There’s a lot of idealism in Sergio, perhaps even too much. Watching it I couldn’t help but think that the job of a diplomat – something I’d really wanted in my younger days – was way beyond my capacity to endure. How is it, I wondered, as I started at the screen, to be the kind of person who’s always thinking about others?
I’m not sure that I’ll ever find out, but watching Sergio I was reminded of the idea that – especially in the midst of a global pandemic, we can all, and should all, be trying to think of others.
Sergio doesn’t send this message by putting the character for which it’s named in a pedestal – though place him in one it does. It does so by showing the good and the bad, the highs and the lows of a man that was thought of, at one time, to be a suitable candidate for UN Secretary General.
Google will tell you how this story ends. Some of you might even know before going into the movie. I didn’t, though there was a large part of me that figured this could not be a happy story: happy stories rarely get made into movies, after all.
Even if you did know, though, the movie is absolutely worth it if only for Wagner Moura’s performance as Vieira de Mello. Ana de Armas is also fantastic as Carolina Larriera, his partner (though it’s important to note, not his wife), but it’s Moura who steals the movie with a performance that’s both calculated and freely charismatic, in a way few people are and even less actors can emulate.
Some people will say that, for a man who lived a life of human rights above politics, of good deeds, to focus on his convoluted romantic life is a mistake, but I think the movie is what it is because of the romance – not necessarily because we’re rooting for them, but because it gives Sergio a dimension he couldn’t have without this story-line.
This isn’t a story about a saint, and it’s not a story about a sinner. People are rarely one or the other. Instead, people, even the ones we look up to, are often both, in different ways, and this movie perfectly encapsulates the message that you aren’t defined by your worst sins. This is a particular poignant message right now, when it feels like we desperately need to believe that, despite our flaws, we could be the heroes of our own story – and of someone else’s.
Is Sergio an uplifting watch? Not really. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a necessary one, or that you won’t come out of it feeling a bit more hope for the world we live in. After all, this is the same world where people like Sergio Vieira de Mello managed to do an immense amount of good, without ever touching perfection.
And that’s actually an uplifting message. We don’t have to be perfect – we just have to try.
Sergio is available to stream on Netflix.