8. Filme Demência (1986)
Produced by Embrafilme, a screenplay written by Carlos Reichenbach and Inácio Araújo, this pearl is still rarely commented on by Brazilian moviegoers, the director’s most personal work. Idealized in times of national crisis, the original idea had to be aborted after budget cuts, and, in that ever-haphazard run for the creative mind, was eventually transformed into a version for Goethe’s “Faust.”
Those who saw the director limited by the shallow conventions of pornochanchadas may have considered a pretentious daring to drink in the literary source of the German author, but who even perceived in the erotic incursions the cultural upholstery of a cinema lover, felt that the material was in good hands.
The clever sense of humor sets the tone for the car ride leading to the end, reverberating with Wim Wenders “Kings of the Road” and Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” with the protagonist (Ênio Gonçalves) accompanied by the youngster (Vanessa Alves) and Mephistopheles (Emilio Di Biasi), a transvestite who looks like an old woman, a dreamy journey in which a psychologically destroyed man tries to rediscover his persona lost by the professional greed.
An heir to a cigarette industry, he faces corporate bankruptcy and irreparable weariness in his relationship with his wife, two events that shake all his convictions and, emotionally, lead him to the stage of child insecurity, often using violence as a form of expression. Without a soul to sell to the devil, money is no longer worth anything, sex no longer stimulates him, like James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, the man decides to keep moving, madness is not an option, he must learn to face his fears and accept the mistakes he made along the way, the only possible redemption for him.
7. De Vento em Popa (1957)
Directed by Carlos Manga, it’s not simply the best production of Atlântida Cinematográfica, it’s one of the best brazilian films of all time and one of the best musical comedies in film history. The screenplay utilizes several comical genres with the same efficiency, working with critical irony the leitmotiv of the contrast between the erudite and the popular culture, something that already appears in the soundtrack of the opening credits, alternating a classic instrumental style with the most unpretentious samba. Oscarito and Sonia Mamede, with great chemistry, dances their way out of all problems.
The Cinema Novo movement of the 70’s capitalized on poverty, but the political and social criticism of those movies pales in comparison to the image of Oscarito strumming his dog-tail beard, keeping his disguise as aristocratic scientist, a comical concept that hits the target with more pungency than all the so-called “revolutionary” brazilian filmmakers would do in the following years.
6. Navalha na Carne aka Razor in the Flesh (1969)
The director Braz Chediak managed to establish an oppressive atmosphere practically unbearable, dominated by closed plans and long takes, with a wise use of silence, that goes beyond the initial almost thirty minutes with only diegetic sounds. The corrosive text of Plínio Marcos, defended in a naturalistic way by the actors is filling and consuming the claustrophobic environment, the fetid and disorganized room that serves as a microcosm of a hypocritical society.
The conflicts originated by acts of pure pettiness causing in gratuitous aggressions, like a cancer that slowly spreads in the organism. The pimp who takes pleasure in humiliating his prostitute, pointing with sadism the signs of precocious aging in the woman who lives of the appearance, extravasating with violence, physical and psychological, a latent homosexual desire.
In this pension room, collective hatred, born of social dissatisfaction and natural wear and tear in the face of empty rituals, brings the characters to the edge of resistance. Silence throughout the first act, more than a resource of style, also serves, with its unnaturality, to emphasize the metaphorical characteristic of each subsequent dialogue.
All feelings are meticulously potentialized, for it is not a simple case that could stamp the headlines of a tabloid newspaper, but an existential battle of the Alamo, tired beings trying to avoid the imminent extinction due to natural evolution. They purge the truths of their lips, their words like sharp knives, like razors in the flesh, for they know that in that corrupt society in formation, only the lie would survive.
5. Vidas Secas aka Barren Lives (1963)
The smartness of the director of photography Luiz Carlos Barreto, with naked lens, without filters, letting the light burst, crushing the characters in the scorching terrain. The harrowing sizzle of the oxcart wheels is the deafening soundtrack, placing the viewer in an altered, uncomfortable state, immediately immersed in the desperate reality of the sertanejo family of migrants.
In an adaptation faithful to the book by Graciliano Ramos, director Nelson Pereira dos Santos manages to retain the essential and transcend poetically the message of the pages, as in the beautiful sequence where the eldest son asks his parents about the meaning of the word “hell.”
The mother, Sinhá Vitória, lived by Maria Ribeiro, responds harshly as if trying to dispel the pain, saying that it’s a bad place. What could be worse than the reality that the boy was already facing from day to day? He, with a maturity acquired early, begins to identify with sadness the hell in the brutal landscape that surrounds him.
4. O Despertar da Besta aka Awakening of the Beast (1970)
The film already begins to the sound of “Hail Mary”, which is relentlessly interrupted by the sound of a horror scream. Only this element would be enough argument for the stupid military dictatorship to act as censors. They not just stop the movie from being shown in the movie theaters, they burned the copies. Recovered in the eighties, it continues without commercial release.
With an exquisite script by Rubens F. Lucchetti, based on an argument by José Mojica Marins (aka Coffin Joe), full of metalanguage, which, in the context of the time, dared to speak about human behavior in a way that still today is courageous.
3. Limite aka Limit (1931)
This beautiful silent picture was loved by David Bowie and selected for restoration by Martin Scorsese. Unknown by the brazilian public, recognized abroad as a masterpiece, Mário Peixoto’s film uses poetic juxtaposition of disjointed images, and a great deal of symbolism, adressing the misfortune of humanity in the face of universal limitation. It’s a pity that this is the director’s first and only movie. Few artists portrayed the melancholy feeling so well.
2. O Pagador de Promessas aka The Given Word (1962)
There was a time when Brazil was not even on the map of world cinema or it appeared only as an exotic cult curiosity. There was a man who faced this panorama, breaking through seas never before navigated. In 1962, a young man named Anselmo Duarte, an actor in films such as “Sinhá-Moça” and “Aviso aos Navegantes”, decided to direct a story ahead of his time.
In addition to directing, he scripted (based on the work of Dias Gomes) the saga of a humble man, Zé do Burro (Leonardo Villar) who, after his little donkey (his best friend) gets sick, needs to fulfill a promise made in a Candomblé ritual, carrying a heavy cross a long way and leave it inside the church of Santa Bárbara. Always accompanied by his wife (Gloria Menezes), the man discovers that the mission is not easy and that the priest will not let his cross enter the church, causing an immense commotion in the small town.
With a daring and very intelligent script, Anselmo has performed a feat that has not been repeated: he brought to Brazil the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the special jury prize at the Cartagena Festival in Colombia, the Golden Gate for Best Film at the Festival San Francisco International and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Anselmo Duarte became a target of professional envy on Brazil, the Cinema Novo leaders tried hard to reduce his importance as an artist. Nowadays, unfortunately, his name is barely remembered.
1 . Cidade de Deus aka City of God (2002)
Fernando Meirelles was able to capture the brazilian’s revolt with the increasing rates of urban violence and the absurd sense of helplessness in the face of a system that seems to protect criminals, impunity at all levels, channeling this collective anger into the aesthetics of his film.
It’s fast, it’s brutal, it’s real. By embracing captivating characters from both sides of the war portraying the origin of drug trafficking in the favela, the script manages to blend the sense of urgency of political thrillers and the vibrant escapism of action films.
Author Bio: Octavio is a Brazilian film critic and filmmaker, you can find him on https://www.facebook.com/cinema.octaviocaruso/.