by/Por: 
Igor Nolasco
&
Translated by: 
Gustavo Menezes
June 18, 2022
Alguns filmes encapsulam o verdadeiro espírito de grandes cidades para além das imagens fabricadas pelos estereótipos e pelo turismo. No caso do Rio de Janeiro, é uma tarefa particularmente árdua romper com a mitificação da terra que há décadas tem na marchinha Cidade Maravilhosa de André Filho seu hino não-oficial (hoje já devidamente oficializado); possui sua iconografia calcada em pontos turísticos imediatamente reconhecíveis, como o Cristo Redentor e o Pão de Açúcar; foi mimetizada em estúdio como palco para a comédia musical em preto-e-branco das chanchadas; teve suas avenidas, praias e hotéis de luxo explorados com avidez technicolor pelo cinema hollywoodiano e foi personificada internacionalmente em "embaixadores" do quilate de Carmen Miranda e Antônio Carlos Jobim. Esse é o Rio que é vendido para o Brasil e para o mundo, mas os verdadeiramente interessados em descobrir o que há por detrás da fachada sabem que, desde que o samba é samba, sempre houve mais.
Quando Orson Welles foi exportado ao Rio pela “política da boa vizinhança” estadunidense, para filmar o carnaval e integrá-lo ao seu projeto documental It's All True1, foi guiado entre a elite financeira local pelo poeta e diplomata Vinícius de Moraes, mas se fascinou mesmo pelo ator Grande Otelo2, e com ele subiu os morros cariocas para descobrir o "real Rio", o Rio do povo preto e mestiço que é às vezes boêmio, mas sempre trabalhador; o Rio das populações marginalizadas que são legítimas autoras das festas populares, que a oficialidade tenta a todo custo domesticar e elitizar. Welles descobriu que o povo do Rio de Janeiro (e o verdadeiro carnaval organizado por ele) ia muito além das imagens coloridas que chegou a filmar nos estúdios da Cinédia.
De acordo com os registros que hoje possuímos, é possível dizer que o mais próximo que esse "real Rio" já havia chegado de ser representado no cinema brasileiro de então fora na tentativa do veterano cineasta Humberto Mauro, em seu Favela dos Meus Amores, de 1935 (hoje tido como um filme perdido). Mais de dez anos depois da visita do diretor de Cidadão Kane ao Brasil, Nelson Pereira dos Santos escancara os contrastes sociais e urbanos da "cidade maravilhosa" em seu Rio, 40 Graus, de 1955 – rompendo tantas barreiras nesse sentido que chegou a ser objeto de uma censura promovida pela polícia do estado do Rio de Janeiro, sendo liberado apenas após intensa campanha a seu favor entre a intelectualidade e a imprensa. Em muitos sentidos, Nossa Escola de Samba, filme de vinte e oito minutos de 1965, dirigido e montado por Manuel Horácio Gimenez, é mais uma légua aberta no caminho trilhado por Humberto Mauro, Orson Welles, e Nelson Pereira dos Santos, que no entanto vai além, e nesse sentido se beneficia ao participar de um "zeitgeist" próprio do cinema brasileiro da década de 1960: o documentário social.
Esse estilo de produção é um dos alicerces da primeira fase do Cinema Novo, apesar de não se limitar a ele e compreender também uma série de filmes realizados por autores ou artesãos (para utilizar as denominações empregadas por Glauber Rocha3) que estavam à margem do “núcleo duro” cinemanovista ou mesmo em uma lógica totalmente à parte. De maneira enxuta, podem ser citados como representantes ilustrativos do documentário social brasileiro sessentista filmes como o Aruanda (1960) de Linduarte Noronha, o Arraial do Cabo (1960) de Paulo Cezar Saraceni, o Viramundo (1965) de Geraldo Sarno, o Maranhão 66 (1966) de Glauber Rocha e o A Opinião Pública (1967) de Arnaldo Jabor. Mesmo filmes de ficção (pertencentes ou não aos ciclos do Cinema Novo), como a antologia Cinco Vezes Favela (1962), produzida pelo Centro Popular de Cultura da União Nacional dos Estudantes, ou a produção sueco-brasileira Mitt hem är Copacabana (1965), possuem clara influência dos caminhos abertos pelo documentário social na cinematografia brasileira, apesar de também terem raízes profundas no ficcional Rio, 40 Graus (talvez responsável, ele mesmo, por certas tendências do documentário social sessentista).
No caso específico de Nossa Escola de Samba, no entanto, o parentesco maior está, mesmo, com o supracitado documentário social da década de 1960. O nome chave para entender o filme é o de Thomaz Farkas, figura fundamental não apenas para o desenvolvimento do documentário social no Brasil, mas para a história do cinema brasileiro como um todo. Fotógrafo, produtor e diretor, o cineasta húngaro-brasileiro possui extensa filmografia e foi o responsável pela organização do filme-antologia Brasil Verdade (1968) – agrupamento de curta-metragens produzidos por ele e viabilizados sobretudo graças a seus esforços na importação de equipamentos para a captação de som direto. Até então praticamente inédito no cinema brasileiro, que tinha a parcela majoritária de sua produção dublada em estúdio, o som direto captado por tais equipamentos já permitia, mesmo de maneira inicialmente rudimentar, uma mudança de paradigma em certos projetos, entre os quais o documentário evidentemente figura como um dos maiores beneficiários.

Nossa Escola de Samba está entre os curtas selecionados para a composição do Brasil Verdade de Thomaz Farkas, e se relaciona com os demais componentes da antologia (Memórias do Cangaço, Subterrâneos do Futebol and Viramundo) por meio da intertextualidade que os curtas possuem na discussão sobre os aspectos políticos, sociais e culturais do Brasil naquele momento do pós-golpe militar de 1964. Originalmente rodados em bitola 16mm, os curtas foram ampliados para 35mm no processo de elaboração do longa.
Informações acerca de Manuel Horácio Gimenez, argentino escolhido por Farkas para dirigir Nossa Escola de Samba, são pouco numerosas e relativamente esparsas. Seus créditos anteriores o apontam como co-roteirista ou diretor de segunda unidade em produções argentinas como Tire dié (1958), La primera fundación de Buenos Aires (1959) e Los inundados (1962). Nossa Escola de Samba (e Brasil Verdade, por extensão) parece ter sido sua única contribuição significativa para o cinema brasileiro (o que, apesar da quantidade unitária, não é pouca coisa). Um cineasta argentino à frente de um documentário sobre o carnaval carioca pode parecer uma escolha inusitada, mas ainda que Nossa Escola de Samba potencialmente corresse o risco de resultar em um olhar acerca de tal fenômeno filtrado por um distanciamento frio causado pela barreira geográfica, o que se vê no produto final é justamente o contrário. O distanciamento talvez até esteja lá, mas de frio não tem nada: Gimenez se envereda pelo ambiente de seu documentário com olhos livres e sede de compreensão daquele universo, e com uma atenção para detalhes que talvez um cineasta brasileiro não possuísse por já estar mais ou menos familiarizado com aquela manifestação cultural.

