We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

“To walk where no one has walked before seemed to me an irresistible idea,” says Claudio Villas-Bôas in this dramatization of Brazil’s March to the West, the Getúlio Vargas government’s campaign of interior expansion that brought highways, strip mining, and exotic new white-person diseases to the Amazon. Of course, lots of people were already walking there by the time the Villas-Bôas brothers showed up. In the film and in real life, they threw their lot in with the indigenous populations they had been charged with displacing with as little violence as possible (despite Vargas’ fascist sympathies, Brazil’s Indian policy wasn’t nearly as genocidal as our own), and eventually succeeded in carving out a 2-and-a-half-million hectare protected area on the Xingu River for its people. A heavy-handed hagiography, Xingu tells this tale entirely through the eyes of the revered historical figures who serve as its protagonists, not those of the populations their horse-trading conservation efforts affected. That renders the film too reminiscent of Dances with Wolves in both its epic ambitions and unsatisfyingly narrow perspective, though it’s partly saved by shots of the beautiful landscape of Mato Grosso state. Lacking much in the way of conflict or drama, it’s a picturesque history lesson that’s inoffensive enough, unless you happen to be Indian.