Runtime: 107 minutes
Director/Writer: Rodrigo de Oliveira
Actors: Johnny Massaro, Renata Carvalho, Victor Camilo, Clara Choveaux, Alex Bonin
By Joan Amenn
It has been decades since the AIDS crisis first began to claim its victims in an ever growing wave of horror and despair. “The First Fallen” (2021) tells the story of this terrifying time from the perspective of the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil in the early 1980’s. The film starts slowly and a little uncertainly in its plot but builds to an anguished, quietly devastating second act.
Enough cannot be said about Johnny Massaro’s performance as Suzano. He is such a fully developed main character that we want to learn everything about him. Playful, sensual, warm and quietly descending into a heartbreaking future he knows he cannot prevent, Massaro plays Suzano as someone who has everything to live for. But so does everyone in his community who shares the same nameless affliction he suffers from.
“The First Fallen” does not try to sugarcoat the dawning realization of the fatality of AIDS in the early 1980’s that fell like a shroud all around the world. In Suzano’s small village in Brazil, there are only hushed whispers in clinics and late night dance clubs. But these same whispers echoed in similar places globally and would soon become an agonized scream. Massaro plays Suzano as a man who would scream but knows it would do no good to him, his family or his friends. The only thing left for him is to embrace each moment and wait for the mysterious packages that arrive from Europe containing vials of medicines.
Beautifully shot with contrasting scenes of deep blue night and almost shockingly colorful day, the film leaves the viewer wondering how anything tragic could possibly happen in such a lush, gorgeous country? Although the Suzano’s family is poor, his sister Maura (Clara Choveaux) seems to live a happy life with a good job at a local clinic and a son, Muriel (Alex Bonin), she clearly adores. At one point she tells him that their family has a custom of not talking about anything sad or bad in their lives and just concentrate on the good. These words will come back to haunt her and the viewer as it becomes more and more apparent there is no hiding Suzano’s deteriorating condition.
“The First Fallen” is utterly enchanting with its dialog in Portuguese which only adds to the exotic beauty of its setting. As wobbly as the beginning of the film is, it is worth watching for its powerful ending. A lovely and deeply moving tribute to those whom we lost who will never be forgotten.
**“The First Fallen” opens in select movies tomorrow, Friday 2/17 and will be available on digital platforms like Amazon and iTunes on 2/21. **