O curta acompanha a preparação de um ano para o desfile de carnaval do Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Unidos de Vila Isabel, e é alicerçado quase que como texto-fonte nos depoimentos de Antônio Fernandes da Silveira, o “China”, um dos sócios-fundadores da agremiação (também retratado no filme, e cuja fala funciona como narração em off durante toda a sua extensão). A câmera de Gimenez adentra o cotidiano do morro do Pau da Bandeira, onde vivia uma parte majoritária dos participantes da Escola, e investiga a vida de certo estrato social brasileiro utilizando a comunidade como microcosmo e as mudanças na rotina promovidas pelos preparos para o carnaval como fio condutor. O cineasta argentino resume, dizendo que “vemos no filme como é a vida no morro e como ela se transforma à medida que chega a época do carnaval. Acompanhamos o desfile da Escola na Avenida em todos os detalhes e o filme termina com os participantes voltando ao trabalho cotidiano, uma vez terminada a festa. A imagem e o som direto conseguem captar os personagens com muita naturalidade em seus ambientes cotidianos e suas expressões musicais autênticas”.4
“Florinda é nossa porta-bandeira”, diz China, em i, sobre as imagens do primeiro ensaio capturado pelas câmeras, “trabalha numa fábrica de tecidos. E os outros componentes, a maior parte são pedreiros, eletricistas, empregadas domésticas; outro é até motorista; pintores tem uma porção. Até a Ana Lúcia – a filha do "Suco", a mais novinha – já tá pensando em trabalhar. Suco é mecânico, e vem me chamar todo dia de manhã, pra gente descer junto pro trabalho”. Já nos primeiros momentos do filme, o casamento das imagens (que mostram o vívido ensaio entoado pelo samba-enredo que a Escola escolhera para apresentar ante o Theatro Municipal) com o som apresentam o contraste entre a vida profissional cotidiana do povo retratado com o momento em que sua labuta diária é como que suspensa para segundo plano, para dar lugar aos esforços para o carnaval.

A celebração popular é existente enquanto uma força coletiva da comunidade, que mobiliza esforços de todos os setores e os une em prol de um objetivo geral (segundo China, “quando começam os ensaios, o samba é um micróbio pra nós”). Os preparativos já ocorrem desde o mês de outubro – seis meses antes do carnaval – quando os ensaios para o desfile tem início na quadra esportiva local. No entanto, em momento algum a população é colocada como uma massa amorfa e uníssona. Atestando a diversidade dentro da organização, é possível selecionar sequências como a que “China” explica, em dado momento, que “a maior parte das alas vem de cima do morro, porque o pessoal do morro tem mais gabarito, já sabe fazer revolução, conhece mais o que é samba; o crioulo tem mais sangue, samba mesmo é do preto, mas tem branco que não fica pra trás”.

Gimenez não perde a oportunidade de, em meio às irresistíveis imagens carnavalescas que registram o aspecto coletivo do ensaio, ceder uma fração de tais sequências para pequenos momentos de ternura individual: durante a narração em off na qual China descreve as ocupações profissionais daqueles presentes no ensaio, por exemplo, a montagem intercala um plano da filha de “Suco”, dançando e cantando em meio ao ensaio, com um de seu pai, observando à distância com os olhos marejados em sua vigilância paternal.
Essa lógica estabelecida de maneira simples e orgânica – a de justapor o pessoal e o grupal, o rotineiro e o extraordinário – serve como base para todo o filme; Gimenez parece querer de fato expor o dia a dia dos habitantes do morro do Pau da Bandeira, em detrimento de focar exclusivamente no que é relativo ao carnaval. Ao captar uma manhã na comunidade, mostra problemas enfrentados pelas favelas, como a falta d’água, na mesma medida em que dá espaço para imagens tenras como crianças comendo à mesa. Nesse sentido, o olhar de Gimenez, curioso e genuíno em seu carinho, para com o morro do Pau da Bandeira mostra-se de fato muito mais similar ao de um Rio, 40 Graus de Nelson Pereira do que, por exemplo, dos posteriores favela movies da retomada e da pós-retomada do cinema brasileiro5, com sua “cosmética da fome”6 que utilizava as favelas como pouco mais do que um pano de fundo para uma estilização exploitation.

Mesmo quando o foco é, a rigor, a preparação para o desfile de carnaval, Nossa Escola de Samba faz questão de dar sequência aos ensaios com o que acontece após o término dos mesmos: os trabalhadores do carnaval relaxam, tomam uma cerveja, fumam um cigarro, conversam em clima de informalidade; vendedores ambulantes circulam pelo terreiro, casais namoram, vizinhas fofocam, um ou outro bamba circula de terno e camisa engomada, e China explica as diversas frentes de arrecadação empreendidas pela Escola para tornar seu carnaval financeiramente viável.
Gimenez segue de maneira cronológica os preparativos propriamente ditos: os primeiros ensaios; as idas ao Theatro Municipal para o acerto de questões de ordem mais burocrática; a construção dos carros alegóricos nos barracões; a moldagem artesanal de figuras de barro; os sorteios para a delegação de determinadas responsabilidades; a preparação dos figurinos pelas costureiras; a pintura dos cenários. Quanto mais o carnaval se aproxima, mais visível se torna, na prática, a fala de China que referencia o festejo como um “micróbio” que cativa a todos no morro do Pau da Bandeira: quando é anunciado pelo filme que faltam dois meses para o desfile, se inicia o som, ainda em off, de uma batucada que pode ser confundida facilmente pelo espectador com aquela presente nas sequências anteriores, que mostram os ensaios na quadra esportiva. No entanto, logo é revelado que a manifestação é completamente espontânea: em um pátio entre as casas, moradores batucam em pandeiros ou mesmo em latas de tinta; cantam em coro, distribuídos em roda, enquanto ao centro homens, mulheres e crianças ingressam na dança. Em um botequim ao pé do morro (que Gimenez retrata com riqueza de detalhes capaz de imergir completamente o espectador que porventura seja aficionado pela cerveja, pela música e pela conversa), o samba escolhido pelos populares como favorito é cantado nas mesas e embalado por triângulos, batidas na madeira ou em caixas de fósforo – que, na mão de sambistas, são instrumentos tradicionais para o gênero musical. Em uma fusão extremamente natural e por isso mesmo digna de nota, a música passa a ser entoada por um coro de vozes femininas quando o filme deixa o bar e retorna aos ensaios gerais.

Quase tão apoteótico quando desfile final é o momento que o antecede, quando a população do morro do Pau da Bandeira ganha o asfalto e chega ao centro do Rio de Janeiro, compondo os blocos de rua com um fogo e uma animação que, em poucos minutos, sintetizam o que há de verdadeiro e popular no carnaval dos blocos. É possível notar que o derradeiro desfile, à parte da mudança de locação e da presença dos figurinos completos, em pouco se diferencia dos ensaios retratados anteriormente: o clima estabelecido pelo cineasta e pelos que ali estão sendo documentados é o mesmo, colocando em par de igualdade e importância, filmicamente, os ensaios e o resultado final. Nossa Escola de Samba, aliás, já representa um carnaval de outro tempo, de outra época, em que os desfiles de carnaval no Rio de Janeiro eram realizados no centro da cidade, para todo o povo ver: o Sambódromo da Marquês de Sapucaí, onde são realizados os desfiles atualmente, só seria criado em 1984, anos depois dos eventos capturados por Gimenez. Com um tom que transparece orgulho em sua voz, findo o desfile, China revela que a Unidos de Vila Isabel conquistara o vice-campeonato da segunda categoria na competição entre escolas, “e agora, com a primeira colocada, deixamos a segunda categoria e poderemos desfilar na Presidente Vargas7. Ano que vem, estaremos entre Mangueira, Portela... entre as grandes escolas”.
Após o triunfo da vitória, o morro do Pau da Bandeira retorna ao cotidiano que impera entre o fevereiro pós-carnaval e o outubro que antecede a próxima festa. Gimenez retrata uma manhã posterior à conquista: China olha a cidade do alto, de sua janela. Vozes fora de tela (o som in loco, cortesia dos modernos equipamentos importados por Thomaz Farkas, captura com ouvidos atentos a paisagem sonora do morro) cantam o samba Opinião, de Zé Kéti8 (“falem de mim quem quiser falar / aqui eu não pago aluguel / e se eu morrer amanhã, seu doutor / estou pertinho do céu”). Em algum lugar à distância, cachorros latem. Meninos uniformizados vão à escola, a mãe de Ana Lúcia – a filha de Suco, que tivera um lampejo de destaque no primeiro ensaio registrado pelo filme – acorda a menina. O próprio Suco toma café enquanto observa o movimento do morro. As pessoas do Pau da Bandeira continuam a cantar Opinião (“Podem me prender / podem me bater / podem até deixar-me sem comer / que eu não mudo de opinião / daqui do morro, eu não saio não”). Homens e mulheres descem para trabalhar e ganhar o pão. Enquanto o coro infantil repete o fim do refrão do samba de Zé Kéti, até suas vozes sumirem em fade out, o Sol vai subindo e dando início a mais um dia. O morro do Pau da Bandeira, mesmo fora da temporada carnavalesca, ainda é puro samba – ou talvez o samba seja puro morro do Pau da Bandeira. O povo é inalienável da celebração popular que é o carnaval, pois é ele o principal componente do DNA da festa; sem ele, o carnaval não acontece. Nossa Escola de Samba é uma joia subestimada do cinema brasileiro e um dos filmes definitivos sobre uma das maiores celebrações do planeta.
1. Filme inacabado rodado parcialmente por Orson Welles no México e sobretudo no Brasil. Financiado pela RKO, “It’s All True” foi descontinuado devido a uma série de problemas durante suas filmagens, desde a acidental morte de um dos jangadeiros que protagonizaria um dos segmentos do longa até a interferência do Departamento de Imprensa e Propaganda do governo de Getúlio Vargas. Os negativos originais foram tomados pela RKO e tidos como perdidos por décadas, até que foram parcialmente reencontrados e editados em um filme-tributo a Welles (“It’s All True”, lançado na década de 1990).

