BEHIND THE SUN
Also known as “Abril Despedaçado”
SUBJECTS — World/Brazil & Albania; Literature/Literary devices: symbols, subplot, flashback, foreshadowing, and irony;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Revenge; Breaking Out; Brothers; Father/Son; Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring; Responsibility.
Rated PG-13 (for a scene of sexuality and some violence); Drama; 91 minutes; Color; 2001. Available from Amazon.com.
Note to Teachers: 21st-century American teenagers watch this film with rapt attention. Its two protagonists are young, and students identify with their struggles. The movie is in Portuguese with English subtitles. Because of the film’s compelling story and its ability to pull teenagers into its world, students don’t have a problem with the subtitles.
Before using this movie, look for recent newspaper articles relating to blood feuds to show to the class. They appear periodically.
THE BEST OF TWM
One of the Best! This movie is on TWM’s list of the best movies to supplement classes in English Language Arts, High School Level. The film is also excellent for Health and Social Studies Classes.
The year is 1910; the place is the sertão, the semi-arid inland area of Northeastern Brazil. 20-year-old Tonio is the middle son of an impoverished farm family, the Breves. He is next in line to kill and then be killed in an ongoing blood feud with a neighboring clan, the Ferreiras. For generations, the two families have quarreled over land. Now they are locked in a series of tit-for-tat assassinations of their sons: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth — a life for a life. Embedded in this choreography of death is a particular code of ethics: “Blood has the same volume for everyone. You have no right to take more blood than was taken from you.” The world of this movie is suffused with a sense of futility and stoic despair.
Under pressure from his father, Tonio kills a Ferreira son to avenge the murder of Tonio’s older brother. This act marks him as the next victim. Tonio’s younger brother is addressed only as “the Kid” by the family. Anticipating future loss, his parents haven’t given him a name. The Kid is an imaginative and loving child, whose spirit will not break in the face of harsh parenting, brutalizing isolation, and numbing poverty. The Kid’s love encourages Tonio to question his fate. When Tonio meets Clara, a charming itinerant circus girl, he gets a glimpse of life’s possibilities. Will he be able to escape the cycle of human sacrifice on the alter of revenge? Can the cycle be broken?
The inspiration for the movie was the novel Broken April, by Ismail Kadare, which describes a blood feud in the mountains of Albania. The message is universal.
This film is useful in teaching: (1) some of the reasons why revenge has been rejected by modern developed societies and the rule of law adopted instead; (2) the international scope and moral bankruptcy of honor cultures; and (3) the literary devices of symbolism, motif, subplot, foreshadowing, and flashback. This Learning Guide supports lessons on all three teaching strengths of the film.
Honor cultures are prevalent in the Middle East and Central Asia. Vestiges of honor cultures continue to exist in the Balkans and in some parts of Latin America. Future voters who will make decisions about policy in those areas will benefit from an introduction to honor cultures. In addition, there are vestiges of honor culture in U.S. society particularly in the South and West, among teenagers, and in gang culture. For all of these reasons, the study of honor culture is important for secondary school students.
This entry is extensive, but the benefits of introducing children to honor cultures are substantial.
Before watching “Behind the Sun,” tell your children that the people in the movie are living in an “honor culture” in which feelings of personal worth and social status depend upon how closely they adhere to a code which requires that they exact revenge on people seen as having dishonored them or their family. Honor cultures can be found all over the world. For the most part, Western societies have moved beyond honor culture values that survive only in some subcultures, such as gangs, and in a few countries of Southeast Europe and some parts of Latin America.
After watching the film, tell your children the following: In modern society, the impulse for revenge is replaced by going to court and seeking justice. For example: “If someone hurts a member of our family, we call the police and ask the government to take them to court, rather than trying to settle the score with violence.” In modern Western cultures, people act according to standards of right conduct set out in ethical rules like the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, or the Six Pillars of Character. Forgiveness is a strongly held value. These values are internalized (hopefully) in our consciences. People who do not act ethically are not held in high esteem.
Honor cultures, on the other hand, are not governed by ideas of what is right or wrong. A man’s sense of self-worth and his status in society come from how strongly he defends his honor and the honor of his family. In honor cultures, prestige lies in how closely a man adheres to a code, which can be written or handed down verbally from generation to generation, that regulates how to take revenge on people seen as dishonoring the man or his family.
