“Death is something that sneaks up on you,” says Marco ‘Curumim’ Archer in a rare piece of stock footage recorded when he was young. The tragedy being that, for the last 11 years of his life, death was something Archer could always see skulking on the edge of his peripheral vision.
Predominately shot on a camera that Curumim had smuggled into his maximum-security prison cell, director Marcos Prado’s profound documentary details the last portion of Archer’s life, spent waiting on death row in an Indonesian jail; he did not want to be remembered only as the first Brazilian to be executed by a firing squad, he had an important story to tell.
When police at Jakarta airport discovered 13.5 kilogrammes of cocaine hidden in a hang-glider Curumim was traveling with, he immediately fled the scene. Hiding out in Indonesia for 16 days, he planned an escape to East Timor, but was arrested on route, prosecuted, and sentenced to death.
Shot over 3 years, Prado’s portrait of Archer’s imprisonment gives a unique psychological understanding into the day-to-day life of an incarcerated man, and the agonising ambivalence that comes from waiting to die. There’s a crushing emotional depth to the recordings of Curumim’s journey. His constant charisma and daily battle to maintain hope, even in the face of such a fraught reality, is devastating; a depiction of death row that comprehensively contrasts with the arid and aimless Fear of 13.Prado’s direction is courageous, refusing to indulge in an atmosphere of overbearing sadness. Though one sequence in particular, a grainy re-enactment of Marco’s execution shot in Super 8, haunts in its disquiet. Instead, the filmmaker harnesses his subject’s spirited personality, tapping into Curumim’s love of adventure – he was a keen participant in air sports whilst living in Rio de Janeiro. Archer considers his past with an excited pride, recalling the freedom he found in such flights of fancy. And finds happiness in the supportive network of friends he forms during his detention.
He’s regretful, however, of his choices as a criminal; a desperate man driven to desperate measures in order to make ends meets. It’s in these scenes that Prado broadens his film, tapping into a wider discussion about the death sentence and Indonesia’s corrupt government. Archer shares a cell with murderers and terrorists who have been handed more lenient sentences, a vital discussion that unfortunately lacks urgency; thematically overburdening what is fundamentally a character study. But when concentrated on Curumim, it’s a touching testimony.