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Allegories of Underdevelopment: Aesthetics and Politics in Modern Brazilian Cinema

Ismail Xavier
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Allegories of Underdevelopment
    Book Description:

    Focusing on a variety of filmmaker's use of narrative allegories for the “conservative modernization” Brazil and other nations underwent in the 1960s and 1970s, Ismail Xavier examines the way Cinema Novo transformed Brazil's cultural memory. Includes discussions of Black God, White Devil, Land in Anguish, Red Light Bandit, Macunaíma, Antônio das Mortes, The Angel Is Born, and Killed the Family and Went to the Movies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8682-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The aim of this book is to characterize, through the analysis of Brazilian films made between 1964 and 1970, the allegorical representation of national history and contemporary society developed by young filmmakers who deeply transformed film culture in Brazil.

    The period in focus is the height of Brazilian auteur cinema, which tightened relations between culture and politics as never before in the country; a moment in which the most interesting films—those of Cinema Novo and the so-called Marginal Cinema (1969-73)—were raising social issues and creating alternatives to the aesthetics of mainstream cinema.

    Glauber Rocha, in the mid-1960s, summarized...

  5. I The Teleology of History

    • 1 Black God, White Devil: Allegory and Prophecy
      (pp. 31-54)

      At the beginning of the last sequence ofBlack God, White Devil,the main characters in the film, the peasant couple Manuel and Rosa, are about to witness a last great duel. Antônio das Mortes (Anthony of the Dead), the“cangaceirokiller,”¹ after a long chase, has the small group of outlaws in his sights. The chance to kill Corisco—the lastcangaceiro—has finally come. Two shots showing Antônio das Mortes in his search provide the transition to this moment of confrontation while the ballad singer—the principal mediator in the storytelling process—comments on Antônio’s will and perseverance...

  6. II The Crisis of Teleology

    • 2 Land in Anguish: Allegory and Agony
      (pp. 57-94)

      The dream is over. Revolution is no longer at hand. The conservative leader Porfirio Diaz has led a coup d’état, suppressed elections, and put an end to the political aspirations of the populist leader Vieira and his leftist supporters. Paulo Martins, poet, journalist, and political counselor, lies dying. Shot by the forces of repression after an isolated and romantic gesture of resistance, Paulo, before dying, recapitulates his political trajectory and the events that have led the country to the right-wing coup. The opening sequence ofLand in Anguishoffers a first representation of the hour of decision. The first images...

    • 3 Red Light Bandit: Allegory and Irony
      (pp. 95-122)

      LikeLand in Anguish, Red Light Bandit¹ends with the representation of the protagonist’s death. Its tone, however, is entirely different: irony and self-mockery replace eloquence and drama. Death comes as the last gesture in a personal pantomime enacted by an antihero, whose adventures provide the material for a picaresque narrative. For ninety minutes we follow a series of loosely connected episodes in the life of a famous outlaw mythologized by mass communication—the so-called red light bandit: his robberies, murders, and affairs. A series of the protagonist’s trivial adventures functions as the pretext for the depiction of a specific...

    • 4 The Levels of Incoherence; or, The Mirage of the Nation as Subject
      (pp. 123-130)

      “I am a leftist.” The tone of voice is assertive; it is the tone of someone who wants to be taken seriously; the circumstance is pathetic, but Fuentes insists. Nevertheless, Diaz controls his impatience and even smiles, lenient, before giving the final touch in his lesson on power and class struggle. Fuentes’s words state an identity that, to the ears of any coherent conservative, sounds like nonsense.

      Paulo Martins’s sense of humor has never been his strong point, but the young militants’s religious faith in disclosing Vieira’s historical qualities makes Paulo smile in order to enhance the superior look he...