If your children are interested in these issues, you can ask and help them to answer Discussion Questions #s 9-14 and Question #1 under the Social-Emotional Learning topic “Revenge.” Then ask and take your children through the answer to the Quick Discussion Question. Tell them that the institution in our society that substitutes for revenge is the court system. Finally, repeat the difference between modern Western societies and honor cultures.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Lecture notes which summarize the information set out below;
TWM’s chart Comparing Honor Cultures, Gangs, and the Military (see Assignments, Projects, and Activities for a class activity using this chart);
Comprehension Test and
Suggested responses to discussion questions and Comprehension Test.
The themes in this film can be described as follows:
A. Acts of vengeance, especially cycles of revenge, not only lead to unnecessary death and injury, they are destructive to the fabric of society, family relationships, and morality.
B. Parents betray their obligations to nurture their children when in the service of revenge, or of an ideology, or of a desire for standing in the community, they put their children at risk.
C. It often takes an act of transcendent courage and self-sacrifice to stop a cycle of violence.
D. Often, only a person as innocent as a child has the moral insight and courage necessary to take the first steps to stop a cycle of violence.
E. Blind acceptance of tradition can lead to unnecessary suffering.
F. The end of isolation and the knowledge that another life is possible can lead people to break out of the pathologies of abusive families and isolated dysfunctional communities.
G. To find themselves and live their own lives, children may have to break out of the restrictions of their families. Examples in this film are the stories of the Kid, Tonio, and Clara. This is especially true when the parents are abusive and do not nurture their children.
H.Religion is misused when it endorses actions that are against the basic beliefs of the religion.
I. Revenge is against the teachings of Christianity.
The theme of the moral bankruptcy of revenge is important for teenagers to understand and apply in their own lives. For other works of art dealing with the perils of revenge, see Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story is an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” set in 1950s New York City.
Symbols, Motif, Subplot, Flashback, Foreshadowing, and Irony in “Behind the Sun”
Symbols: This film abounds with symbols. They include:
1. The oxen going round and round, especially when they continue on their own, symbolizes the condition of the Breves family: stuck in a rut of grinding poverty and endless violence in which they are doing the same things that got them nowhere in the past. The oxen and their endless trek without progress also symbolize the plight of anyone who adheres to an outdated, dysfunctional tradition, such as an honor culture.
2. The dead tree in the yard of the Breves homestead symbolizes the dead emotional life of the Breves family with its lack of parental love and its failure to nurture.
3. Swinging (at the Breves home and at the circus) symbolizes a release from the restricted and unsatisfying existence endured by the young people shown in the film.
4. The book with the mermaid story symbolizes the promise of a better world outside the limits of the Breves family with its impoverished emotional life and its dead-end feud.
5. The Kid’s inability to read is a symbol of the restrictions placed by his parents upon his ability to lead a satisfying life — upon his future.
6. The fact that the Kid understands the message of the book without being able to read is a symbol of the Kid’s intuitive ability to understand the truth despite the limitations of his environment.
7. Blindness and the inability to see are a symbol for the failure to see the right way to live. See Motif below.
8. The fork in the road represents a choice between the two alternatives open to Tonio: the village/restrictive tradition/death vs. the seashore and freedom from the death that awaits him in the honor culture.
9. The terrible dryness of the land symbolizes the barrenness of the honor culture and the limited life that it imposes on its adherents.
10. The harsh sunlight symbolizes the aridness of the emotional environment of the honor culture.
11. The rain symbolizes the love that releases Tonio from the sterile environment and the lack of nurturing of the Breves family.
12. The black armband shows that a person is marked for death. The action of taking off Tonio’s black armband symbolizes rejection of the constraints of the honor culture. When the Kid puts on Tonio’s armband, he is taking Tonio’s place in the vendetta and freeing Tonio from any honor culture obligations.
13. The fact that “the Kid” is not given a name by his parents symbolizes that they had given up believing that this child would live long enough to be a real person.
14. The fact that the Kid was given a name by the man who ran the itinerant circus is a symbol of how people free of the honor culture can provide the caring and information needed to escape a dead-end life.
