Monday, January 03, 2022

The Films of Glauber Rocha

Films seen as part of this spotlight

Pátio (1959, short film, 11 min)
Barravento (1962)
Black God, White Devil (1964)
Entranced Earth (1967)
Antonio das Mortes (1969)
Der Leone Have Sept Cabeças (1970)
Câncer (1972)

Glauber Rocha’s name looms large over Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement. In the context of this movement, the titles that I had previously seen were 3 well known vital films: Deus e o diablo na terra do sol (Black God, White Devil), Terra em transe (Entranced Earth) and Antonio das Mortes. However, missing from my viewing was Rocha’s first feature film Barravento. When a new edition of Barravento became available in 2021, it helped fill a gap and gave a chance to revisit some of his older films.

Pátio (1959, short film, 11 min)

Pátio is described as an experimental short and that holds true as there is no conventional narrative element. A man and woman wake up on a chess board type of floor while their movements are accompanied by music. One can see the initial seeds of Rocha’s style in this film especially with regards to incorporating musical rhythms.

Barravento (1962)

Initially, the setting of Barravento in a fishing village on the coast of Bahia feels at odds with the parched rugged landscape in Rocha’s later films. But once the story progresses, it becomes clear the film contains themes and elements that became Rocha’s signature later on.

In the film, Firmino (Antonio Pitanga) returns home from the city flush with cash and stories of his success. Firmino is puzzled why the locals don’t fight for their rights against their rulers. He is also frustrated at the locals' customs and beliefs, including their Candomblé religion, which he scorns and finds backwards. Firmino goes about trying to incite change in a variety of ways even including the usage of traditional elements that he looks down upon himself. The film contains Rocha’s core themes of revolt and fighting for one’s rights which are explored further in Black God, White Devil and Antonio das Mortes. Barravento also captures the dance, rituals and rhythms of the villagers and in this regard the film is a dress rehearsal for Antonio das Mortes.

Barravento is a brilliant film and it is hard to believe that it is Rocha’s debut. The setting of the film in a fishing village reminded me of Paulo Rocha’s Change of Life (1966), Ritwik Ghatak’s A River Called Titas (1973) and even the recent The Salt in Our Waters (2020).
Black God, White Devil (1964, Glauber Rocha)

Rocha’s raw and savage Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol does not loosen its grip from the first frame until the last. In fact, the final images of the film depict rapid movement which indicate that the story will continue well after the fade to black.

Black God, White Devil depicts a corrupt lawless world where landlords, religious figures and outlaws jostle for power and control over the souls of innocent workers. As a result, innocent men and women are forced to align between various corrupt figures and that choice governs how long they will be able to avoid death. In the film, the married couple of Manuel (Geraldo Del Rey) and Rosa (Yoná Magalhães) are forced on the run after Manuel kills a rancher who was taking advantage of them. The couple believe they have found salvation under a powerful religious figure but they are forced into a much more violent life because of that meeting. The usage of black and white coupled with a remarkable musical score heightens the violent struggles and the dark corrupt men that roam it.
All the characters are memorable but Maurício do Valle’s character of Antônio das Mortes gets his own film later on.

Entranced Earth (1967)

Glauber Rocha’s Entranced Earth makes up a lot of ground depicting politics from grassroots all the way up to the presidential level. The film is set in a fictional country of Eldorado but the battle between ideologies could easily apply to many Latin countries.  In this regard, the film can be seen as a vital abstract depiction of how ideas can turn dangerous and power can blind men into cruelty.

The story is told from the perspective of poet and journalist Paulo Martins (Jardel Filho) who finds himself oscillating between supporting the right-wing candidate Porfirio Diaz (Paulo Autran) and Felipe Vieira (José Lewgoy) who is far from a moderate character.

The film’s style is intoxicating with the inclusion of some jazzy notes and close-ups of the deranged and tormented characters. There are many dialogues which light up the screen. Here are just a few:

“The blood of the people is sacred.”

“History isn’t changed by tears.”

“We have to choose between electorate and commitments”

Antonio das Mortes (1969)

Maurício do Valle reprises his Antonio das Mortes character from Black God, White Devil where he went about killing outlaws and saving the land from evil. He continues his fight in Antonio das Mortes when he is hired as a jagunço to rid the village of a new evil Cangaço. However, as the film progresses, Antonio has his perspective changed and sees the class conflict in a new light. This was Rocha’s first colour film and the rich colour coupled with the music, dance sequences and creative camera work adds to a sensory overload.

Der Leone Have Sept Cabeças (1970)

Rocha’s themes of revolt and fighting for one’s rights are transported from the Brazilian landscape to Congo. As a result, the film highlights colonial and political themes which show how messy revolts can be and how alliances can shift. Religion and guns which are a key part in Rocha's films are included here as well. The film’s battles and inclusion of explosive characters recall Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski’s film collaborations.

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