Brazilian cinema update
Annotated filmography

by Julianne Burton, Randal Johnson
and Robert Stam

from Jump Cut, no. 22, May 1980, pp. 22-24
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1980, 2005

These two special sections have tried to offer a comprehensive overview of Brazilian Cinema, emphasizing the period since Cinema Novo. Inevitably, however, we have slighted a number of significant films. The following brief reviews, therefore, are designed to compensate that lack by treating some important films not given due attention either in our introduction or in the other texts.

Brazilian films in the United States are handled by a number of distributors. Analysis Film Releasing (146 W 54th Street, Suite 1B, NY, NY, 10019) has XICA DA SILVA. Audio Brandon Films (34 MacQuesten Parkway South, Mt. Vernon, NY, 10650) distributes THE GIVEN WORD. Grove Press (196 W Housten, NY, 10014) handles ANTONIO DAS MORTES. Hurlock-Cine World (13 Arcadia Road, Old Greenwich, CT, 06870) distributes BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL and LAND IN ANGUISH. New Line Cinema (853 Broadway, 16th Floor, NY, NY, 10003) handles MACUNAIMA. And all the following films are distributed by New Yorker Films (16 W 61st Street, NY, NY, 10023): BARRAVENTO, VIDAS SECAS, THE GUNS, HUNGER FOR LOVE, THE ALIENIST, HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN, DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS.

Most of the more recent films are distributed by Fabiano Canosa, representative of Embrafiline in the United States and now associated with Unifilin. Those films include SAO BERNARDO, JOANA FRANCESA, MAR DE ROSAS, CONJUGAL WARFARE, LESSONS OF LOVE, COLONEL DELMIRO GOUVEIA, and TENT OF MIRACLES. Anyone interested in renting these films con write to: Unifilm, attention Fabiano Canosa, 419 Park Ave., South, NY, NY, 10016.

SAO BERNARDO (1972) — Leon Hirzman

Based on Graciliano Ramos' novel, SAO BERNARDO tells the story of Paulo Honorio, who rises from utter poverty to achieve his goal of becoming master of the plantation, named Sao Bernardo, where he has formerly been brutalized as a hired hand. His methods of advancement range from petty cheating to bribery and murder. Having achieved some of his goals, Paulo marries a schoolteacher for the respectability she can bring him and because he needs an heir. Accustomed as he is to the master-slave relationship, Paulo cannot comprehend his wife, nor can he deal with the feelings of tenderness she arouses in him. Seeing her through the prism of his possessiveness, he poisons her life with jealousy and finally drives her to suicide. Ultimately, he discovers, he has been impoverished by his wealth and unmanned by his machismo. His social progress has been exposed as a long march toward solitude and emotional desolation.

While SAO BERNARDO on one level makes a universal statement about the relations between property and personality, on another it makes a very specific statement about Brazil. Paulo forms a kind of grotesque double of the military regime in Brazil. He comes to power through force and intimidation, bribery and murder. He practices arbitrary rule ("I don't have to explain anything to anybody") and hysterical anticommunism. SAO BERNARDO also demystifies the "Brazilian economic miracle" of the early seventies. The film exposes the miracle for what it was — a cruel deception. Paulo rises economically by a kind of miracle, but the miracle benefits only himself, just as the Brazilian economic miracle enriched only an elite few. If SAO BERNARDO is, as its director claims, "a concrete analysis of a concrete situation," the terms of its analysis can be extended from a plantation in the twenties to present-day Brazil as a whole.

Leon Hirzman calls Paulo a kind of living fossil, an agent of the prehistory in which we are all living." SAO BERNARDO anatomizes the effects of acquisitiveness on the human personality. As a probing analysis of social alienation, and as a film in which every image and sound is thought politically, without ever becoming inaccessible or propagandistic, SAO BERNARDO is an important film not only for Brazilians but also for North Americans.  —   Robert Stam

