By Oliver Ellrodt and Michelle Martin
BERLIN, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A film about Brazil's national hero that explores racism and the privileges of a small elite in the 18th century helps explain Brazil's current problems because little has changed since that colonial era, its director said on Friday.
In "Joaquim" - which is competing at the Berlin Film Festival - the eponymous 18th century second lieutenant works at a checkpoint catching gold smugglers.
He falls in love with a black slave and hopes to buy her freedom but struggles to get the promotion he needs to provide the funds, with one of his peers telling him you have to be well-born to rise up.
When Joaquim is sent on a mission to find new sources of gold, he ends up wanting to free Brazil from colonial power Portugal, encouraged by his lover and books a man gives him.
"When you go to a psychoanalyst, if you are having a crisis and you lie down on the couch, the psychoanalyst asks who is your father and who is your mother? How was your life with them? In order to understand the present day crisis," Brazilian Director Marcelo Gomes told Reuters in an interview.
"So I think I did the same thing here - I went back 200 years to the birth of the Brazilian nation to understand the present day crisis. I uncovered the flaws of the past to understand the flaws of today," he added.
Gomes said the "social fractures" of the colonial era were still visible in Brazilian society and modern-day examples of corruption included companies not paying their taxes.
Isabel Zuaa, who plays the black slave Preta, said she faced prejudice on a daily basis in real life and relished the chance to play a woman who stirs up revolutionary feelings in Joaquim.
"What I want to bring to the screen are themes that are very current, things that I face in my everyday life, things that are connected to survival, to resistance and to strategy in order to survive in a world where my body, my colour, is looked down on," she told journalists.
"Joaquim" is, along with 17 other films, competing for the Golden and Silver Bears at the 'Berlinale'. (Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Dominic Evans)