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The Book of Chameleons: From Literature to Cinema

What if you could change your past? Erase all your mistakes and become someone totally new, would you? If you like this premise, you need to know "The Book of Chameleons".

Source: Unsplash


"The Book of Chameleons", by José Eduardo Agualusa, is a work that mixes realism with fantasy, telling the story of a black-albino man, called Félix Ventura, who sells pasts to the rich people of Angola (where the story takes place), through the perspective of a gecko with whom he shares a house.


It is this perspective of Eulálio (The gecko) that narrates the story, mixing the scenes he observes with his animal behavior, the situations and interactions between the characters with his dreams of past lives, when he was still human, that bring the story closer to fantasy, because even Félix's unusual profession seems to fit in that reality, It is through this that the author weaves a series of criticisms to the Angolan elite and its conflicts, to the reasons that lead people to want to have their pasts erased and exchanged for a more "beautiful" one, he shows a criticism to a society of appearances, which desperately tries to get rid of its bad actions. Within the context of the book's story, many of the reasons that lead people to seek Felix's services are related to the civil conflicts in Angola, and it is not by chance that many of the characters that appear throughout the story are military, guerrilla fighters, or even war photographers.


The film adaptation by Lula Buarque de Hollanda, scripted by Isabel Muniz and starring Lázaro Ramos and Alinne Moraes, makes some changes in the story, which in no way makes the production less attractive.


The first thing that can be identified is the drastic reduction of the "fantastic" elements of the narrative. The gecko Eulálio does not appear in the adaptation, and her position as the narrator is incorporated by the character Félix himself, played by Lázaro Ramos. This change, in my opinion, despite already distancing the story from the original work, was very welcome, because although the fantastic element works very well within the literary universe created by Agualusa, I believe that the presence of a lizard made in special effects, narrating the facts that occur in the story, would end up taking away the air of more seriousness and reflection proposed, leaving the work a little comical and even immature.


Another thing that changes drastically is the geographical location. The film transports us back to Brazil, modifying the dilemmas of Felix's clients to fit the Brazilian context. That's why I think the idea of bringing elements of the Argentine dictatorship to compose the past of one of the characters was an excellent way to get back the critical bias of the work without distancing it from elements of Brazilian reality.


Besides, in the adaptation for the cinema, some characters are left out of the story, which is a widespread resource considering that adaptations for the screen also have to be careful with time. For this reason, I thought that the decision of joining the characters of José Buchmann and Ângela Lúcia, mixing their stories, motivations, and pasts, also with some original characteristics of the feature film in the character Clara, played by Alinne Moraes, was very intelligent, to save the screen time that would be divided between these two characters, but without losing their essence completely.


Despite being two completely different stories, it is possible to identify, yes, that both touch the reader/viewer in the same way, bringing reflections about the value of the past and how as attractive the idea of having all your mistakes erased and putting in place a perfect story may be, this has a price because it is very difficult for someone to pretend to have been something they weren't for a long time and that having a mistake-free past doesn't prevent us from making mistakes in the present or future.


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