2. Para mais detalhes sobre o envolvimento de Welles com Grande Otelo, verCABRAL, Sergio: Grande Otelo, uma biografia. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2007, p. 83-93.

3. Ver ROCHA, Glauber: Revisão Crítica do Cinema Brasileiro. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003.

4. O trecho reproduzido integra uma citação atribuída a Gimenez em um cartaz de “Nossa Escola de Samba”, disponível em reprodução digital em: < thomazfarkas.com/filmes/nossa-escola-de-samba >.

5. “Retomada” é o nome utilizado para designar um período deflagrado em meados da década de 1990, no qual, por meio do estabelecimento de editais e de novas leis de incentivo, o cinema brasileiro voltou a ter números substanciais na produção cinematográfica após anos de escassez causados pela extinção, pelo governo Fernando Collor de Mello, da Embrafilme – produtora e distribuidora de capital misto, fundada em parceria entre os cinemanovistas e o governo militar, em 1969, e desativada em 1990. “Carlota Joaquina, Princesa do Brasil” (Carla Camurati, 1995) é tido como marco-zero da Retomada. Lato sensu, o “pós-retomada” representaria a década de 2000, tendo como expoentes significativos filmes como “Amarelo Manga” (Cláudio Assis, 2002), “Cidade Baixa” (Sérgio Machado, 2005), etc.

6. O termo, cunhado pela pesquisadora Ivana Bentes como uma antítese para a “estética da fome” de Glauber Rocha, foi popularizado a travésde uma crítica de Cleber Eduardo para “Cidade de Deus” (Fernando Meirelles e Kátia Lund, 2002) na Revista Época, disponível em: < revistaepoca.globo.com/Epoca/0,6993,EPT373958-1661,00.html >.

