Among the international premieres at the 2021 Manchester International Film Festival is the Brazilian film The Battle of Shangri-la. Co-directed by Severino Neto and Rafael de Carvalho, the film centres on the character of João. After the death of his adoptive father, he decides to seek out his birth parents and discovers a difficult personal history.
The film takes its time revealing the full story behind João’s past and spends much of the runtime developing a sense of character and setting. By the time it reaches the climax, we have come to know him in a direct manner that intensifies the dramatic tension.
At times it does feel as though the narrative is struggling to make proper progress and there are story points that feel undeveloped at certain points in the film. Weaknesses in the script are largely overcome by the quality of the filmmaking though, which keeps even slow sequences from feeling too bland.
Fortunately for a film so reliant on its central character, Gustavo Machado gives a strong performance as João. From the big moments down to the smaller mannerisms, he does a fantastic job developing a fully realised character that the viewer can feel intimately familiar with.
In addition to all of this, the film engages with significant themes of wrongdoing, forgiveness and religion in a satisfying manner without trivialising them. The Battle of Shangri-la is an effective and emotive drama and definitely does justice to its sensitive subject matter.
The Battle of Shangri-la premiered at Manchester International Film Festival on the 13th of March.