There’s an old school charm to Sergio, documentarian Greg Barker’s narrative portrait of UN diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello, a dramatic retelling of a life he already brought to the screen in a 2009 documentary of the same name. Barker’s knowledge of Sérgio’s life and accomplishments is backgrounded by a clear respect for who he was and so while the film is factually detailed, as one would expect, it’s also rooted in a desire to showcase his humanity, both in and out of work, with Barker deciding to lean into full-tilt romantic tragedy, perhaps also as a way of differentiating his two Sergios.
Premiering at Sundance earlier this year to minimal attention and now softly landing on Netflix three months later, Sergio is a mostly effective combination of the two disciplines, trying to appeal to both head and heart simultaneously. It’s 2003 and Sérgio (Wagner Moura) is arriving in Iraq with an unenviable task ahead. Appointed as special representative of the UN secretary general, he hoped to bridge the gap created by the US forces, to reassure the people that democracy was on its way. But soon into his deployment, a terror attack strikes the UN headquarters and leaves Sérgio trapped underneath the rubble. The script, from Dallas Buyers Club writer Craig Barton, then takes us back to the work that led him to Iraq and the woman who was there at his side.
The globe-trotting and time-shifting is often ingenious, especially when used to throw us a melancholic final act reveal based around Sérgio’s native country of Brazil, but it can be equally frustrating too, yanking us back and forth and then back further in ways that confuse rather than concretise our idea of Sérgio’s body of work. So understandably in awe of their subject, Barton and Barker sometimes feel unsure of the best way to illustrate exactly what he did and how he did it. His highly regarded work in East Timor is broken down into digestibly broad strokes that often take a backseat to his burgeoning romance with co-worker Carolina Larriera, played by Knives Out breakout and Bond girl-to-be Ana de Armas.
It’s their relationship that ultimately propels the majority of the movie, often to the detriment of all else, but there’s a potency to their connection, thanks to strong work and a resonant chemistry between Moura and a magnetic De Armas and while Barton’s script might lean heavily on romance, he doesn’t romanticise their surroundings, unlike similarly themed catastrophes Beyond Borders and The Last Face. It’s also in Sérgio’s personal life that we learn his less digestible faults and the film doesn’t shy away from showing how someone so empathetic and noble in his professional life can often be absent and unthinking with his family.
Moura, best known for playing Pablo Escobar in Narcos, has an instinctive charm that acts as shorthand in explaining why Sérgio was quite so respected and admired, entering a situation or room with a calm authority, whatever the scale, and so when we reach the film’s tragic finale, the gravity of his loss has that much more of an impact. The sweeping, full-throated romance of the last act might not work for some, who could conceivably argue its dominance leaves gaps in Sérgio’s professional life, but it makes for an emotionally satisfying ending. In Barker’s second attempt to celebrate the life of Sérgio, it’s the heart that wins out in the end.
Source: The Guardian