Back To Top

‘My Sweet Orange Tree’: Outgrowing childhood

Film adaptations of novels have both strengths and weaknesses. While they enjoy reader’s high expectations even before their release, they have to go through the fate of continuously being compared to the original. “My Sweet Orange Tree,” an international childhood classic, will be no exception when it is released in Korea next Friday.

The Brazilian novel “My Sweet Orange Tree” was written by Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos in 1968. The main character Zeze (Joao Guilherme Avila) is the author himself reflecting on his childhood in a small town in Brazil.

Zeze is a precocious 5-year-old boy known as the “troublemaker” of the town. His misdeeds are meant as innocent jokes to get attention from his family and friends, but his poor family cannot give him the kind of love or care he craves. Instead, he is beaten by his unemployed, alcoholic father and made fun of at school.
A scene from “My Sweet Orange Tree.” (Sookie Pictures)
A scene from “My Sweet Orange Tree.” (Sookie Pictures)

Every day, he sits in front of his only friend Minguinho, a fruitless orange tree in his backyard, and talks to him ― sharing all his secrets and wild imaginings ― until he finds a new friend, Portuga (Jose de Abreu). Their relationship goes through some ups and downs as their first encounter takes place when Zeze is caught riding on the bumper of Portuga’s car and spanked for doing so. But later, when Portuga helps Zeze when he hurts his feet, they become friends despite their vast age difference.

To Zeze, Portuga is not only a thoughtful friend but the caring father figure he never had. To Portuga, Zeze is a source of inspiration and the light in his otherwise mundane life.

“Write something magnificent from your heart,” says Portuga, giving Zeze the fountain pen he inherited. With the pen, Zeze starts writing all the time and, later on in the story, he becomes a writer just like the author himself.

Marcos Berstein offered his own interpretation of the story in this, his second film as a director. While the movie could not cover all the details of the original in a mere 90 minutes, viewers will appreciate the beautiful cinematography and music.

This coming-of-age movie is for nostalgic readers wishing to be reminded of something they read in their childhood. But it is also for anyone who does not have time to read the book or wishes to reflect on life, love, loss, fear and, most of all, friendship.

By Ahn Sung-mi (