IMAGE BY luiz paulo lima
Ponto e Vírgula | 1969
Ponto e Vírgula | 1969
IMAGE BY luiz paulo lima
Abolition – A Brief Introduction to the Film
1988 marked the 100th anniversary of the Lei Áurea in Brazil, the legislation that officially emancipated slaves throughout the country. This anniversary sparked conversations about the historical significance of the Lei Áurea, and provoked new criticisms about how far Brazil had come in its treatment of Black people since that historical decree. It was in light of this renewed interest in the Lei Áurea that actor/filmmaker/activist Zózimo Bulbul debuted Abolição (Abolition), his first and only feature film as a director and the product of more than ten years of thorough research. Bulbul intended to use this anniversary as an opportunity to critically reflect on the conditions of Black Brazilians after the emancipation and to demonstrate that the abolition in fact had been a farcical scam. Notwithstanding that there were other films1 produced at that time which covered the Lei Áurea and racism in Brazil, Bulbul’s film explored these topics in a particularly unique way - it was the first Brazilian film shot by a nearly all-Black crew to portray the reflections of Black Brazilians on their own post-abolition condition.
One of the major aspects which made Bulbul’s filmmaking process stand-out from the other works that explored the conditions of Black people in Brazil is the breadth of locations which the film covers. The crew of Abolition traveled with their camera through sites and cities that remain crucial to the development of Afro-Brazilian culture. These included Bahia and Pernambuco (Northeast), Manaus (North), Rio Grande do Sul (Deep South), and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Southeast). Another of Abolition’s achievements is the way that Bulbul managed to shed light on a diverse array of situations in which Black people were living. For example, the crew captured interviews with key icons from the Afro-Brazilian community, such as Abdias do Nascimento, Lélia Gonzalez, Carlos Medeiros, Beatriz Nascimento, Grande Otelo, Joel Rufino dos Santos and Benedita da Silva. In the film, these interviews are occasionally shown on-screen sharing perspectives informed by their own Blackness, but in other moments, voices from the interviews materialize as the camera shifts its attention to Black bodies that are, despite being part of our social urban fabric, perpetually rendered invisible throughout our history: workers, the homeless population, the impoverished living in the slums, the street artists and so on.
I’ve been involved with the work of recuperating Abolition’s historical materials on a daily basis since I began the graduate studies program in Communications at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro two years ago, and I recently concluded the program with a master’s dissertation on the film. As I began conducting research for my dissertation, I encountered a scarcity of information on Bulbul’s lone feature film. There are only a few academic works that cover the cineaste’s life—all of which barely discuss Abolition—and I had not come across any work that provides it with a thorough analysis. This makes clear that despite receiving awards at Brazilian film festivals, as well as overseas,2 the documentary went on to make only a minor impact on the world of film academia. Noel dos Santos Carvalho, a film teacher and researcher from Universidade de Campinas (UNICAMP), attests to how the film was met with indifference: “With its 150 minute duration, Abolition did not find approval with the audience. Not even among Black people. The conversation around it was limited to a small circle of intellectuals and Black activists”.3 Carvalho’s testimony poses several questions: Why was Abolition seen by so few people? Why was its impact so minimal? What is the film’s legacy among today’s Black researchers?
Aside from investigating these questions, this article will bring together some of the memories and recollections from the Abolition film crew that I gathered while interviewing them for my master’s thesis. These memories and recollections are vital towards gaining an updated understanding of the film today, as it is important to appreciate that Abolition was the universal effort of many forces of Black creativity. In the eyes of researcher Heitor Augusto (2018), investigating the creation of Abolition allows us to comprehend the nuances of a film that was conceived and executed by Black creators during a moment when new ideas, projects, and perspectives, both in Black Brazilian cinema and intellectual thought at large were emerging. The core crew members of Abolition were/are trailblazers in that they executed roles that were unprecedented for Black professionals. However, perhaps even more importantly, they reclaimed the legitimacy of their enunciative position and their right to tell their own stories. From behind the camera (or even because of it) this crew contributed to the theorization and structuring of Black cinema, a field that was practically nonexistent in Brazil at that time.
