Cast: Wagner Moura, Ana de ArmasDirector: Greg Barker
Who would imagine a director specialising in political documentaries like Muslim Children and War on Terror could handle a lovely romance in his debut feature, Sergio. Admittedly, Greg Barker has political turmoil as the backdrop in his work — about a highly influential United Nations (UN) diplomat – also known as Mr Fixer – Sergio Vieira de Mello and his love, also a UN official, Carolina Larriera. They meet during his long assignment in East Timor, a country trying to free itself from Indonesia’s occupation after the tyrannical President, General Suharto, goes . Out on an early morning jog, he runs across Carolina, and there is instant chemistry between the two that survives his tumultuous work in some of the most notoriously conflict-ridden regions of the world.
Barker’s work concentrates mostly in East Timor – where Craig Borten’s screenplay dramatically zooms on Sergio’s defining sentence in the presidential palace: “The way the world views Indonesia will depend on how it treats the Timorese”.
The best thing about the movie is that one does not have to know about the politics of the countries Sergio served, and this includes his last assignment as the UN Special Representative in Baghdad soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Despite Carolina’s reservations about him going to Iraq, he leaves – along with her – promising himself that he will clear the country of American occupation forces in four months. But a huge explosion in Canal Hotel, serving as the UN headquarters at Baghdad, in 2003 kills him – a death that ended the era of UN diplomacy which Sergio had promoted and pushed all his life.
Brazil’s Wagner Moura (the bad man in Narcos) as Sergio and Cuban actress, Ana de Armas (touted as the next Bond girl in No Time To Die, whose release was put off because of the current pandemic) as Carolina bring a magnetic charm to their love story, and there are magical moments. Look at the one, where he decorates his home with paper flowers and little lamps, and she walks in rather tense. “I want to know about our relationship now”, she looks into his eyes. And an endearing bond is cemented in those few precious minutes.
Certainly, the love story is central to the 118-minute long film. Early on in their relationship, she tells him that her mother had warned Carolina to stay away from married men. “What else did your mother say” he asks. It is not very clear in the movie whether he had already divorced his first wife (they had to boys) when he meets Carolina – although the real life Sergio had been divorced for 20 years when he found his love in East Timor. Carolina’s attraction for the older man may have been fraught with trepidation, but Cupid has its own way of going about.
Ana is just lovely not only to look at, but also as an actress who infuses into her character the pros and cons of being in a union with a much older man – and that too one who is willing to risk his life for a greater cause. His deep feelings for humanity comes through most poignantly when he hugs an elderly weaver woman in Timor, and he resolves to end her and her people’s suffering under Indonesian rule.
Wagner is dignified and suave – breaking into boyish charm during some of his most intimate moments with Ana. But in those scenes where he speaks his mind – for instance – about the political differences in Iraq, he could look a trifle out of character. But then this is a small price to pay for a film that weaves its plot around Carolina and Sergio. And even those who may know political history intimately would be willing to overlook some digressions in the movie meant to uplift the story and give it a dramatic edge.
For, Sergio sets about early on to celebrate both the diplomat and his ravishing girlfriend.