Saturday 23 January 2021

Movie Review: Sergio (2020)

A biography and romance, Sergio has noble intentions but sinks into a quagmire of superficiality and sentimentality.

After the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq, a United Nations mission arrives in Baghdad under the leadership of highly respected Special Representative Sérgio de Mello (Wagner Moura) of Brazil. His team includes his lover, Argentinian economist Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas), and his right-hand assistant Gil Loescher (Brían F. O'Byrne). Sergio insists on being perceived as independent of the invaders and clashes with Paul Bremer (Bradley Whitford), the chief American administrator in the country.

With the UN mission unveiling a country in chaos, their headquarters is destroyed by a massive truck bomb. Many UN staff members are killed, but Carolina survives while Sergio and Gil are trapped in the rubble, severely wounded and awaiting rescue. In flashbacks, Sergio recalls how he met and fell in love with Carolina, and their work together to help East Timor achieve independence.

Director Greg Barker also helmed a 2009 documentary about de Mello, and it is extremely doubtful this fictionalized drama adds anything useful. Sergio moves slowly, and awkwardly juxtaposes a story of survival with a career retrospective, eventually settling on a sappy romance. The tone floats somewhere between reverential and dreamy, with frequent and often unnecessary jumps in time adding another layer of choppiness.

But perhaps most disheartening is the weak treatment of de Mello's career achievements. Barker presents Sérgio as a rock star of the United Nations, a combination of miracle-worker and Mr. Fixit for countries emerging out of political turmoil. But while references to failures in Bosnia and Rwanda permeate, incidents of note and concrete progress in resolving global issues are notably absent. Indeed, a single sentence delivered to the President of Indonesia represents the entirety of his durable highlights.

Instead, Barker chooses to focus on the romance between Sérgio and Carolina, the equivalent of filming the blooming garden rose while the entire house is on fire. And when it's time to turn away from the interminable under-rubble ordeal, scenes of waves crashing against rocks on Brazilian beaches are a go-to refuge, Rio de Janeiro presented as a mythical utopia. Sergio boasts a potentially impressive protagonist, but gets disoriented at the wrong beach.

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