15. The seashore symbolizes a life free of the constraints of the honor culture.
The symbols described in #s 4 and 12 operate as signs for the characters in the film, as well as literary/cinematic symbols for the viewers. The Kid’s father hated the book because he understood what it represented (symbol #4). Each of the characters understood the significance of taking off and putting on Tonio’s black armband (symbol #12).
Motif: Vision/blindness/glasses: There are several references to the inability to see. In his innocent wisdom, the kid unknowingly paraphrases Ghandi when he narrates, “An eye for an eye and the whole world will be blind.” In another allusion, the kid says, “In the land of the blind, one-eyed people are said to be mad.” The grandfather of the Ferreira family is blind and his grandson looses his glasses and is unable to see as he shoots at the figure with the black armband, who turns out to be the wrong target. The vision/blindness motif has added depth because the blindness of the grandfather and his grandson’s loss of his glasses as he shoots are potent symbols of the inability to see the right way to live.
The Clara Subplot: At the same time that Tonio and the Kid are moving toward freedom from the constraints of the honor culture and the restrictions imposed by their family, Clara is moving out of her life as an itinerant circus performer under the thumb of her stepfather. (Since the stepfather demands that Clara sleep with him, their relationship is apparently sexual and therefore constitutes child abuse.)
The subplot is interwoven with the main plot. When they encounter Clara and her stepfather, both Tonio and the Kid begin to realize that there is a life beyond their impoverished existence. Meeting Clara starts both of them on the road to freedom. For Clara, her attraction to Tonio provides the push to leave her stepfather and the circus. The goal for both Clara and Tonio is a life free of the restrictions of their families. The themes of the Clara subplot echo the themes of the main plot.
Foreshadowing: The Kid loves it when Tonio pushes him in the swing. It is one of his few pleasures. Swinging is also a symbol of release from the characters’ restricted and unsatisfying lives. After Tonio has killed the man from the Ferreira family, the Kid insists on taking Tonio’s place as the person who pushes the swing and that Tonio take his place as the person who swings. The scene foreshadows the Kid taking Tonio’s place in the vendetta that leads to Tonio’s escape from the cycle of retribution. When the swing breaks and Tonio pretends to be dead, only to arise again, laughing, the movie foreshadows that while Tonio is supposed to die, he does not. The foreshadowing is not complete because it does not show that the kid will die in place of Tonio.
Flashback: Almost the entire movie is a flashback. The movie opens with the Kid walking down a road, wearing Tonio’s black armband and Tonio’s floppy hat. This is just before he is shot. He tells his story, which comprises the bulk of the film. As the Kid tells the story, the scene shifts back to the time before Tonio kills the man from the Ferreira family. Then, within the larger flashback, the Kid has a dream about when his brother Ignacio was killed. This, too, serves as a flashback within the larger flashback.
COMPREHENSION TEST/HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
1. Describe two important themes of this movie. Use less than three sentences to describe each theme.
2. Give an example of a flashback from this movie.
3. There are many literary/cinematic symbols in this film. List six of them and describe what they represent.
4. The Kid loves it when Tonio pushes him in the swing that hangs from the dead tree in yard of the Breves family. After Tonio returns from the circus, the Kid insists on taking Tonio’s place as the person who pushes and that Tonio take his place as the person who is swinging. This is an example of the literary device called “foreshadowing.” What event does this scene foreshadow?
5. Tonio’s black armband is a sign that means something to the characters in the story as well as a literary/cinematic symbol for the viewer. One of the characters does something to the armband and that action is both a signal to the characters in the movie of a change in Tonio’s status and also a literary/cinematic symbol. Answer both of the following questions: (1) What does the black armband mean to the characters in the story? and (2) What is the significance of what happened to the armband both to the characters in the story and as a literary/cinematic symbol?
6. The literary/cinematic symbol of the fact that the Kid isn’t even given a name by his parents relates to an important theme in this story. Describe what the symbol means and the theme to which it relates.
7. The character of the Kid has been said to be a “savior child.” What is meant by that? Describe another “savior child” who is central to one of the three most important Western religions.
8. Describe the subplot involving Clara and discuss its connection with the main story.
9. At the end of the film, Tonio does something that changed his life. Was it the right thing to do? Give the reasons for your response.