7. A avenida Presidente Vargas é a principal via urbana do centro do Rio de Janeiro.

8. José Flores de Jesus, o Zé Kéti, foi um dos compositores mais importantes da história do samba. Integrante da escola GRES Portela, suas canções foram gravadas pela cantora bossanovista Nara Leão e incorporadas como um dos pilares para o espetáculo teatral “Opinião”, em 1964 – um dos grandes marcos da resistência cultural à ditadura militar brasileira durante seus primeiros anos. Amigo de Nelson Pereira dos Santos, sua composição “A Voz do Morro”, em versão com arranjos orquestrados, está presente na abertura de “Rio, 40 Graus”. Aparece, como ator ou músico, em outros filmes que orbitam o universo do Cinema Novo, como “Boca de Ouro” (1963), também de Nelson Pereira, ou “O Desafio” (1965), de Paulo Cesar Saraceni. Após seu falecimento, foi objeto de um curta-metragem em formato de tributo dirigido por Nelson Pereira dos Santos, o “Meu Compadre Zé Kéti” (2000).
There are films which capture the true spirit of big cities beyond the stereotypical images that can be found in tourism ads. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, it is particularly difficult to break away from the mythical land which, for decades, had André Filho’s carnaval march Cidade Maravilhosa as its unofficial (and now official) anthem. The iconography of Rio de Janeiro, relying on immediately recognizable tourist attractions such as Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, has been reproduced in interior sets for the black-and-white musical comedies known as chanchadas; its avenues, squares and five-star hotels have been avidly exploited in gorgeous Hollywood technicolor, and it has been personified, internationally, by “ambassadors” as great as Carmen Miranda and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Such is the Rio which is sold for Brazil and the whole world, but anyone truly willing to find out what is behind the façade knows that ever since the samba is the samba,1 there has always been more.
When Orson Welles was exported to Rio by the American “Good Neighborhood policy” to film the carnaval and embed it in his documentary project “It’s All True”2,  his chaperone from the local financial elite was poet and diplomat Vinicus de Moraes. But during his trip it was actor Grande Otelo3  who struck him the most. Otelo took him up the hills to find “the real Rio”, that of the black and mestizo people who might be bohemians but are always hard-working, the Rio of marginalized populations who are the true authors of popular festivities, which official powers are always trying to tame and claim for themselves. Welles found out that the people of Rio de Janeiro (and the real Carnaval, organized by them) was far beyond the color footage he shot at the Cinédia studios.
According to records we now have access to, we can say the closest that “real Rio” had ever come of being portrayed by Brazilian cinema until then was in veteran director Humberto Mauro’s 1935 Favela dos meus amores (considered a lost film). More than a decade after the director of Citizen Kane was in Brazil, Nelson Pereira dos Santos would expose the social and urban contrasts of the “cidade maravilhosa” in his 1955 Rio, 40 Graus - which broke so much new ground that it was subjected to censorship by the Rio de Janeiro state police. The film was only allowed exhibition after an intense campaign in its favor by the intelligentsia and the press. In many ways, Nossa Escola de Samba, a 28-minute 1965 film directed and edited by Manuel Horácio Gimenez, is one more step in the path taken by Humberto Mauro, Orson Welles, and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. In many ways, the film even surpasses them, as it benefitted from a key aspect of the zeitgeist of 1960s Brazilian cinema: social documentaries.
That approach is one of the foundations of the first phase of Cinema Novo, although it is not limited to that movement. Social documentaries were being made by both auteurs and artisans (according to the categories utilized by Glauber Rocha4). To summarize, we can cite 1960s Brazilian social documentaries films such as Linduarte Noronha’s Aruanda (1960), Paulo Cezar Saraceni’s Arraial do Cabo (1960), Geraldo Sarno’s Viramundo (1965), Glauber Rocha’s Maranhão 66 (1966) and Arnaldo Jabor’s A Opinião Pública (1967). Even fictional films (affiliated to Cinema Novo or otherwise), such as the anthology Cinco Vezes Favela (1962), produced by Centro Popular de Cultura da União Nacional dos Estudantes, or the Swedish-Brazilian co-production Mitt hem är Copacabana (1965), are clearly influenced by social documentaries, although they are also deeply influenced by the fictional Rio, 40 Graus (which may itself be responsible for some tendencies of the social documentaries of the 1960s).
Nossa Escola de Samba, however, is closer to 1960s social documentaries. The key figure behind the film is Thomaz Farkas, a man who played a fundamental role in the development of Brazilian social documentaries and the history of Brazilian cinema. As a cinematographer, producer and director, the Hungarian-Brazilian filmmaker built an extensive filmography and was responsible for the anthology film Brasil Verdade (1968) - which cobbled together short films produced by him and was made thanks to his efforts to import equipment that could record direct sound. Up until then, most Brazilian films were dubbed in studios, and the new possibility of direct sound recording allowed for certain projects to change paradigms, among which documentaries evidently benefitted the most.
Nossa Escola de Samba is among the shorts selected to integrate Thomaz Farkas’ Brasil Verdade, and it relates to the other episodes of the anthology (Memória do Cangaço, Subterrâneos do Futebol and Viramundo) because all of the shorts discuss political, social and cultural aspects of Brazil at the time following the 1964 military coup. Originally shot on 16mm, the shorts were blown up to 35mm for the feature film.
There is little information regarding Manuel Horácio Gimenez, the Argentinian chosen by Farkas to direct Nossa Escola de Samba. His previous credits include co-writer or second unit director in Argentinian films such as Tiré Dié (1958), La primera fundación de Buenos Aires (1959) and Los Inundados (1962), all directed by Fernando Birri. Nossa Escola de Samba (and, by extension, Brasil Verdade) is seemingly his only significant contribution to Brazilian cinema. An Argentinian filmmaker heading a documentary about the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro might seem like an unusual choice, but, even with the potential for Nossa Escola de Samba to result in something coldly seen from afar due to the geographical barrier, the final product is exactly the opposite. While the distant point of view may be there, it is not cold in the slightest: Gimenez wanders through the environment with free eyes and eager to understand the Carnaval universe, paying attention to details which a Brazilian filmmaker might ignore due to a relative familiarity with Carnaval.
The short film follows the year-long preparation for the Carnaval parade of the Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Unidos de Vila Isabel, and is structured around interviews with Antônio Fernandes da Silveira, a.k.a. “China”, one of the founding members of that group (he also appears in the film, and his speech works as an off-screen narration throughout). Gimenez’s camera enters the daily lives of those living on the Pau da Bandeira hill, home to the members of Escola Vila Isabel, and it investigates the life of a certain social stratus in Brazil, taking that community as a microcosm and focusing on how their routines change while preparing for the carnaval. The Argentinian filmmaker summarizes this by saying "in the film, we get a glimpse of life in a favela and how it transforms as the Carnaval approaches. We follow Vila Isabel’s Carnaval parade in richness of detail, then the film ends with its members going back to their daily jobs once the party is over. The image and direct sound were able to capture the characters naturally in their daily environment, and with their authentic musical expression."5
“Florinda is our flag-bearer”, says “China”, off-screen, as we watch the first rehearsal, “she works in a cloth factory. And the other members are mostly bricklayers, electricians, cleaning women; there’s also a driver; and many are painters. Even Ana Lúcia - Suco’s youngest daughter - is thinking of finding a job. Suco is a mechanic, and he comes by every morning to call me so we can walk together to where we work.” In the first moments of the film, the images (showing the vivid rehearsal at the Municipal Theater) aligned with the sound (of the samba-enredo chosen by the Escola) present the contrast between professional life and daily life for those people, in a moment when their daily toil is suspended to give way for Carnaval work.
The popular celebration is made possible when a collective force, uniting every sector, comes together to reach a common goal (according to 'China', “once the rehearsals start, samba is like a microbe to us”). Preparation starts in October, six months prior to Carnaval, when rehearsing for the parade begins in the local sports court. However, the locals are never portrayed as amorphous or homogeneous. To exemplify the diversity of the organization, we can point to the scene where China explains that, “most of the members come from uphill [the favelas], because they’re more skilled, they’re more familiar with samba; Black people have got samba in their blood, it is theirs, but some white folk are a decent match”.
Gimenez takes an opportunity, amidst irresistible imagery of the collective aspects of the Carnaval rehearsals, to focus on little individual tender moments: while China names the professional activities of the people rehearsing, a shot of Suco’s daughter dancing and singing, followed by her father watching her with affection.
Such logic - of juxtaposing individual and collective aspects - is established organically, and the whole film is based on it; Gimenez wants to show us the daily lives of the dwellers of the Pau da Bandeira hill, instead of focusing exclusively on matters of the Carnaval. As we witness a morning in the favela, we are shown problems faced by those who live there, such as water shortage. But the film also takes its time to portray tender images of children eating at the table. Gimenez’s gaze, genuinely curious and affectionate, is closer to Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Rio, 40 Graus, than, for instance, the later wave of favela movies made during and following the Retomada,6 with their “cosmetics of hunger”7, which saw the favelas as little more than a background for stylized exploitation films.
Even when the focus is, strictly speaking, on preparation for the Carnaval parade, Nossa Escola de Samba makes a point of following up the rehearsals with what happens after they are over: the workers relax, have a beer, smoke a cigarette, chat; street vendors walk around, couples date, neighbors gossip, the musicians stroll around in suits and starched shirts, and China explains the various fundraising fronts undertaken by the School to make its Carnaval financially viable.
Gimenez follows the preparations in a chronological manner: the first rehearsals, the trips to the Theatro Municipal to settle issues of a more bureaucratic nature, the construction of the floats in the sheds, the handmade molding of clay figures, the delegation of responsibilities, the preparation of the costumes by the seamstresses, and the painting of the scenery. The closer Carnaval is, the more China’s words are proven to be true, when he referred to the celebration as a "microbe" which infects everyone in the Pau da Bandeira hill. When the film announces that the parade is two months away, we hear drums beating, which the audience might mistake for that of a drum in the previous sequences which show the rehearsals in the sports court. However, it is soon revealed that the drum beating is completely spontaneous: in a courtyard between the houses, residents drum on tambourines or even on paint cans; they sing in chorus, in a circle in the center of which men, women, and children join in the dance. In a bar at the foot of the hill (which Gimenez explores in richness of detail), the song chosen by the people as their favorite is sung and rocked by triangles, beats on wood or matchboxes - which are traditional samba instruments. In a very natural and noteworthy shift, the song transitions to a choir of female voices, as we leave the bar and return to the general rehearsals.
Nearly as quintessential as the final parade is the moment that precedes it, as the dwellers of Pau da Bandeira hill conquer the asphalt and go to downtown Rio to join the street blocos8 with such enthusiasm that, in just a few minutes, they synthesize what is true and popular in the carnival of the blocos. The final parade, despite the different location and the costumes, differs little from the rehearsals: the mood is the same. This, for the film, allows us to understand that the rehearsals and the parade are equally important. Nossa Escola de Samba features a Carnaval from a different time, when parades were held in downtown Rio, for all to see: the Marquês de Sapucaí Sambodrome, their current location, was built decades later, in 1984. Once the parade is over, China says, noticeably proud, that Unidos de Vila Isabel School finished second in the second tier of the competition, “so now, we and the first place, leave the second tier. Now, we’re going to parade at Presidente Vargas Avenue.9 Next year we’ll be among the greatest: Mangueira, Portela…”.
After their triumph, Pau da Bandeira hill goes back to their daily lives, until next October. Gimenez shows us the following morning: China looks down at the city from his window. Off-screen people (the direct sound, made possible by the modern equipment imported by Thomaz Farkas, attentively records that favela’s soundscape) sing Zé Keti’s10 samba Opinião (“fale de mim quem quiser falar / aqui eu não pago aluguel / e se eu morrer amanhã, seu doutor / estou pertinho do céu”11). Somewhere in the distance, dogs bark. Boys in uniforms walk to school; the mother of Ana Lúcia (Suco’s daughter), highlighted in the first rehearsal, wakes her daughter up. Suco drinks coffee as he watches people go by. The people go on singing Opinião (“Podem me prender / podem me bater / podem até deixar-me sem comer / que eu não mudo de opinião / daqui do morro, eu não saio não”12). Men and women go downhill to work and earn their daily bread. The chorus of Opinião goes on, until the voices fade out. The sun goes up as another day begins. Pau da Bandeira hill is pure samba, even if Carnaval is over. Or maybe samba is pure Pau da Bandeira hill. The people are inseparable from their party, Carnaval, as they are the main component of the very DNA of Carnaval; without the people, it simply doesn’t happen. Nossa Escola de Samba is an underrated gem of Brazilian cinema and one of the definitive films on one of the greatest events on the planet.
1. Reference to a Caetano Veloso song. Meaning “always”.

