Tribeca Movie Review: Santiago

The following film was reviewed at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.


World Documentary Competition

2007, Brazil

Dir: Joåo Moriera Salles

Director of several award winning documentary series such as Blues (1989) and America (1990) in his home country of Brazil, Joåo Salles is best known for his in depth studies on contemporary Latin American culture, as well as being the brother of Walter Salles. For his next project, Salles decided to tackle an issue of smaller proportions, yet with a much larger personal significance for him. The subject of the film was to be Santiago, the butler who lived at his home in Brazil and who served him and his family for thirty years.

A touching portrait on the life of a man who was forever cast in the shadows of his employers, the film is able to give a voice to the voiceless, a voice to the unseen. We see Santiago as more than a butler. He is a man with a life brimming with passion. Passion for art, for dance, for music, and most curiously, a passion for the history of world aristocracy, a group he worked for. A servant for most of his adult life, Santiago was enamored with the characters of ancient dynasties, and dreamed he was one such character leading a life of opulence. Alone in his apartment, we see Santiago with a collection of written work on nobility, everywhere from the Medicis to the Tudors, that took him thirty years to amass. We are treated to a sincere presentation of a man that, without Salles, would never have been able to tell his story to the world.

However, at times, the documentary acts as a cleansing for Salles himself, providing him an outlet to get things off his chest about Santiago, and in a way, absolve him of his role as master to the servant. He even goes so far as to pat himself on the back for introducing Santiago to the world. As the film progresses, Salles admits that he has been constantly manipulating the film to achieve this desired outcome, and identifies the somewhat selfish nature of his documentary in doing so. And yet, this admittance of a self-serving aim behind his project displays a certain frankness in Salles's efforts. At least the man's honest about what he's doing.

Overall, a pleasant look into the life of a man generally forgotten by most. The film moves gently, presenting Santiago within his apartment, granting the viewer a personal view into this man's world. And even with all the director's intrusions, the film still makes for a good time.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10