  7. III Allegory and Melancholy

    • 5 Macunaíma: The Delusions of Eternal Childhood
      (pp. 133-154)

      Macunaima’scredits are superimposed on a large greenishyellow screen and are punctuated by Villa-Lobos’s “Desfile dos Heróis do Brasil” (Brazilian Heroes’ March). Such a combination forms a welldefined prologue that stands apart from the rest of the film. A black screen and silence create a zero point from which the voice-over starts the narration: “Deep in the rain forest, there was a moment when silence was so striking while listening to the Uraricoera murmur that.” The visual scene intrudes on the sentence and fulfills this special moment of expectation: We see the face of the actor, Paulo José, disguised in...

    • 6 Antônio das Mortes: Myth and the Simulacrum in the Crisis of Revolution
      (pp. 155-180)

      The film that Rocha made in 1968–69 is a revision ofBlack God, White Devilhybridized withLand in Anguishand thetropicalistcontext.Antônio das Mortes (O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro)brings back thecangaceirosand thebeatos,in a reappropiation of the myth performed in a new and gloomier juncture. The representation of the peasants’ rebellion reworks elements of the allegory of hope used in 1963, now with a stronger pedagogical intent: The representation of social conflicts underlines the “correct revolutionary action” to be followed. This affirmative pedagogical tone contrasts with the conscience of...

  8. IV Allegory and Deconstruction

    • 7 The Angel Is Born: The Song of Exile
      (pp. 183-202)

      Bressane’s peripheral world is antithetical to Sganzerla’s comical province. It displays quasi-deserted sites crossed by two bandits who escape from their hideout in a shantytown to the outskirts of the big city. Society is exiled from the screen and is only represented by the bandits’ victims, who pay the price of being present on their route.

      The insulation of the two bandits has a graphic dimension: Emptiness dominates the visual composition. Secondary actions and confrontations with the police or with the press are absent. The bandits do not trade. Violence is their only mode of interaction with the world, and...

    • 8 Killed the Family and Went to the Movies: The Ersatz Carnival
      (pp. 203-218)

      InKilled the Family and Went to the Movies,violence and uneasiness are again constant elements. In this film, however, the allegorical site of the unreconciled is shaped as a panel of disconnected actions, as a collection of minor episodes, unlike the rarefied world ofThe Angel Is Born.The principle of juxtaposition, characteristic of allegorical constructions, is now expressed in a series of events without a context, extreme situations of domestic criminality recorded with no concern for elaborate explanations. As inThe Angel Is Born,laconism and disjunction mark the presentation of the episodes, but the enactment of criminal...

    • 9 Bang Bang: Passage, Not Destination
      (pp. 219-232)

      At the end ofKilled the Family and Went to the Movies,the two actresses, side by side, smile facing the camera. This last image closes the series of portraits and dissolves the heavy atmosphere created by the scene of their death, reasserting the combination of game and violence that had permeated the entire film. The return of the dead women, relaxed and smiling, is no doubt an instance of Brechtian estrangement-effect, but the final shot is not an act of aggression addressed to the audience. A more disturbing challenge occurs inBang Bang,Andrea Tonacci’s version of the structural...

  9. V Further Developments

    • 10 Trends of Allegory in the 1970s
      (pp. 235-260)

      In the trajectory I have focused on, Brazilian modern cinema moved from the messianic hope, exemplified by the teleology ofBlack God, White Devil,to a radical disenchantment. This disenchantment was translated into films that saw recent history as a fatal disaster and that sometimes saw the crisis of representation itself as an essential part of the contemporary agenda. The deconstructive moment—1969-70— foregrounded the question of cinema, discussing the status of the image in contemporary society, refusing the usual forms of contract between the critical film and the audience. Tonacci’s antiteleology, in particular, sets up a game that asserts...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 261-266)

    Before 1964 it only seemed natural that economic transformation and technical progress would bring effective social change, a democratization of power and the affirmation of popular culture. The early 1960s promised the redemption of the oppressed. The coup of 1964 inverted the game of power, or rather, revealed the foregoing illusions, generating a new juncture where Brazilian modernization did not fulfill the expectations of the leftist nationalism. In this work, I have tried to characterize different responses by the filmmakers when Brazilian cinema was trampled by a process that showed the power of an international economic juncture and defined the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 267-274)
  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 275-278)
  13. Index
    (pp. 279-286)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-287)