JOANA FRANCESA (1973) — Carlos Diegues

Carlos Diegues' declared goal in his films is to capture the Brazilian Unconscious through his own fantasies and utopias. In JOANA FRANCESA, the director gives us what French critic/filmmaker Pierre Kast calls the "dialectical eruption of Greek tragedy on a Brazilian sugar plantation." Set in the thirties, the film chronicles the disintegration of an aristocratic landholding family. In the background looms the revolution of 1930, an event which transformed the social landscape of Brazil, indirectly leading to the takeover of old farms by new money. The film draws analogies between the thirties and the early seventies in Brazil — repressed morality, patriarchal family — and underlines them with deliberate anachronisms (thirties people speaking seventies slang, smoking contemporary cigarettes, etc.). The story is narrated in the first person by Joana, the Frenchwoman (played by Jeanne Moreau), an ex-madame of a Sao Paulo bordello who opts to live with, but refuses to marry, one of her former clients, a rich sugar-cane proprietor. She becomes involved with his decadent family, composed of his devoutly neurotic mother, his dying wife, two incestuous adolescent children, a decidedly Oedipal son, and a retarded child.

Made at a time of extreme governmental repression in Brazil, JOANA FRANCESA proposes to dig the grave of what Diegues calls an "old civilization without a future in which the dead command the living." JOANA FRANCESA lacks the political clarity and optimism of Diegues' other films, instead eliciting a visceral, in some ways contradictory response. It is not clear whether Joana is to be admired as a strong, honest and liberated woman, or to be despised as the Colonizer who symbolically rides on the back of her black servant. What are we to make of the attractive animal energy of the two incestuous adolescents? How do we reconcile the tragic core of the tale with the lush beauty of Dib Lufti's photography and the bittersweet charm of Chico Buarque's music? Shown in the International Festival in Mexico in 1975, many Latin American critics compared JOAMA to Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, 100 Years of Solitude.

"Not even Bunuel," claims Glauber Rocha, has made such a corrosive, terrible, tragic, implacable, violent, paranoid and yet lyric, detheatricalized and moving fun."  —   Robert Stam

UIRA (1974) — Gustavo Dahl

Dahl's second feature, UIRA is a work of what the director calls "anthropological fiction." Based on research by the Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, UIRA tells the story, set in 1939, of an Urubu Indian who, in despair over his son's death at the hands of whites, departs with his family in search of Maira, the Indian Creator-God living in Paradise. During the course of his trip, Uira is harassed by whites, forced to wear European clothes, and imprisoned. Freed through the good offices of the Indian Protection Service, that agency begins to exploit him as a token example of governmental generosity. Scornful of such suspect benevolence, Uira flees from the whites and enters the river in hopes of finding Maira — through death.

In Gustavo Dahl's able hands, Uira's journey becomes a pretext for a ringing critique not only of the Indian policies of the Brazilian government (although the story is set in 1939, little has changed), but also of white capitalist civilization in general. Through Uira's astonished eyes, Dahl reveals to us the strangeness of our own customs — the strangeness of finding human nudity obscene or titillating, the strangeness of wage slavery and capitalist commerce. UIRA, in short, is an exercise in cultural relativism, a critical look at our civilization from the standpoint of La pensee sauvage. Avoiding the twin extremes of racist vilification and noble savage idealization, UIRA treats its native subject with rare respect and dignity, even while it offers a provocative critique of our own civilization and values.  —   Robert Stan

— Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

In his fifth feature film, Joaquin Pedro interweaves three separate narratives based on elements of some 15 short stories by the "vampire of Curitiba," Dalton Trevisan. One narrative line deals with an unscrupulous lawyer who seduces his female clients until one day the situation is reversed, and a homosexual friend attempts to seduce him. Another deals with the conflicts between a poor, old man and his wife, which culminate in her revolt against him. The third tells of a young man who goes from woman to woman but who does not feel satisfied enough to return to his wife until he sleeps with a 70 year-old prostitute.

