Documentarian João Moreira Salles is at odds with himself in Santiago, today’s installment of the Celebrating Brazilian Film Now and Then series. The film, an intimate and unblinking look at Roteiro Santiago, the Salles family butler of 30 years, not only reveals Santiago’s own story, but also Salles’s bourgeois guilt about living a life of privilege. Alternately rejecting and then embracing the fact that he spent his childhood as someone’s “master,” Salles tries to skew the story, only to turn around, admit his bias and undo it.

In the film, Salles interviews Santiago in his tiny apartment, where he lives alone except for his 60,000-page collection of noble genealogies and his very bad toupee. From the Medicis to the Tudors to a long line of African kings, Santiago is enthralled with the aristocratic lifestyle, so much so that he dedicated years to documenting their tangled legacies. Cultured and educated, Santiago knows more about life than which fork goes where. He spouts wisdom, quotes poetry, remembers playing classical piano when he was alone in the Salles house (in formal attire, no less) and fondly looks back at teaching a young Salles how to appreciate the finer things in life (including a faithful butler), all while tending the household. Salles’s memories may cause him pangs of guilt, but Santiago’s certainly do not.

The Celebrating Brazilian Film series continues through November 16. Other films being shown today include The Twelve Labors (3 p.m.) and Vinícius (5 p.m.). Santiago screens at 7:30 p.m. today and 5 p.m. Monday, November 16. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit $6 to $7.
Sun., Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m., 2008

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Olivia Flores Alvarez