2. Unfinished film partially shot in Mexico and Brazil by Orson Welles. An RKO production, It’s All True was canceled due to problems such as the accidental death of a fisherman who starred in one of the film’s episodes, and the interference of Getúlio Vargas’ administration via the Department of Press and Propaganda. The original negatives were seized by RKO and considered lost for decades, until part of them was found and edited into a 1993 documentary about the project also named It’s All True (Wilson, Krohn & Meisel, 1993).

3. See CABRAL, Sergio: Grande Otelo, uma biografia. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2007, p. 83-93.

4. See ROCHA, Glauber: Revisão Crítica do Cinema Brasileiro. SãoPaulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003.

5. From a quote attributed to Gimenez on a poster of the film. Digitally reproduced here: < thomazfarkas.com/filmes/nossa-escola-de-samba >.

6. “Retomada” refers to the period in the 1990s when, via grants and new culture incentive laws, Brazilian cinema resumed a steady production rhythm after years of scarcity caused by the dissolution of Embrafilme, the mixed funding state-owned film production and distribution company founded in 1969 by the military government in a partnership with Cinema Novo filmmakers, and dissolved in 1990. Carlota Joaquina, the Princess of Brazil (Carla Camurati, 1995) is regarded as the starting point of the Retomada era. “Post-Retomada” loosely refers to the 2000s, with significant landmarks such as Amarelo Manga (Cláudio Asssis, 2002) and Cidade Baixa (Sérgio Machado, 2005).

7. The term “cosmetics of hunger” was coined by researcher Ivana Bentes, as the antithesis to Glauber Rocha’s aesthetics of hunger, and popularized by critic Cleber Eduardo when he reviewed City of God (Fernando Meirelles e Kátia Lund, 2002) for Época Magazine.

8. Informal groups that dance and party in the streets during Carnaval.

9. The main street of downtown Rio de Janeiro.

10. José Flores de Jesus, better known as Zé Kéti, was among the most important samba composers in history. He was a member of Portela samba school. His songs were recorded by bossa nova singer Nara Leão, and they served as the basis for the 1964 theater play Opinião - one of the early landmarks of cultural opposition to the military dictatorship. An orchestral rendition of his song A Voz do Morro was the opening theme of Rio, 40 Graus (1955), directed by his friend Nelson Pereira dos Santos. He appeared in other Cinema Novo films such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Boca de Ouro (1963) and Paulo Cézar Saraceni’s O Desafio (1965). After his death in 1999, Nelson Pereira dos Santos made a short film as a tribute to him, Meu Compadre Zé Keti (2000).

11. “Let they talk about me/ Here I pay no rent/ And if I die tomorrow, mister/ I’m so close to heaven already”

12. They can arrest me/ They can beat me up/ They can even starve me/ I won’t change my opinion/ I won’t leave the favela”
Salvador:  1950s-1960s
Despite all the improvements in the methodology of historical research related to film history, it has become common for approaches to cling to certain biases, whether thematically or spatially, which shape the way historical processes are interpreted. With Brazilian cinema, this has been no different. Even though Jean Claude Bernardet questioned founding myths in the 1990s, we seem to still believe them. We continue to establish hierarchizing causality relations which may hinder us from developing new points of view when writing about the history of Brazilian film. As a result, objects and subjects which could be considered more central in the canon by researchers become “blindspots”.
There are many examples, but in this text we will focus on the filmography made in the state of Bahia during the 1950s and 1960s. Part of it, such as the films of Alexandre Robatto Filho, remains relatively unknown1, while other films, especially those made between 1959 and 1964, are considered nothing but a path to the Cinema Novo movement. This is mainly due to the presence of Glauber Rocha.
The period between 1959 and 1964 is referred to as “the Bahian cycle”, the name emphasizes the ephemeral nature of Brazilian film production, especially those not based in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. This period is also referred to as the “Bahian New Wave”, which stresses its connection to New Cinemas that were developing around that time, mainly in Europe. The Bahian cycle took place in Salvador, Bahia’s capital city, effectively inscribing it in a context of intense intellectual and artistic production, not only with respect to film, but also visual arts, literature, music, theater, and even the structure of daily college life, with the creation of the University of Bahia.
We should also stress the importance of the creation of the Clube de Cinema da Bahia (Bahia Film Club), in 1950, spearheaded by film critic and lawyer Walter da Silveira, who also became its programmer. The existence of this film club made it possible for the Bahian film scene to organize, and, according to Veruska Silva, from then on Salvador saw the...
...formation of a sensibility to reflection and/or participatingin implemented or desired change, which made it a singular, memorableexperience for so many people. It was also at the Clube de Cinema that thepossibility of making film a vehicle for thought, expression, creativity andwork became a concrete option for many cultural agents in Salvador (2010, p. 48).
Between 1959 and 1964, fifteen films were made in Bahia. In many ways,  filmmakers were searching to present images on screen that were deemed fundamental to Bahian culture and society2. During this period, there was an ongoing debate about what these features precisely were in the fields of the social sciences and arts, reflecting how filmmakers, intellectuals, visual artists and writers systematically cared about issues relating to Bahia’s cultural formation.
We can point to literary works during this time period such as those by João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Adonias Filho, Sônia Coutinho, in addition to Jorge Amado (who had been writing since the 1930s) which look closely at the daily lives of commonfolk via characters who were fishermen, prostitutes, street urchins, dock workers, yalorixás, market traders, union men, Native Brazilians, and poor black, white and mestizo people. In addition, since the 1950s, Milton Santos, Thales de Azevedo and Vivaldo da Costa Lima had been conducting research about Bahian society. They observed, among other issues, the complexity of racial relations and social hierarchies in a state with a predominantly black population.
Lastly, Mário Cravo Jr, Pierre Verger, Carybé and Rubem Valentim dealt with the aesthetic impact of Afro-Brazilian religions, creating a novel visual identity based on that new referential which visual arts resignified. There were also the incursions of architect Lina Bo Bardi working on the Museu de Arte Popular da Bahia (Bahia Popular Art Museum) and the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (Bahia Museum of Modern Art) which shared that interest, as hinted by their very names. It is in this cultural melting pot that we can locate filmmakers, artists, and intellectuals from Bahia and other parts of Brazil, and also Trigueirinho Neto and his film Bahia de todos os santos.
Bahia de todos os santos, the disenchantment of Bahia
On June 30, 1959 Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes wrote a letter of introduction for Trigueirinho Neto to Walter da Silveira, in which he briefly mentioned Trigueirinho’s interest in shooting a film in Bahia, as well as his formation in Rome’s Experimental Film Centre. According to Maria do Socorro Carvalho, (2002, page 100) Trigueirinho was in Salvador since February, working on Bahia de todos os santos, but he was initially seen with suspicion by Bahian filmmakers. However, this changed after the local filmmaking community had the opportunity to see his (now lost) short Nasce um mercado at the Bahia Film Club.
From then on, his upcoming film was met with high expectations. Between November 1959 and February 1960, catching the attention of film critics and the Bahian film scene. By then, Redenção (1959), Pátio (1959) and Um dia na rampa (1959) had already been completed and shown publicly.
In the guise of a preamble, the opening credits of Trigueirinho’s film are imposed on a map of Bahia highlighting the Bay of All Saints (Baía de Todos os Santos), a geographical accident around which Salvador and the Recôncavo Baiano region were settled. As it was one of the first regions to be occupied in colonial times, to this day the Bay accounts for the most common images used to identify Salvador, -the blue sea, the Lacerda elevator, the ramp of the Mercado Modelo, the houses of the old downtown region and the mostly black population walking around. It is also where a significant portion of the film takes place.
Following the map, but still during the opening credits, we see many schooners tied to the shore at the ramp of Mercado Modelo and workers unloading the merchandise brought from towns all over the Recôncavo onto the street markets. This is a fictional film, but those two opening minutes are imbued with a documentary quality which directly relates to Luiz Paulino dos Santos’ documentary Um dia na rampa, about a day in the life of workers at that same place. That very environment with intense circulation of goods and people is where we first meet our protagonist, Tônio (Jurandir Pimentel). Skinny, shirtless and sitting on a barrel, seemingly oblivious to the world around him, he conveys his anguish and relative isolation due to his racial and economic situation. Then, he notices the presence of a well-dressed man in a light suit and carrying a pocket watch. So, he follows the man and steals his watch, bringing an end to the preamble.
From then on, we follow Tônio as he walks through the Comércio neighborhood (which is undergoing a renovation) and a cut takes us to an unspecified beach where he meets his friends, Pitanga (Antônio Sampaio), Manuel (Geraldo Del Rey), Matias (Eduardo Waddington), Neco (Francisco Contreiras) and Crispim (probably Nelson Lana). There they hide from the police, where they receive and handle smuggled goods and the outcomes of petty thefts.