Using as a model the erotic comedy, or pornochanchada, which inundates the Brazilian market with its sexist and degrading exhibitionism, the director demystifies the corruption and hypocrisy of many moral values of Brazilian society. As in his previous film, OS INCONFIDENTES (1971), Joaquim Pedro apparently accepts the dominant ideology's roles and models only to subvert them on another level, thus maintaining a critical vision of Brazilian society. He also continues to develop the cannibalist metaphor of MACUNAIMA (1969). In one sequence, the young man attempts to make love with an attractive woman. Her bed is in the shape of a mouth, complete with lips and tongue. After the young man leaves, the woman rolls up in the blanket and the mouth closes over her. This reverts to the idea examined at length in MACUNAIMA that all social relationships in capitalist society reduce, in the final analysis, to cannibalism. Whoever has the power to do so devours his fellow wo/man. The use of the pornochanchada formula is in itself a critique and demystification of that genre.  —   Randal Johnson

— Eduardo Escorel

Before directing LICAO BE AMOR, his first feature, Eduardo Escorel had established himself as the foremost editor in Brazilian cinema, working on films such as Roche's LAND IN ANGUISH (1967), Diegues THE INHERITORS (1968), and Andrade's MACUNAIMA. His short documentary, VISION OF JUAZEIRO (969), is now being distributed in this country by the Latin American Film Project.

Based on the first novel by Mario de Andrade (the author of Macunaima, 1928), LICAO BE AMOR deals with a wealthy landowner and small industrialist in Sao Paulo in the 1920's, who hires a young Germano-Brazilian woman to serve as governess for his three children. In reality, the governess' purpose is to sexually initiate Carlos, the industrialist's 16-year-old son. Using a subdued and discrete style based on nuance and suggestion, much in contrast to the novel on which it is based, the film is a subtle analysis of the defense mechanisms of Brazil's bourgeoisie. While it may seem that the father has a very modern attitude toward his son, in reality he is exercising an extremely castrating authority designed to protect his own dominant role in the family and, by extension, in society. It is thus one of the first Brazilian films to deal seriously with the bourgeoisie as a socially dominant role in the family, and, by extension, in society. It is thus one of the first Brazilian films to deal seriously with the bourgeoisie as a socially dominant class. As Escorel himself observes, "Today we need to get away from schematic visions and deepen our level of analysis and perception of the bourgeoisie." There is also in the film a subtle critique of the sexism inherent in Brazilian social mores. The filmmaker has explained that the children's parents

"are capable of identifying their son's anxieties or his sexual necessities, but they are totally incapable of thinking that the same type of problem might exist for their daughter."

Anisio Medeiro's scenography is one of the most exquisite period reconstructions in the history of Brazilian cinema. As yet unreleased in this country, the film was one of the most highly acclaimed films released in Brazil in 1976 and won more awards than any other film of that year. — Randal Johnson

— Nelson Pereira dos Santos

Hailed in Brazil as the Best Film of 1975, THE AMULET OF OGUM brings Nelson Pereira dos Santos back to the lower-class environment of his first films. Like HOW TASTY WAS WY LITTLE FRENCHMAN (1971), his audio-visual essay in cultural relativism, AMULET explores Brazilian popular culture — this time in the form of the syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion called Umbanda — without any condescension or condemnation.

Narrated by a blind singer from the Northeast, AMULET recounts the trajectory of Gabriel (played by Nelson's son Ney Sant'Ana), a young man from the Northeast whose body has been magically closed by an umbandista at his mother's request. Protected by the amulet of Ogum, Gabriel goes to Caxias, a notoriously lawless Rio suburb, where he becomes involved with the town's underworld, until the local mafiosos decide that his reputedly closed body makes him, a threat to their power.

The film itself is as generically and stylistically syncretic as the religion of which it speaks — part picaresque comedy, part folktale, part sociological essay. While many left intellectuals found the film problematic in its apparently uncritical embrace of Afro-Brazilian religion, Nelson responded that intellectuals often talk about popular culture, while they despise some of its most expressive forms, such as religion. AMULET anticipates TENT OF MIRACLES (1977) in its animated celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture. It is an extremely important film for understanding Nelson Pereira career as well as for explaining recent popularizing tendencies in Brazilian cinema. — Robert Stam.

IRACEMA (1975) — Jorge Bodansky and Orlando Senna

"IRACEMA can be described as an interpretative or fictional documentary. In it, a small cast of non-professional (with one exception) actors improvise the action against a background of real people in real situations, filmed in direct cinema style."

