It's about 2,000 miles from the north end of Brazil to Rio De Janeiro, and it no doubt feels even longer by bike. But in The Middle Of The World, a based-on-a-true-story film from director Vicente Amorim, a desperate family undergoes that journey on bicycles in search of a better life. Even with its 87-minute running time, The Middle Of The World makes it a long journey to watch, too, although Amorim tries every trick in the book, bringing in flashy editing and slick camera work for a story that might have been better told in long takes. It's almost as if, in a movie that's all about tedious exertion, he wants to blockade any possibility of boredom. Still, it slips in through the back door.
Looking far too well-fed and well-groomed to be begging, Wagner Moura and Cláudia Abreu head the clan of accidental tourists. To make money, they lead their family in singalongs at truck stops, smiling as they hold out a hat. Their smiles seldom fade when the song ends, and that's part of the problem: Apart from some talk about getting hungry and some standard-issue adolescent angst from oldest son Ravi Ramos Lacerda, they could just as easily be on vacation as fighting for their lives. Food and shelter are basic needs, but The Middle Of The World almost makes them seem like an afterthought.
The story never lets the characters breathe, and neither does Amorim's direction: A family visit to a shrine is shot as if Moura and company were stealing high-end sports cars, or attempting to blow up an earthbound asteroid. When they arrive at their destination, the story arrives at an ending that's neither obvious nor interesting, kind of like the film leading up to it.