There they also discuss, for the first time, themes that are dealt with throughout the film: the hardships and limitations of living in an impoverished city, with few job opportunities often relegated to those with the right connections, and the ambiguity in their desire to go down to Southwest Brazil in the hopes of finding better life conditions.
Not much later, far from downtown Salvador, we are amongst dunes and coconut trees, an image that is recurring in Alexandre Robatto Filho’s films Entre o Mar e o Tendal (1953) and Xaréu (1954). There, a mounted police troop swiftly rides to a fishing community, right when a Candomblé ceremony is taking place. The policemen, still on horseback, stampede toward the population, destroying the pejís where the symbols of the orixás were placed, set fire to the house, threaten to arrest the yalorixá, Mother Sabina, and force the women to carry what is left of the religious symbols to a police post, in a sort of funeral parade which goes by Tônio as he makes his way to the village.
With his arrival, we find out that Mother Sabina is his paternal grandmother, that his mother is sick and his father abandoned them, and even though Tônio wants to get closer to them, the two women shun him, as if he didn’t belong there. This is the reason for his isolation - being a mestizo, he is too white for his mother and grandmother, and too black for what scarce job opportunity the city has to offer. Lacking a permanent home, he spends his time at Pitanga’s mother’s, or at the Englishwoman’s (Lola Brah) - a foreigner with whom he has a turbulent affair - in Neco and Alice’s (Arassary de Oliveira) room, or at the beach hideout. Even though all the other characters have family or acquaintances to turn to, the film mainly takes place on the streets.
In one of Tônio’s visits to Pitanga’s mother, there is a dialogue regarding a strike at the docks in which Pedro, Pitanga’s brother, is involved. He is killed after killing a police officer and because Pitanga tries to help him he needs to hide from the police. Tônio steals some money from the Englishwoman to help in the escape of the union men, who successfully flee when police take down the strike. When Tônio breaks up with the Englishwoman, she denounces him to the police. He is arrested but refuses to tell on the fugitives. It is important to stress that the persecution to Mother Sabina’s Candomblé house and the dockworkers’ struggle to unionize are hints to the film taking place during the Estado Novo (1937-1945), specifying the information from the first scene that it is set “a few years ago”.
After their triumph, Pau da Bandeira hill goes back to their daily lives, until next October. Gimenez shows us the following morning: China looks down at the city from his window. Off-screen people (the direct sound, made possible by the modern equipment imported by Thomaz Farkas, attentively records that favela’s soundscape) sing Zé Keti’s10 samba Opinião (“fale de mim quem quiser falar / aqui eu não pago aluguel / e se eu morrer amanhã, seu doutor / estou pertinho do céu”11). Somewhere in the distance, dogs bark. Boys in uniforms walk to school; the mother of Ana Lúcia (Suco’s daughter), highlighted in the first rehearsal, wakes her daughter up. Suco drinks coffee as he watches people go by. The people go on singing Opinião (“Podem me prender / podem me bater / podem até deixar-me sem comer / que eu não mudo de opinião / daqui do morro, eu não saio não”12). Men and women go downhill to work and earn their daily bread. The chorus of Opinião goes on, until the voices fade out. The sun goes up as another day begins. Pau da Bandeira hill is pure samba, even if Carnaval is over. Or maybe samba is pure Pau da Bandeira hill. The people are inseparable from their party, Carnaval, as they are the main component of the very DNA of Carnaval; without the people, it simply doesn’t happen. Nossa Escola de Samba is an underrated gem of Brazilian cinema and one of the definitive films on one of the greatest events on the planet.
1. For more information on Alexandre Robatto Filho, I recommend the master's dissertation and doctoral thesis of Ana Luísa Coimbra, respectively: Memória e imagens da Bahia no documentário de Alexandre Robatto Filho, defended in 2011 in the Graduate Program and Memory: Language and Society of the State University of Southwest Bahia and Rodar filmes, fazer cinema: Alexandre Robatto Filho e as imagens dos povos, defended in 2019 in the Graduate Program in Arts. School of Fine Arts, Federal University of Minas Gerais.  And also the book SETARO, André; UMBERTO, José. AAlexandre Robatto Filho: pioneiro do cinema baiano. Salvador: Cultural Foundation of the State of Bahia, 1992.

2. Redenção (1959), A Grande Feira (1961) and Tocaia no Asfalto (1962), by Roberto Pires; Pátio (1959), Cruz na Praça (unfinished) and Barravento (1962), by Glauber Rocha; Bahia de Todos os Santos (1960), by Trigueirinho Neto; Mandacaru Vermelho (1961), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos; O Pagador de Promessas (1962), by Anselmo Duarte; Senhor dos Navegantes (1964), by Aloísio T de Carvalho; A montanha dos sete ecos (1963) by Armando Miranda; O Caipora (1964) by Oscar Santana; Um dia na rampa (1959) by Luiz Paulino; Grito da terra (1964) by Olney São Paulo.
References:

BERNARDET, Jean Claude. Historiografia Clássica do Cinema Brasileiro: metodologia e pedagogia. 1ªedição.São Paulo: Annablume, 1995.

CARVALHO, Maria do Socorro. A nova onda baiana: cinema na Bahia (1958-1962). Salvador: EDUFBA, 2002.

GUSMÃO, Milene de Cássia Silveira. Dinâmicas do cinema no Brasil e na Bahia: trajetórias e práticas do século XX ao XXI. Tese de Doutorado. Universidade Federal da Bahia, Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Sociais: Salvador, 2007.

NOGUEIRA, Cyntia (org). Walter da Silveira e o cinema moderno no Brasil: críticas, artigos, cartas, documentos. Salvador: EDUFBA, 2020.

RUBINO, Silvana e GRINOVER, Marina (orgs). Lina por escrito. Textos escolhidos de Lina Bo Bardi. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2009.

SETARO, André. Panorama do cinema baiano. 2ªedição. Salvador. EGBA.

