What’s the story about?
United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello (played by Wagner Moura) is sent to Baghdad soon after Saddam Hussein’s regime falls in Iraq. While the US Administration, headed by Bush, expects Sergio to toe their line, the veteran UN diplomat has a plan of his own. And in his attempt to stay independent and assert his authority over the local affairs, as he had done in East Timor and Cambodia, Sergio takes an audacious path which is often at odds with other power centres. The entire story of the film, directed by Greg Barker, focuses on Sergio’s attempt to connect the dots of his own life just moments before he’s about to die following a terrorist attack.
The film is essentially a love story between Sergio and his partner, Carolina, and how different circumstances in conflict zones shaped Sergio’s approach to work and life itself. Wagner Moura is brilliant throughout the film and his dazzling chemistry with Ana de Armas, who plays Carolina, is endearing to watch. One of the best scenes in the film has Sergio listening to an elderly woman in East Timor and her confession about what she craves brings tears to Sergio’s eyes. His reaction is essential to understand the emotional turmoil that Sergio goes through as the story unfolds, and how it changes him as a person. Wagner Moura brings a lot of empathy to his character and makes us believe in his actions, be it that of a father who has struggled to strike a bond with his sons or a seasoned diplomat, who wants to do good for society. Ana de Armas stands out with her performance, although her character, Carolina is always in Sergio’s shadow.
The entire story unfolds from Sergio’s perspective through a series of flashbacks, and this narrative style turns out to be counter-productive in the larger scheme of things. Before diving into the story, filmmaker Greg sets up the background quite well that Sergio is UN’s best bet to ease tensions in Iraq, and the former’s commitment to make the UN a truly independent organisation leads to plenty of friction with the officials from the US. Then, a terrorist attack derails the whole mission. As he awaits help in the last stage of his life, Sergio tries to recollect how his life and relationships have shaped up in the past few years. This narrative technique is perfect for a book; however, since it’s a film, we never get the full picture. We hardly understand what made Sergio so good at his job. Every negotiation, no matter how fragile the political environment might be, is just shown in flashes, as if it was yet another entry in his Wikipedia page. At best, Greg Barker’s Sergio, despite getting a rich treatment, will inspire you to read more about the former UN diplomat’s life and work, but as a film, it’s all over the place.
Music & other departments
A significant part of the story is set in Iraq and East Timor, and cinematographer Adrian Teijido does a fine job to give us a sense of the inner turmoil and conflict that the film’s lead character goes through. Editing doesn’t quite salvage the film since it barely scratches the surface of the subject it tries to tackle. Fernando Velázquez’s music brims with energy when Sergio recalls his happier moments spent with Carolina.
Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas’s dazzling chemistry is a major highlight in the film, apart from the emotional depth that Wagner Moura brings to his own performance.
The film’s narrative style, where everything is told in a series of flashbacks, never lets you settle down and really get a good understanding of what Sergio had done. Even the dialogues don’t quite make an impact, despite Sergio being a biopic of a diplomat who was really good at negotiations.
Do I recommend it?
As a film, Sergio doesn’t quite fall in place and it leaves you wondering if the story holds back more information than it gives outright from the beginning. Perhaps, the life of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and his many victories and low points in life, can only be brought alive through a book.