1990, R Directed by Mika Kaurismaki. Starring Kari Vaananen, Robert Davi, Rae Dawn Chong.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 14, 1992
The Amazon River Basin -- seething with life, death, corruption and rebirth -- has always been easy food for filmmakers, and though this new film is about as far as one can get from recent, guilt-heavy Amazonian bombs like Medicine Man or FernGully: The Last Rainforest, it still manages to throw in its two cents worth on the rainforest dilemma while admirably avoiding the inherent preachiness of its subject. Having fled Finland after the death of his wife, Kari (Vaananen) and his two young daughters arrive in Brazil, with the hope of finding a new life. Rio, however, falls short of its four-color, tour-packaged promises when street thugs steal the trio's money. Searching for a job and desperate to keep what remains of his family together at all costs, Kari eventually manages to hook up with cynical, world-weary pilot Dan (Davi), who quickly enlists the man in his dream of diamond-mining on the plain. Together, they begin an operation to rebuild and transport an abandoned Caterpillar loadmover out of the jungle to initiate their diamond venture. Like Clouzot's Wages of Fear (or Friedkin's Sorceror, whichever), nothing in the jungle ever seems to go as planned. Amazon is dense with images of its namesake; long, trailing shots of the muddy river snaking its way through the forest, while metropolitan areas become dangerous tourist traps full of thieves, whores and filth. As director Kaurismaki would have it, the whole film is overlayed with a thick blanket of oppressiveness: the heat, the insects, and the silent, strange Indians all seem to be conspiring against Kari and his family. When Rae Dawn Chong enters the picture, primarily as the environmental voice of reason, but also as Vaananen's sudden-though-uninspired love interest, you already know there's big trouble ahead, you just aren't sure where it will come from. Amazon has the look of early Peter Weir combined with any number of Italian grade Z cannibal pictures -- it's neither, though. It is instead a surprisingly engrossing look at not only the psychology behind the destruction of “the lungs of the earth,” but also a first-rate adventure into a world very few of us will ever be fortunate enough to see.