Review on Kogut’s documentary Mutum: childhood in the sertao

I was invited to a film screening of Sandra Kogut’s documentary, ‘Mutum’, which brought much understanding as to how you can disregard rules in any genre and make your own footprints.


Kogut, a Brazilian by birth and who has traveled widely, succeeded to adopt the novel Campo Geral. Written by Joao Guimaraes Rosa back in the 1960s, the story traces family life in the sertao, the hinderland of Brazil. Thiago, the main protagonist, makes many decisions that will subsequently change the fate not just for himself but for the rest of the family.

Shocking…the fact that this kind of rural poverty does exists…I thought before that if it did, I would have to go really far away from a city like Rio to find it. And I didn’t. – Kogut

I am very inspired by Kogut’s work and her explanation about how she sees and goes about changing rules in the film-making world. Her attempt to blur the boundary between film and fiction is bold and finely executed.

Kogut mentions that the film cast is comprised of villagers and their children who did not have any experience with the cinema, and this actually helps the film as these villagers went about interpreting their roles with a stronger sense of reality, getting caught up with the emotions of the characters, creating a vivid sense of village community. She spent a year with the local farmers, talking to them and understanding how their lives are, getting them to know the story she is going to film. The boy who plays Thiago was invited to film festivals where thousands greeted him. He has never been to a cinema and there he was, the star in Berlin Film Festival. What amazes most is that he is also, despite the film and the fame, still himself, a Brazilian boy who went back to his way of life.

In Brazil, when you say you’re going to the sertao, people tell you it’s impossible to get there because it’s more a state of mind than a place. – Kogut

The power of this documentary lies in its universal appeal. The sertao lies inside us. Happenings in the poor village transcend the confines of a remote location and portray the suffering, joys and tests a child experiences when growing up. The film examines the bondage brought about by family and poverty.

I am also fascinated with the lack of dialogues in the film. It is a world where people interact by actions and tactile understanding. In the film, emotions are embedded in the images and the sensations: downpours in a tropical storm; movements of farm animals; games; farming…

The film experience also helps me resolve an issue I had earlier with story plots. A friend once has shared with me that plot is everything. If you don’t have a strong and startling plot, you win nothing. This film shows that you can find your own way to establish lasting strength of a narrative.

Check out an interview here to know more about Kogut’s film philosophy.

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