'Behind the Sun' lovely to gaze at but slow to unfold

Walter Salles' moody fable "Behind the Sun" is one of those films that's so exquisitely shot, its failings as drama seem almost beside the point. Set in 1910 Brazil, on the dry desert lands owned by two warring families, the film is less about the effects of a longtime feud than about the crisp, blue-black light that floods the region at dawn and twilight, or about the swirling view of a circus performer as she weightlessly spins from a rope.

The story is told by young Pacu (Ravi Ramos Lacerda, a sweet-faced novice actor), a boy whose older brother Tonio (Rodrigo Santoro) must avenge their family's honor. The two brothers, whose family harvests sugar cane, encounter two members of a traveling circus on a trip to town. Clara, a beautiful trapeze artist and fire swallower, catches Tonio's eye, setting into motion events that cause a painful end to the feud.

Cinematographer Walter Carvalho captures the story in tones of sepia and parchment, gliding his camera across endless dusky horizons.

Salles ("Central Station"), as if inspired by the physical beauty on screen, slows the action to a crawl, leaving us with too many ponderous silences and dramatic pauses.

"Behind the Sun" is a lovely journey, but it's like a picture book whose text is merely incidental.

"Behind the Sun,"

With Jos Dumont, Ravi Ramos Lacerda, Rodrigo Santoro, Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Flavia Marco Antonio. Directed by Walter Salles, from a screenplay by Salles, Srgio Machado and Karim Anouz. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sexuality. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Metro.