own life has no more distinction or aspiration than one of those grains of sand.
— Jonathan Richards