"Iracema, a 15-year-old Amazonian of pure Indian blood, deserts her family's boat and subsistence existence for the glittering baubles of Belem on festival day. She is picked up by Tiao Brasil Grande, who takes her with him on a run to haul virgin timber from the interior … On the return trip he dumps her at a raunchy all-night bar. (There) she is taken advantage of, deceived, abused. Her most violent abduction, significantly, is at the hands of a group of soldiers. The film refrains from voyeurism and titillation by focusing on the prelude and the results rather than on the actual experience of her degradation. Interconnected sequences of stripping and burning entire forests, of highway construction, of selling indentured workers wholesale, put Iracema's (an anagram of America) experience in a larger perspective without belaboring the point."

"As the film ends, Tiao Brasil Grande runs into Iracema once again. He fails to recognize her, poorly dressed now, missing a tooth, and in the company of derelict and drunken prostitutes. He rejects her approach and then refuses her request for five cruceros. In the last shot, his new red truck vanishes down the dirt road, leaving Iracema behind, broke and stranded. "Filho de puta" (son of a whore), she yells after him, her only revenge a self-deprecating insult."

"The parallels between the colony and metropolis relation and that of the dominant male and dependent female are well taken. Tiao moves on once Iracema has been exhausted, just as the neo-colonialists freely abandon exploited territory for the virgin region further on. Tiao is always in the driver's seat; he calls the shots and Iracema goes along for the ride, convinced that she is finally going somewhere when in fact she is only being taken to her own destruction."  — Julianne Burton, excerpted from "The Old and the New: Latin American Cinema at the (Last?) Pesaro Festival," JUMP CUT, no. 9 (October-December, 1975), p. 34.

— Bruno Barreto

Based on a novel by Jorge Amado, 21-year-old (at the time the film was made) Bruno Barreto's third feature is important primarily for its astounding success in Brazil, Europe and the United States. Breaking all box-office records for films, both foreign and domestic, exhibited in Brazil, the film proved that the potential internal market for national films is substantially larger than had previously been thought.

Produced by Luis Carlos Barreto, the director's father and an important figure in the Cinema Nôvo movement (he was the photographer of Nelson Pereira dos Santos' VIDAS SECAS and produced many other films), the film tells the story of a young Bahian woman whose first husband, Vadinho — a drunken, macho, whore-mongering louse with the single quality of being good in bed — dies during carnival. Dona Flor then marries Teodoro, the local pharmacist, who is, in contrast with Vadinho, a sober, respectful, dull citizen who makes love with his pajamas on. Due to Dona Flor's need for sexual gratification, which Teodoro is unable to provide, Vadinho mysteriously returns from the grave, visible (and nude) only to his wife. The rest of the film deals with her attempts to reconcile sexual needs with her need for security and social respectability. The film ends with an amusing inversion of roles as Dona Flor is seen in bed with Vadinho on one side and Teodoro on the other.

A comedy of manners, the film is a satire of Brazilian social mores and is representative of what are referred to in that country as commercially oriented "super-productions" Despite the light-hearted, even frivolous, tone of the film, social contradictions leak through the surface in the scene where Dona Flor visits a prostitute who she thinks has given birth to a child fathered by Vadinho, and later when Dona Flor and Vadinho visit the casino and hear a Brazilian singer perform "Somebody Loves Me." Cultural colonization in the flesh, albeit in a non-critical perspective. The sequence is a reference to Barreto's second film, UNA ESTRELA SOBE (A STAR RISES, 1974), which deals with the singer, played in both films by Bette Faria. — Randal Johnson.

— Francisco Ramalho, Jr.

Independent producer Ramalho's second feature (the first: ANUSKA, MANEQUIM E MULHER (MANEQUIN AND WOMAN, 1968)), was the big surprise of the 1976 Granados Festival in Southern Brazil, taking top awards from the pre-festival favorite, DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS.

Based on a play by Consuelo de Castro, A FLOR DA PELE tells the story of Marcelo, a middle-aged, married, drama professor, and his romantic involvement with a student, Veronica. As Ramalho himself says, "In the film I tried to show some of the conflicts of the urban Brazilian family." Both characters embody many of the neuroses of Brazilian society under repressive military rule. Marcelo thinks of himself as a leftist, but at the same time he writes mediocre scripts for commercial television and accepts the conventions of middle-class society. Veronica is a young, rebellious woman who hates her father and yet looks for father-figures in the older men she chooses for lovers. Although she seems to want to change established values, she often acts irrationally on impulse and thus her relationships are invariably destructive.

