Monday, September 17, 2007

Brazilian Cinema

Spotlight on Brazilian Cinema, overview

The mention of Brazil often brings sighs and expressions of pleasure. Prior to 2002, the images associated with Brazil circled around soccer, samba, beaches (especially Copacabana), sex, carnivale, Sugar Loaf mountain & the Jesus statue. Then 2002 brought City of God and thoughts of crime, poverty and favelas were added to common place Brazilian images. But there is so much more to Brazil than all these images. So my goal in shedding a spotlight on Brazilian cinema was to move beyond the cliches and examine films which did justice to Brazil's rich locales and fascinating history.

The Beginning:

When does Brazil's official history start? Well as in the case with many 'discovered' countries history begins when the newly arrived colonials first touch shore. The fact that people lived on a country for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived means nothing. The clock only starts when the European scribes first start describing the land.

And once the land is found, it has to be inhabited and for that workers are needed. This is where slavery comes in. Brazil's fate was forever changed by the dual events of slavery and Portuguese colonizers. Carlos Diegues' film Quilombo looks at the friction that resulted from these events and how the locals, slaves and Europeans clashed for power.

Freedom, Immigration and a new era:

Each Brazilian region developed differently depending on its location and the inhabitants that lived there. Sergio Bianchi's Chronically Unfeasible does a good job in showcasing the various regions of Brazil and the frictions that exist between residents of the North East, Southern and Northern parts of the country. But besides Europeans immigrating to Brazil, there was plenty of internal migration.

Urban Movements:

One moves to the city in hope of a better life. But as it turns often out, the city is not ready to accept everyone with open arms. Some are forced into prostitution like the main character in Deserto Feliz and some are forced into crime to make a living like in Hector Babenco's powerful film Pixote.

The need for a better life:

But even if one finds work, housing may not be easy to find. This is where favelas help to fill the housing gap. However, not everyone is willing to live without an address. Some are willing to fight for their right to a better life. The engaging documentary House warming party shows the tactics some Sao Paulo residents are forced to undertake for their housing needs.

And in some cases, it is love that forces one to seek a better life. In Cafuné a boy from a favela falls in love with a middle class girl. But in order to better provide for his new love and child, the boy has to leave his neighbourhood behind. In The Man Who Copied André's (Lázaro Ramos) love for Sílvia forces him to use his honest day job into a get-rich fast scheme to better provide for her.

Samba, Love, Carnivale:

A little music goes a long way to cheer a wearied soul up. And if the music is accompanied by the soothing voice of Noel Rosa, then all the problems just drift away. The Samba Poet portrays the life of Rosa, a famous musician whose life was cruelly cut short by illness.

A little dancing coupled with music does wonders for the human spirit. Marcel Camus's vibrant Black Orpheus captures all the magic of Carnivale while also showing a different take on the tragic Orfeu love story.

Lust, Desire & Sex:

Desire can be a very dangerous thing, especially if it is two friends who desire the same woman. Sérgio Machado's Lower City serves up steamy sex while also showing raw emotions that result when three people are trapped in a lustful triangle.

Baixio das Bestas is hot, humid, raw and dangerous. On the surface not much happens in the small Brazilian town. But underneath the surface, the men's desire result in plenty of damage.

Heitor Dhalia's wicked dark comedy Drained introduces us to Lourenco, a man whose desires and obsessions are certainly off the wall. Sure his desire for a woman is common but it is his thirst for other people's antiques and the stories associated with the objects that give this movie a very unique flavour (or smell -- a reference which is apparent only after seeing the movie).

A time for rest and reflection:

When all is said and done, everyone needs to rest, even God. In Carlos Diegues' film Deus É Brasileiro God wants to go on a vacation because he is tired of man's problems.

The picturesque documentary Acidente shows us snatches of everyday Brazilian life in small towns. The film's relaxed pacing combined with the poetic Brazilian town names makes for a soothing travelogue of everyday life in Brazil.

But what about futbol?:

As it turns out I could not find a candidate for a film that highlighted Brazilian soccer. Only The Man who Copied had a tiny soccer related segment in a sequence where André dreams of scoring a winning goal to become the local hero. But no matter. I found the perfect substitute in Ruy Castro's engaging book Garrincha. Besides recounting the life of a footballing genius who was probably a better player than Pele, this fascinating book gives an insight into the struggles of native Brazilian life with the new colonial masters and the harsh life of the sugar plantations. After reading such a book, any film about Brazil seems to pale in comparison!!

Conclusion: This was a truly enjoyable experience. I was able to find films (and a book) which managed to satisfy all the themes I wanted to explore regarding Brazil. And now the search for more Brazilian cinematic works can start again.....


To start off, I only had 8 films in my spotlight but as summer went along, I was able to add a few more films. In the end, I managed to watch 15 films in total (13 features and 2 docs).

Features: Quilombo, Madame Satã, God is Brazilian, Drained, Baixio das Bestas, The Samba Poet, Lower City, Pixote, Chronically Unfeasible, Black Orpheus, The Man Who Copied, Deserto Feliz, Cafuné.

Docs: Acidente, House-warming party

More detailed notes can be found in the 4 parts of the spotlight:
part I, part II, part III, part IV

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