Hay Road: towards civil disobedience
by Domenico La Porta
02/07/2012 - At first glance, Hay Road seems to be a western, but western fans might have to get used to a much calmer rhythm with this film that is much more mysterious than most films about cowboys and duels at dawn. There is however a key duel scene in this Portuguese film set in 1908. After a man learns that his shepherd father has been murdered and dispossessed, he sets off on a quest to defend his honour and to find his flock of sheep. He compares the latter to men when a government does not accomplish its mission and civil disobedience becomes a citizen’s duty.
Portuguese director, screenwriter, and producer Rodrigo Areiras was selected for Producers on the Move 2009. Now, he has screened his second feature in the competition at the 47th Karlory Vary International Film Festival. Festival-goers will no doubt have noticed many similarities between this Portuguese western partially shot in Finland and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Beyond the film’s rhythm, its storyline, and brotherly, funny interactions with a character who speaks a foreign language, the coloured prisoner is probably the most Jarmuschian and one of the most successful elements of the film.
Instead of Jarmusch’s crepuscular poetry, Areiras quotes extracts from Henry David Thoreau’s literary essay Civil Disobedience (published in 1849) to punctuate his film with explicitly political or humanist messages between two fades-to-black. "The government is best which governs not at all, and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” But the characters in Hay Road are mostly tyrants or men who, like sheep, blindly follow others and whom the hero secretly dreams of educating. Just like Plato’s character in his allegory of the cave, our cowboy is busy translating Thoreau’s book to teach it to his fellow-countrymen just as he was taught it during his travels abroad. His journey will be fraught with disillusionment, starting with the behaviour of the woman he loves but who does not seem prepared to commit to any kind of change. He is also disillusioned by corrupt law enforcement officials symbolised by an aggressive general. The latter is allergic to the idea of civil disobedience represented by our hero, who is a pacifist despite sporting the attire of a fine Clint Eastwood or Django.
Hay Road suffers because its message overpowers its story. The screenplay also does not really follow up on most of its initial issues, which could be quite frustrating for an audience attached to the film’s first level of meaning. But what the film loses in dramatic tension it gains in its powerful political discourse that is, of course, still very contemporary.
The film is set to a very inspiring original soundtrack by The Legendary Tigerman & Rita Redshoes, and stars Vitor Correira who shines above all other members of the cast who are decidedly mush less charismatic than him, as is often the case in a typical film about a lonesome cowboy. Contemplative and intelligent, Hay Road runs the risk of a different kind of loneliness in the merciless Far West of international distribution.
(Translated from French)