10. In the circumstances in which the Breves family found themselves, what was the first responsibility of the parents?
11. The Kid’s father said that honor required an “eye for an eye” until everyone was blind. The Kid commented that, “In the land of the blind, one-eyed people are said to be mad.” What are the filmmakers trying to tell us through this dialogue?
12. Every war involves older men and women asking young people to sacrifice their lives. In effect, the parents are placing the children in harm’s way. What does this story tell us about decisions to go to war?
13. What would Jesus Christ have said about the Christianity practiced by the Breves family? What does that tell us about how religion should be practiced?
14. Give two examples of types of activities that have aspects of an honor culture and that have occurred in Western European and U.S. society at some point after the beginning of the nineteenth century (1800 to present).
15. Geography questions:
a. What continent is Brazil located in?
b. What is the primary religion in Brazil?
c. Where is Albania located?
d. What is the primary religion in Albania?
16. What does it take to break out of a cycle of violence on a personal basis, and on a tribal or national basis?
17. After the older brother Ignacio has been killed, the mother prays for revenge, asking God for the blood of the killer. The camera pans to a shot of the shrine at which she is praying, and we see a picture of Jesus. What are the filmmakers trying to tell us in this scene?
EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION: Assume that when Tonio reaches his destination at the end of the film, he cannot find the person he was looking for. Also assume that you are the screenwriter and continue the story, briefly describing the next five years of Tonio’s life.
SUBJECTS (CURRICULUM TOPICS)
1. There was something especially wrong with the revenge engaged in by the families in this story. What was it?
2. Without changing the personality characteristics of the main characters, describe how you would change the ending of the film so that the tragedy does not occur. What happens to all of the main characters in your treatment?
3. How would you describe the relationship between the brothers in this family?
See Questions 6, 10, & 12 in the Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment.
4. Do you think that Clara will look for Tonio on the beach? State your reasons.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. For convenience, the Pillars of Character involved in this film are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
See Question #s 6, 10, & 12 in the Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
1. Identify two characters whose actions embodied the concept of caring in this film and describe your reasons for that conclusion.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Most of the Discussion Questions are good essay prompts.
1. Have the class, in groups or as a whole, fill in the chart entitled Comparing Honor Cultures, Gangs, and the Military. [For a version of the chart filled in with TWM’s suggestions, see filled in chart. If the class prepares the chart in groups discuss the various groups’ different conclusions. There are no specific conclusions that this chart suggests except that there are similarities in the ways in which groups of people prepare for conflict and that the use of force requires rigid controls or it gets out of hand. The chart also demonstrates that most organized conflicts occur when older people send younger people out to fight. The pedagogical goal of this exercise is for students to be able to step back and see their own culture from the outside and to evaluate its similarities and differences with other groups. Discussion of this chart can be accompanied by a brief discussion of the difficulties of Western societies in ridding themselves of honor culture customs and attitudes. See Helpful Background discussion of vestiges of honor culture components in Western society.]
2. Divide the class into small groups. Have each group answer the following question and present their answers to the class: “Compare a family within an honor culture engaged in a vendetta; a street gang, and a country involved in a war. Answer the following questions for each group: What is the most important” value of each group? Who are the stakeholders in the decision to engage in conflict? What can members of the group do to break out of a cycle of violence?”
3. Divide the class into groups. Ask each group to take on the role of the leader in one of the world’s protracted conflicts (e.g., the Israeli Prime Minister/The Head of the Palestinian Authority; the Prime Minister of India/the President of Pakistan). Have them research the sources of the conflicts and then give the response of this leader had he or she watched the film. Have the rest of the class respectfully debate and evaluate the response.
4. Teachers can simulate conflict scenarios among classroom groups and challenge them to act out a payback resolution and one that breaks a cycle of violence. The groups should evaluate the ethics of each choice according to The Six Pillars of Character and practical considerations. The groups should identify the stakeholders and evaluate the cost and advantage to each of the proposed solution.
5. Without changing the personality characteristics of the main characters, rewrite the ending of the story so that the tragedy does not occur. Show what happens to each member of the Breves family and to Clara.
BRIDGES TO READING
Supplemental Materials Here.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
See Honor by James Bowman.
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS
In addition to websites that may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
Encyclopedia Britannica Articles on Brazil and Albania;
The Brazilians Joseph E. Page