The only film purely out of Brazil to ever win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Keeper of Promises was set to be another off the list of hard-to-find films. Then I started it, and within the first ten minutes I was hooked. The film has a heck of a concept, and an even better execution of its concept, and I ended up liking it a great deal more than I expected to. I also wasn’t expecting it to be as well made for its time and its country; aside from the collaboration with France that made Black Orpheus, this is the earliest Brazilian film on the list, and as such I expected it to be somewhat like Lucia, or Zangiku Monogatari. But once again, the filmmakers of the world have surprised me.
A farmer finds his donkey, his best friend, hurt after a storm, and after all methods of healing him fail, he makes a promise to Saint Barbara that if the donkey is cured, he will carry a cross 7 leagues to the altar of the church of St. Barbara and make his peace there. The donkey is cured, and he builds the cross and makes his journey, only to find at the end that the priest of the church won’t let him in, because he made the promise in a pagan house and not a house of God. From there, people start finding out about this man who carried a cross such a long way, and they start rallying behind him, as he continues to sit in front of the church waiting to be let in. I love the concept for this story; it’s a simple idea (with a great hook), and an incredibly engaging one. The film also knows how to tell its story, both the main story and the B-plot involving the wife and a local pimp who she meets. As for the technicals, while the lighting or use of the black-and-white medium was about average, I was impressed with the camerawork and choice of shots that this one took; it was indicative of a greater understanding of film technique than I had expected. The one small problem I did end up having was the occasional choice of the musical score; there’s a few times where it bursts into a single melancholy tone at what I perceived to be innocuous lines in the script. It would have been bad enough if it had decided to do so during the game-changing lines, which would have been way too melodramatic, but here, it was almost as bad because it made no sense. A minor quibble, but one that kept resurfacing.
This has a lot to offer, and not just the religious crowd. Sure, it’s a tale inspired by religious devotion, but it doesn’t focus wholly on that; it’s focused on being a great film, that tells a great story, first and foremost. It’s the kind of film that makes me eager to explore more of the early years of cinema, in hopes that there are more hidden gems like this one to be found. Give this a look, and see if you don’t find yourself as surprisingly impressed as I was. Of course, I make no guarantees, but this did a lot of good toward making sure I don’t get too jaded with the list, and I’m thankful for that.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10