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In the backwaters of Brazil, the small town of Sertao has been neglected by the government, despite its drought-ravaged landscape. An old woman, Maria, a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, or possibly even Jesus, leads a small num­ber of holy women through the suffering of the Sertanejos, inflicted by the Dragon (the oppres­sor of the poor). Along the way she meets Antero, an old man working the land.

Antero is descended from the same line of Old Testament characters as Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Daniel, and foresees tragedy and death at the hands of Maria's Dragon. As politi­cians visit Sertao and make glib, meaningless promises, Maria and Antero. along with visions, angels and saints, try to help the Sertanejos shrug off the might of the Dragon.