The basic theme dealt with in the film is the conflict between the idealism of the individual and the day-to-day reality of that individual's situation in society. The realization of the idealistic goals is blocked by the very structure of Brazilian society, thus leading to neurosis and schizophrenia. Ramalho also examines the relationship between art and life, as the final conflict between Marcelo and Veronica is caused by her interpretation of Hamlet in which she publicly points out the contradictions of Marcelo's life. Accused of eliminating the more explicitly political aspects of the play, Ramalho reponds that the play was written at the height of populism in Brazil. "Years have passed since then and it was necessary to adapt it to our own period. Neither the Veronicas nor the Marcelos of today show the same political concerns they did then."  —   Randal Johnson

— Silvio Back

Silvio Back is perhaps the only Brazilian director to develop a continuity of regional films outside the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo axis. His first and second features, LANCE MAIOR (THE BIG ATTEMPT, 1968) and GUERRA DOS PELADOS (THE "PELADOS" WAR, 1970), both examine historical events in the Southern-most region of the country.

ALELUIA, GRETCHEN, the most controversial film of the 1976 Brasilia Festival, follows the life of a family of German immigrants from their arrival in Southern Brazil in 1937 until the present. Having fled their native land due to the rise of Hitler, the family becomes involved with fascist movements in Brazil. The film, in diary form, is divided into four parts, each corresponding to a particular phase of Brazilian political, cultural and economic development. The first part, from 1937 to 1938, deals with the family's arrival, their problems of adaptation and their concern with keeping in touch with events in Europe. Their discussions during this phase reveal the political conflicts that divided the world at that time, and even though they may on the surface oppose Hitler, they espouse much of his ideology. The second part, from 1942 to 1945, examines their relationship with Hitler youth organizations and other fascist groups in Brazil. During the war, the family's son returns to Europe to fight for Germany. In 1955 the group's ideology is challenged by members of the community, as a fugitive SS officer arrives to continue his courting of the family's daughter which he had begun before the war. The section dealing with today's Brazil continues a discussion of the cultural struggle they are involved in as, on a family outing, the Wagnerian soundtrack (a rock version of "The Ride of the Vaikyries") is drowned out by a samba played by local youth. The film is given an atemporal air since the characters do not age throughout the forty years dealt with in the film but rather only change clothes and hair fashion. According to the director, the film was invited to participate in the 1976 Berlin Festival, but the invitation was withdrawn without explanation. — Randal Johnson

MAR DE ROSAS (SEA OF ROSES, 1977) — Ana Carolina

Well-received in both the Paris and Berlin Film Festivals, Ana Carolina's first fiction film (after ten documentaries) is described by its author as a "portrayal of power as it operates within the family — an x-ray of the situation we Brazilians are living today, shown dramatically in the language of the absurd."

MAR DE ROSAS follows a not-very-loving couple (Sergio and Felicity) and their devilishly anarchic daughter (Betinha) through a picaresque series of progressively more surreal misadventures and narrative non-sequiturs. Although Ana Carolina claims to be interested more in making good films than in making feminist films, it is doubtless no accident that the film's opening dialogue consists of a woman's angry demand to be heard, or that one of the first images violates a common taboo by showing a woman urinating.

Using humor as the "best way to talk about serious things," Ana Carolina explores absurd familial situations as a springboard for exposing sexism, repression, and alienation. Implicit throughout is a Reichean analogy between the Family and the State as structures of power: "A photograph of a family," says the director, "is a photograph of the State." The narrative of MAR DE ROSAS is decidedly non-linear; and the dialogue — composed of lonesco-like absurdities, wordplay, proverbs, clichés — dynamites the mystified language of conventional wisdom. All the characters communicate an immense urge to express themselves, as if relearning to speak after a long period of imposed silence. Their will to speak is in itself a critique of the dictatorial regime from which Brazil is just now freeing itself after fourteen long years. But it is the character of the daughter, given to acts of revolt, slipping razor blades into soap, cheerfully puncturing her mother's neck with a pen, setting pools of gasoline on fire, who encapsulates the ambient violence and who, by her refusal to play the game by adult rules, best embodies the spirit of revolt that drives the film.  —   Robert Stam