SILVA, Veruska Anacirema da. Memória e cultura: cinema e aprendizado de cineclubistas baianos dos anos 1950. Dissertação de Mestrado. Programa de Pós Graduação em Memória: Linguagem e Sociedade. Universidade Estadual do Sudoeste: Vitória da Conquista, 2010.

STAM, Robert. Multiculturalismo tropical: uma história comparativa da raça na cultura e no cinema brasileiros. São Paulo: EDUSP, 2008.
Such logic - of juxtaposing individual and collective aspects - is established organically, and the whole film is based on it; Gimenez wants to show us the daily lives of the dwellers of the Pau da Bandeira hill, instead of focusing exclusively on matters of the Carnaval. As we witness a morning in the favela, we are shown problems faced by those who live there, such as water shortage. But the film also takes its time to portray tender images of children eating at the table. Gimenez’s gaze, genuinely curious and affectionate, is closer to Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Rio, 40 Graus, than, for instance, the later wave of favela movies made during and following the Retomada,6 with their “cosmetics of hunger”7, which saw the favelas as little more than a background for stylized exploitation films.
There are films which capture the true spirit of big cities beyond the stereotypical images that can be found in tourism ads. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, it is particularly difficult to break away from the mythical land which, for decades, had André Filho’s carnaval march Cidade Maravilhosa as its unofficial (and now official) anthem. The iconography of Rio de Janeiro, relying on immediately recognizable tourist attractions such as Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, has been reproduced in interior sets for the black-and-white musical comedies known as chanchadas; its avenues, squares and five-star hotels have been avidly exploited in gorgeous Hollywood technicolor, and it has been personified, internationally, by “ambassadors” as great as Carmen Miranda and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Such is the Rio which is sold for Brazil and the whole world, but anyone truly willing to find out what is behind the façade knows that ever since the samba is the samba,1 there has always been more.
When Orson Welles was exported to Rio by the American “Good Neighborhood policy” to film the carnaval and embed it in his documentary project “It’s All True”2,  his chaperone from the local financial elite was poet and diplomat Vinicus de Moraes. But during his trip it was actor Grande Otelo3  who struck him the most. Otelo took him up the hills to find “the real Rio”, that of the black and mestizo people who might be bohemians but are always hard-working, the Rio of marginalized populations who are the true authors of popular festivities, which official powers are always trying to tame and claim for themselves. Welles found out that the people of Rio de Janeiro (and the real Carnaval, organized by them) was far beyond the color footage he shot at the Cinédia studios.
According to records we now have access to, we can say the closest that “real Rio” had ever come of being portrayed by Brazilian cinema until then was in veteran director Humberto Mauro’s 1935 Favela dos meus amores (considered a lost film). More than a decade after the director of Citizen Kane was in Brazil, Nelson Pereira dos Santos would expose the social and urban contrasts of the “cidade maravilhosa” in his 1955 Rio, 40 Graus - which broke so much new ground that it was subjected to censorship by the Rio de Janeiro state police. The film was only allowed exhibition after an intense campaign in its favor by the intelligentsia and the press. In many ways, Nossa Escola de Samba, a 28-minute 1965 film directed and edited by Manuel Horácio Gimenez, is one more step in the path taken by Humberto Mauro, Orson Welles, and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. In many ways, the film even surpasses them, as it benefitted from a key aspect of the zeitgeist of 1960s Brazilian cinema: social documentaries.
That approach is one of the foundations of the first phase of Cinema Novo, although it is not limited to that movement. Social documentaries were being made by both auteurs and artisans (according to the categories utilized by Glauber Rocha4). To summarize, we can cite 1960s Brazilian social documentaries films such as Linduarte Noronha’s Aruanda (1960), Paulo Cezar Saraceni’s Arraial do Cabo (1960), Geraldo Sarno’s Viramundo (1965), Glauber Rocha’s Maranhão 66 (1966) and Arnaldo Jabor’s A Opinião Pública (1967). Even fictional films (affiliated to Cinema Novo or otherwise), such as the anthology Cinco Vezes Favela (1962), produced by Centro Popular de Cultura da União Nacional dos Estudantes, or the Swedish-Brazilian co-production Mitt hem är Copacabana (1965), are clearly influenced by social documentaries, although they are also deeply influenced by the fictional Rio, 40 Graus (which may itself be responsible for some tendencies of the social documentaries of the 1960s).
Nossa Escola de Samba, however, is closer to 1960s social documentaries. The key figure behind the film is Thomaz Farkas, a man who played a fundamental role in the development of Brazilian social documentaries and the history of Brazilian cinema. As a cinematographer, producer and director, the Hungarian-Brazilian filmmaker built an extensive filmography and was responsible for the anthology film Brasil Verdade (1968) - which cobbled together short films produced by him and was made thanks to his efforts to import equipment that could record direct sound. Up until then, most Brazilian films were dubbed in studios, and the new possibility of direct sound recording allowed for certain projects to change paradigms, among which documentaries evidently benefitted the most.
Nossa Escola de Samba is among the shorts selected to integrate Thomaz Farkas’ Brasil Verdade, and it relates to the other episodes of the anthology (Memória do Cangaço, Subterrâneos do Futebol and Viramundo) because all of the shorts discuss political, social and cultural aspects of Brazil at the time following the 1964 military coup. Originally shot on 16mm, the shorts were blown up to 35mm for the feature film.
There is little information regarding Manuel Horácio Gimenez, the Argentinian chosen by Farkas to direct Nossa Escola de Samba. His previous credits include co-writer or second unit director in Argentinian films such as Tiré Dié (1958), La primera fundación de Buenos Aires (1959) and Los Inundados (1962), all directed by Fernando Birri. Nossa Escola de Samba (and, by extension, Brasil Verdade) is seemingly his only significant contribution to Brazilian cinema. An Argentinian filmmaker heading a documentary about the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro might seem like an unusual choice, but, even with the potential for Nossa Escola de Samba to result in something coldly seen from afar due to the geographical barrier, the final product is exactly the opposite. While the distant point of view may be there, it is not cold in the slightest: Gimenez wanders through the environment with free eyes and eager to understand the Carnaval universe, paying attention to details which a Brazilian filmmaker might ignore due to a relative familiarity with Carnaval.
The short film follows the year-long preparation for the Carnaval parade of the Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Unidos de Vila Isabel, and is structured around interviews with Antônio Fernandes da Silveira, a.k.a. “China”, one of the founding members of that group (he also appears in the film, and his speech works as an off-screen narration throughout). Gimenez’s camera enters the daily lives of those living on the Pau da Bandeira hill, home to the members of Escola Vila Isabel, and it investigates the life of a certain social stratus in Brazil, taking that community as a microcosm and focusing on how their routines change while preparing for the carnaval. The Argentinian filmmaker summarizes this by saying "in the film, we get a glimpse of life in a favela and how it transforms as the Carnaval approaches. We follow Vila Isabel’s Carnaval parade in richness of detail, then the film ends with its members going back to their daily jobs once the party is over. The image and direct sound were able to capture the characters naturally in their daily environment, and with their authentic musical expression."5
“Florinda is our flag-bearer”, says “China”, off-screen, as we watch the first rehearsal, “she works in a cloth factory. And the other members are mostly bricklayers, electricians, cleaning women; there’s also a driver; and many are painters. Even Ana Lúcia - Suco’s youngest daughter - is thinking of finding a job. Suco is a mechanic, and he comes by every morning to call me so we can walk together to where we work.” In the first moments of the film, the images (showing the vivid rehearsal at the Municipal Theater) aligned with the sound (of the samba-enredo chosen by the Escola) present the contrast between professional life and daily life for those people, in a moment when their daily toil is suspended to give way for Carnaval work.
The popular celebration is made possible when a collective force, uniting every sector, comes together to reach a common goal (according to 'China', “once the rehearsals start, samba is like a microbe to us”). Preparation starts in October, six months prior to Carnaval, when rehearsing for the parade begins in the local sports court. However, the locals are never portrayed as amorphous or homogeneous. To exemplify the diversity of the organization, we can point to the scene where China explains that, “most of the members come from uphill [the favelas], because they’re more skilled, they’re more familiar with samba; Black people have got samba in their blood, it is theirs, but some white folk are a decent match”.
Gimenez takes an opportunity, amidst irresistible imagery of the collective aspects of the Carnaval rehearsals, to focus on little individual tender moments: while China names the professional activities of the people rehearsing, a shot of Suco’s daughter dancing and singing, followed by her father watching her with affection.
Such logic - of juxtaposing individual and collective aspects - is established organically, and the whole film is based on it; Gimenez wants to show us the daily lives of the dwellers of the Pau da Bandeira hill, instead of focusing exclusively on matters of the Carnaval. As we witness a morning in the favela, we are shown problems faced by those who live there, such as water shortage. But the film also takes its time to portray tender images of children eating at the table. Gimenez’s gaze, genuinely curious and affectionate, is closer to Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Rio, 40 Graus, than, for instance, the later wave of favela movies made during and following the Retomada,6 with their “cosmetics of hunger”7, which saw the favelas as little more than a background for stylized exploitation films.
Even when the focus is, strictly speaking, on preparation for the Carnaval parade, Nossa Escola de Samba makes a point of following up the rehearsals with what happens after they are over: the workers relax, have a beer, smoke a cigarette, chat; street vendors walk around, couples date, neighbors gossip, the musicians stroll around in suits and starched shirts, and China explains the various fundraising fronts undertaken by the School to make its Carnaval financially viable.
Gimenez follows the preparations in a chronological manner: the first rehearsals, the trips to the Theatro Municipal to settle issues of a more bureaucratic nature, the construction of the floats in the sheds, the handmade molding of clay figures, the delegation of responsibilities, the preparation of the costumes by the seamstresses, and the painting of the scenery. The closer Carnaval is, the more China’s words are proven to be true, when he referred to the celebration as a "microbe" which infects everyone in the Pau da Bandeira hill. When the film announces that the parade is two months away, we hear drums beating, which the audience might mistake for that of a drum in the previous sequences which show the rehearsals in the sports court. However, it is soon revealed that the drum beating is completely spontaneous: in a courtyard between the houses, residents drum on tambourines or even on paint cans; they sing in chorus, in a circle in the center of which men, women, and children join in the dance. In a bar at the foot of the hill (which Gimenez explores in richness of detail), the song chosen by the people as their favorite is sung and rocked by triangles, beats on wood or matchboxes - which are traditional samba instruments. In a very natural and noteworthy shift, the song transitions to a choir of female voices, as we leave the bar and return to the general rehearsals.
Nearly as quintessential as the final parade is the moment that precedes it, as the dwellers of Pau da Bandeira hill conquer the asphalt and go to downtown Rio to join the street blocos8 with such enthusiasm that, in just a few minutes, they synthesize what is true and popular in the carnival of the blocos. The final parade, despite the different location and the costumes, differs little from the rehearsals: the mood is the same. This, for the film, allows us to understand that the rehearsals and the parade are equally important. Nossa Escola de Samba features a Carnaval from a different time, when parades were held in downtown Rio, for all to see: the Marquês de Sapucaí Sambodrome, their current location, was built decades later, in 1984. Once the parade is over, China says, noticeably proud, that Unidos de Vila Isabel School finished second in the second tier of the competition, “so now, we and the first place, leave the second tier. Now, we’re going to parade at Presidente Vargas Avenue.9 Next year we’ll be among the greatest: Mangueira, Portela…”.
After their triumph, Pau da Bandeira hill goes back to their daily lives, until next October. Gimenez shows us the following morning: China looks down at the city from his window. Off-screen people (the direct sound, made possible by the modern equipment imported by Thomaz Farkas, attentively records that favela’s soundscape) sing Zé Keti’s10 samba Opinião (“fale de mim quem quiser falar / aqui eu não pago aluguel / e se eu morrer amanhã, seu doutor / estou pertinho do céu”11). Somewhere in the distance, dogs bark. Boys in uniforms walk to school; the mother of Ana Lúcia (Suco’s daughter), highlighted in the first rehearsal, wakes her daughter up. Suco drinks coffee as he watches people go by. The people go on singing Opinião (“Podem me prender / podem me bater / podem até deixar-me sem comer / que eu não mudo de opinião / daqui do morro, eu não saio não”12). Men and women go downhill to work and earn their daily bread. The chorus of Opinião goes on, until the voices fade out. The sun goes up as another day begins. Pau da Bandeira hill is pure samba, even if Carnaval is over. Or maybe samba is pure Pau da Bandeira hill. The people are inseparable from their party, Carnaval, as they are the main component of the very DNA of Carnaval; without the people, it simply doesn’t happen. Nossa Escola de Samba is an underrated gem of Brazilian cinema and one of the definitive films on one of the greatest events on the planet.
1. Reference to a Caetano Veloso song. Meaning “always”.

