The team that brought you the overpraised Central Station (director Walter Salles, producer Arthur Cohn and cinematographer Walter Carvalho) returns with Behind the Sun, an equally good-looking production masking a story chock-full of clichs. Based on a novel by Ismail Kadar, the screenplay by Salles, Srgio Machado and Karim A™nouz tells the tale of two clans who have been at war for decades. The plot concentrates on Tonho (Rodrigo Santoro), a raw sugar farmer who honors his family by avenging the death of his oldest brother. Following an 'eye for an eye' philosophy, Tonho shoots and kills one of the sons of the rival cattle-farm family, though Tonho fully realizes that he himself may be killed in response.

As both families mourn their loved ones, Tonho and his younger brother, 'the Kid' (Ravi Ramos Lacerda), visit a neighboring town to see a circus act. Tonho is attracted to the beautiful aerialist Clara (Flavia Marco Antonio), while Clara's stepfather, Salustiano (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos), befriends the Kid, renames him 'Pacu,' and gives him a precious storybook about a mermaid. Later, after the brothers return home, one of the sons from the cattle farm comes to kill Tonho, but Pacu realizes he has a chance to save his brother--and end all the feuding--by sacrificing himself.

Like Central Station, Behind the Sun features a lush, romantic score and a series of splendid widescreen visuals. Cinematographer Carvalho tops himself, creating painterly images of farm life in golden earth tones. Never has tedious farm work seemed so captivating!

But just as Central Station refashioned the Brazilian classic Pixote as a mawkish melodrama minus the tough political message, Behind the Sun turns a potentially interesting story into, well, refined sugar. (One must beware films that tout a 'universal theme of family and love' in the press kit.)

Frankly, even if Behind the Sun had something original to say, the point would be lost amidst the arty camerawork, hammy overacting and silly dialogue (e.g., 'You're really hot,' 'You were scared shitless'). Maybe the anachronisms come with the translation, but you can only blame the subtitlers so much.

--Eric Monder