Days of Truce is directed by Breno Silveira, who was best known for his award-winning biopic Two Sons of Francisco. The Rio 2016 Olympics gained a well-deserved reputation for being poorly organized, with venues and transportation systems not completed, understaffing and many other problems. To its credit, Days of Truce confronts these problems and admits to them. However, it implies that the problems were caused by the Brazilian attitude towards deadlines and to life in general. This is unfair to the citizens of Rio de Janeiro. In fact, the Rio problems were caused by corruption. Early in the film, we are introduced to a taxi driver who is studying English to be ready to interact with tourists when they arrive for the Olympics. But, because of corruption, only one of Rio’s many taxi companies was allowed to come near the Olympic Park, so it’s doubtful that this featured taxi driver had much chance to practice his English during the Games. At the Opening Ceremony, we see Carlos Nuzman, the head of the Rio Olympics organizing committee giving a welcoming speech. A year later, he was arrested and charged with corruption related to bribing IOC members to win their votes.
On the other hand, everyone in the film, as in real life, praises the people of Rio de Janeiro for their friendliness and openness to strangers. As one German boy tells the camera crew, “And they help when you need help.”
The IOC picked ten athletes without a country to compete as the Refugee Olympic Team. Although half of the chosen athletes were from South Sudan, Silveira focuses on two judokas originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of them, Popole Misenga, tells the filmmakers, “I want my refugee flag to be orange and black like a life jacket.”
To demonstrate the theme of inclusion and diversity, we meet, among others, Fabíola Fontenelle, the first transgender Opening Ceremony placard bearer, and fencing gold-medal winner Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman to compete for the United States wearing a hijab.
The nicest sequence in Days of Truce is a montage of nine athletes who earn their nation’s first-ever gold medal, as well as a tenth, the rugby sevens team from Fiji. One of these athletes, judoka Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo, was also featured in the London 2012 film, when she represented Albania because Kosovo had not yet been recognized by the IOC. Using a dual screen, we watch the final shot of the men’s air pistol event as Hoàng Xuân Vinh of Vietnam hits a bullseye to edge Brazil’s Felipe Wu by four-tenths of a point.
Two Brazilian athletic successes bracket the coverage. Rafaela Silva, who grew up in Rio’s Cidade de deus slum, is seen shedding tears of disappointment at the 2012 Olympics when she is disqualified for using an illegal move. Four years later, in her hometown, it’s tears of joy when she earns the gold medal.
Not surprisingly, competition coverage in Days of Truce concludes with the men’s football final between Brazil and Germany. Like Canadians and men’s ice hockey at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, many Brazilians would have given up all other gold medals if they could just win this one. The match goes to a penalty shootout. When Neymar scores the winning goal, the nation’s sense of relief almost leaps out of the screen.