CORONEL DELMIRO GOUVEIA (1978) — Geraldo Sarno

Documentarist Sarno's first dramatic feature (he made VIRAMUNDO in 1964) is a historical reconstruction of the life and death of Brazilian nationalist industrialist Delmiro Gouveia. Told largely from the perspectives of people associated with him rather than from that of Gouveia himself, the film begins with a cinema verite style shot of a worker/peasant saying that his boss (Gouveia) had never had anyone killed. The film ends with a similar shot, this time of a young worker from Gouveia's factory who, after his boss' death, says that workers did what Gouveia told them to, then what the English ordered, and that nobody ever asked their opinion. He says that when the workers control the means of production, nothing will impede the country's development.

Development and the paths to it are what the film is all about. Delmiro Gouveia represents a form of nationalist-bourgeois development, a form much in vogue during the populist years of Kubitschek, Quadros and Goulart. The worker in the final image offers another, more proletarian solution. It's difficult to know which solution the director favors, since the film itself is a glorification of Gouveia and his individual efforts to develop the Northeast. The films deals with his rise to economic power in the Brazilian interior through his development of a thread-making factory based on hydroelectric power derived from a darn on the Paulo Afonso Falls of the Sao Francisco River. His success undercuts the monopoly held on the Brazilian market by the British Machine Cotton Company. After refusing to negotiate or sell out to the British firm, Gouveia is assassinated. His factory is later acquired by Machine Cotton, dismantled, and thrown into the river. The film's high level of production values as well as its political questioning make CORONEL DELMIRO GOUVEIA one of the most important films of recent years. The film had its U.S. debut in the 1978 San Francisco Festival.  —   Randal Johnson

TUDO BEM (ALL'S WELL, 1978) — Arnaldo Jabor

TUDO BEM crowds all of Brazil's social contradictions into the middle-class apartment of a Carioca family. The naively reactionary father, Juarez Ramos Barata, lives at home in his pajamas, surrounded by a private museum of nationalist relics. Counseled by the phantoms of his former friends — a drunken fascist, a failed spaghetti manufacturer, and a tubercular romantic poet — he daily sends off irate letters to newspapers, lamenting the decadence of mores and proposing absurd solutions to the country's problems. He favors capitalism, for example, but deplores profit. His wife Elvira, meanwhile, has her own phantoms. Rather than recognize her husband's impotence, she fantasizes a lover for him, ultimately persuading him to fall in love with her own chimerical creation. Two children  — a bland public relations consultant and a daughter defined largely in terms of her search for a husband — complete the portrait. Of two maids, one moonlights as a prostitute, while the other is a virgin and a mystic.

A decision to have workers redo the apartment becomes a pretext for Jabor to expose the explosive class contradictions of Brazil. Profoundly materialist and wildly comic at the same time, a radicalized NIGHT AT THE OPERA, TUDO BEM shows more and more people invading a confined space. "How many social contradictions," we are led to ask, "can fit into one room — the room being Brazil — without the room exploding?" The inherent injustice of class society becomes strange, intolerable, in the confines of one apartment. At the same time, much of Brazilian culture, relocated in this bourgeois setting, conies to seem subversive, incendiary. Jabor's tactic of radical juxtaposition explodes bourgeois complacencies. The utopian energy of carnival threatens the good order of such an apartment. The slave quarters occupy the Big House of the Masters. The guttural songs of Northeastern peasants, in forced cohabitation with the bourgeoisie, become painful, embarrassing, and unbearable.

A cinematic tour de force, TUDO BEM is never visually boring, despite its spatial constrictions, thanks to its virtuoso variation of cinematic styles and to the visual interest of the decor itself. The film ends with a hilarious allegorical sequence in which a U.S. communications executive, lauding the global village, leads a festive chorus of "Around the World in 80 Days." Thanks to satellites, he says, in a transparent allusion both to Kuleshov and Pele, someone kicks a soccer ball in New York and the goal is scored in Copacabana. First World mass media no longer need 80 days to circle the globe; their transmissions are virtually instantaneous. But lest media executives become overly complacent, TUDO BEN reminds them that Brazil, like the Juarez apartment, is still "under construction."  —   Robert Stam