2. Unfinished film partially shot in Mexico and Brazil by Orson Welles. An RKO production, It’s All True was canceled due to problems such as the accidental death of a fisherman who starred in one of the film’s episodes, and the interference of Getúlio Vargas’ administration via the Department of Press and Propaganda. The original negatives were seized by RKO and considered lost for decades, until part of them was found and edited into a 1993 documentary about the project also named It’s All True (Wilson, Krohn & Meisel, 1993).

3. See CABRAL, Sergio: Grande Otelo, uma biografia. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2007, p. 83-93.

4. See ROCHA, Glauber: Revisão Crítica do Cinema Brasileiro. SãoPaulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003.

5. From a quote attributed to Gimenez on a poster of the film. Digitally reproduced here: < thomazfarkas.com/filmes/nossa-escola-de-samba >.

6. “Retomada” refers to the period in the 1990s when, via grants and new culture incentive laws, Brazilian cinema resumed a steady production rhythm after years of scarcity caused by the dissolution of Embrafilme, the mixed funding state-owned film production and distribution company founded in 1969 by the military government in a partnership with Cinema Novo filmmakers, and dissolved in 1990. Carlota Joaquina, the Princess of Brazil (Carla Camurati, 1995) is regarded as the starting point of the Retomada era. “Post-Retomada” loosely refers to the 2000s, with significant landmarks such as Amarelo Manga (Cláudio Asssis, 2002) and Cidade Baixa (Sérgio Machado, 2005).

7. The term “cosmetics of hunger” was coined by researcher Ivana Bentes, as the antithesis to Glauber Rocha’s aesthetics of hunger, and popularized by critic Cleber Eduardo when he reviewed City of God (Fernando Meirelles e Kátia Lund, 2002) for Época Magazine.

8. Informal groups that dance and party in the streets during Carnaval.

9. The main street of downtown Rio de Janeiro.

10. José Flores de Jesus, better known as Zé Kéti, was among the most important samba composers in history. He was a member of Portela samba school. His songs were recorded by bossa nova singer Nara Leão, and they served as the basis for the 1964 theater play Opinião - one of the early landmarks of cultural opposition to the military dictatorship. An orchestral rendition of his song A Voz do Morro was the opening theme of Rio, 40 Graus (1955), directed by his friend Nelson Pereira dos Santos. He appeared in other Cinema Novo films such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Boca de Ouro (1963) and Paulo Cézar Saraceni’s O Desafio (1965). After his death in 1999, Nelson Pereira dos Santos made a short film as a tribute to him, Meu Compadre Zé Keti (2000).

11. “Let they talk about me/ Here I pay no rent/ And if I die tomorrow, mister/ I’m so close to heaven already”

12. They can arrest me/ They can beat me up/ They can even starve me/ I won’t change my opinion/ I won’t leave the favela”