In conversation with the film crew
On January 28, 2020, on a hot Rio de Janeiro afternoon, I first encountered Vantoen Pereira Jr. Pereira Jr. played a decisive role as a facilitator on Abolition
’s production, and he still works to promote the film and fights to preserve its memories. In my conversation with Pereira Jr., he started off by bringing me back to the origin of Abolition
, towards the earliest days when Bulbul first began developing the project.
According to Pereira Jr., Abolition began to take shape around 1977 on an immersive trip that he and Bulbul took to Búzios, a city located in Rio de Janeiro’s lake areas. He recounts that Bulbul, who had just returned from a self-imposed exile4
, rented a house at Rasa beach and immediately began writing. Bulbul set out to incorporate some of the social, historical, and aesthetic investigations to be found within his previous films Alma no Olho (Soul in the Eye,
1973) and Dia de Alforria (Emancipation Day
, 1981). In addition, Bulbul had gathered new ideas and information throughout his journey through Africa, Europe and the United States, and he was eager to incorporate this into a new project. While working in Búzios, Bulbul used a typewriter to register his memories and recollections from this journey.
Then, in 1986, after nearly a decade of research during which he was working towards a final draft of the screenplay, Bulbul put together the crew that would bring Abolition
to life. From the very beginning, Bulbul expressed his predilection for having an all-Black crew since he believed that only professionals from the Black community would be able to bring the specific perspectives needed to make the film. However, though the race criteria was important to Bulbul, it was not the determining factor as to who would get hired to work on Abolition
. While I will touch on this point further on, I find it imperative to now introduce eight crew members from Aboliton
and explain the important role they played in its production. But before delving into these testimonies, I must stress the importance of analyzing Abolition
through the point of view of the professionals whose jobs aren’t typically perceived with the same level of prestige enjoyed by screenwriters and directors (both roles personified by Bulbul in the case of Abolition
). The conception and the construction of a work of cinema such as Abolition
is necessarily based on the input of a collective, and by bringing to light the voices and experiences of the crew members on this predominantly Black film set, we are able to delve deeper into the film, following the tracks left by their accounts and collective memories. We can then begin to comprehend how the need for collectivity, or “aquilombamento”5
stems from the desire to forge a space where people can show each other affection, actively listen to one another, forge new connections, and discover identities.
The first crew member that I would like to highlight was the only Black woman to be a part of the making of Abolition, Deusa Dineris. Dineris was one of the film’s most important contributors and she was invited to join the project in 1986, right before shooting started. At the time, she had been working as an advertising executive for the advertising company Momento Filmes.6 During the film’s funding stage, the producers identified the need to create a co-production in order to compete for a grant from Embrafilme, and therefore Momento Filmes acted as the co-producer. Through this co-production, Dineris got involved with the film; but she explains that her involvement only happened by chance, since she wasn’t working in cinema at that time.
Dineris and Bulbul’s first encounter took place at Momento’s headquarters. She knew very little about Abolition, only that the crew was made of eleven men and one Black woman, Anya Sartor, who was expected to work as the continuity supervisor despite having a previous career in acting. Just before shooting began, Sartor had to withdraw from the project for personal reasons. This left a major gap within the production crew, and there was now the challenge to find another Black woman who could fill in for Sartor. Bulbul believed it was necessary to have a racialized feminine perspective as part of the crew and to the surprise of Dineris, Bulbul and owner of Momento Filmes (Jerônimo César) decided to invite her to fill the position vacated by Sartos. Although Dineris initially showed reluctance in accepting this offer due to her lack of experience in the film industry, in the end, Bulbul managed to convince her to work on the film.
