This Film Retraces the Last Steps of a Brazilian Student’s 70-Day Trek Through Africa

Lead Photo: 'Gabriel e a montanha' Courtesy of Critics' Week/Cannes Film Festival
'Gabriel e a montanha' Courtesy of Critics' Week/Cannes Film Festival
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Director Fellipe Barbosa was visibly moved while presenting his latest film, Gabriel e a montanha (Gabriel and the Mountain) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of “Neighboring Scenes.” Not only had he spent many hours watching some of the most influential films at the storied New York City theater while attending school, but this was, as he explained, a very personal project. The globe-trotting adventure through Africa is actually based on the trip a friend from Brazil took before he planned on heading to UCLA to begin his doctorate. Alas, that was all cut short when, after being reported missing, Gabriel’s body was found having died of exposure in Mount Mulanje in Malawi. Interested in blending fact and fiction, Barbosa has recreated his friend’s final 70 days as closely as possible, even using the very same tour guides and locals that had housed and hosted the affable young man as he traveled through Africa.

Working as a character study of an at-times insufferable character whose casual approach to life is as endearing as it is infuriating, Gabriel and the Mountain is also a gorgeous travelogue through some of Africa’s most breathtaking landscapes. That’s because Barbosa and his team actually trekked through the very same mountains, safaris, and remote villages that his protagonist went on. “This was the most difficult part of the shoot—the mountains,” he explained during the film’s Q&A. “Especially Kilimanjaro. But we all had this faith that we had to be in the same place Gabriel had been, as hard as it was to get to get there.” For a crew made up of “filmmakers and not mountaineers,” Barbosa was shocked at how well everyone performed in truly inhospitable circumstances.

But, as if to cement the fact that this was an idea that would best honor his friend, Barbosa shared how, while shooting at the place they had settled would be where Gabriel’s body would be found, the film crew found a surprise: the one glove of Gabriel’s that hadn’t been recovered in 2009. There was no better proof that there was real value in shooting in real-life locations. “Gabriel was saying goodbye to us,” the director remembers thinking. “For me, he appeared to us, at that moment,” as if giving his blessing to this Into the Wild-like take on his vibrant life.

Gabriel and the Mountain played as part of Film Society of Lincoln Center and Cinema Tropical’s Neighboring Scenes.