Dineris on the the set
Image From the collection of Deusa Dineris
In our interview, Dineris recollected that being the only Black woman on the crew was not a challenge for her, as she had three prior experiences working for publicity agencies where there were no other racialized women on staff. However, the real challenge for her was accepting a job that she had no previous experience in. By working on the documentary, she likely became the first Black woman to serve as a continuity supervisor on a Brazilian film. The fact that it took so long for a female to fill this role may come as a shock to many. But it is important to keep in mind that it was only in 1984 — 4 years before Abolition
— that the first feature length film directed by a Black Brazilian woman hit the theaters. This was Adélia Sampaio’s Amor Maldito (Cursed Love)
In a film industry dominated by white men, the presence of Dineris was of fundamental importance to Abolition. Throughout the interviews I conducted with the film’s eight crew members, each emphasized that the presence of Dineris on the predominantly male film set allowed the film to be less oriented towards the male-gaze. However, during the production of Abolition, there remained the all too common gender-oriented working dynamic that privileged men. Dineris recounts that because the crew was so small, she accumulated new tasks beyond her initial role as the continuity supervisor, becoming actively engaged as assistant director and producer. “While the crew would go to the bar after the shooting, I’d stay indoors working and getting everything ready for the next morning”, she recalls. Such unbalanced divisions of labor reveal that there was still gender stereotyping throughout the making of Abolition.
Despite these obstacles, Dineris reveals that being part of the film had a direct influence on the growth of her own budding racial identity. It is no coincidence that, after working on the documentary, Dineris decided to quit the advertising business and become engaged with the Black struggle, eventually launching an event-production company7 solely dedicated to promoting Black artists.
Deusa Dineris during the shooting of Abolition at the Pelourinho square in Salvador, Bahia
Image From the collection of Deusa Dineris
Dineris has preserved both her personal memories and memorabilia from the period of making Abolition. On the day of our interview, she brought pictures, a book autographed to her by the journalist Edmar Morel (who is featured in the film), and a publicity folder produced for the release of the movie. She passed that folder onto me as a gift, remarking on the importance of sharing it with future generations in order to show the ways in which Brazilian films were advertised during the pre-Internet era.
My conversation with Dineris and the act of investigating her role in the film was one of the most thought-provoking parts of my research, and her narrative is crucial towards understanding what working dynamics were like on the film set of Abolition. A Black cinema — that is, a cinema made by Black creators — must be mindful of intersectionality. In its efforts toward building a nearly all-Black crew, Abolition contributed to larger efforts of inserting Black professionals in the film industry, all the while reproducing gender stereotypes and sexist microaggressions in its division of labor.
Vantoen Pereira Jr.
Vantoen Pereira Jr. and Zózimo Bulbull
Coming from a career in photography, Vantoen Pereira Jr. joined the crew of Abolition with former experiences in the arts. But it was through Bulbul, who was like an uncle and godfather, that he first began to learn about cinema. Since Bulbul never had children, he and Pereira Jr. were able to forge something like a father-son relationship. I would like to stress that this close relationship, as well as Pereira Jr.’s previous experience as a still photographer for well-regarded directors such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos, José Medeiros and Roberto Farias, helped create a familial atmosphere on the set of Abolition.
The official role that Periera Jr. had on Abolition was assistant cinematographer alongside DP Miguel Rio Branco, but his involvement in making the film went beyond that—he witnessed and contributed to early research in Búzios, and he read over Bulbul’s initial screenplay drafts. Bulbul also had a profound influence on Periera Jr., as he was able to develop his photographer’s eye while working on the set of Abolition. Bulbul changed my "understandings around image-making, visual poetics and working practices”, Pereira Jr. said. During our conversation, Pereira Jr. walked me through each step of Abolition’s filmmaking process. He made sure to reiterate that Abolition is a very meaningful film, and insisted that we can glean much more from it than what was initially grasped during the time of its release.According to him, it was a film for the future, to be explored by generations to come.
Pereira Jr. is not merely a source for valuable archival material related to the film (as he has preserved photographs and documents from the film sets), but he also serves as a precious carrier of memories related to Abolition’s production previously known only to him. Of these memories, Pereira Jr. recollects that Bulbul often stressed the “importance of family” throughout the filmmaking process; according to him, Bulbul emphasized this idea because he believed that it was an important force in providing a reconnection and reconstruction for Black families who were torn apart as a result of centuries of slavery. Pereira Jr. also discussed how community building and the power of encounter were key ideas that influenced Bulbul throughout his career, even claiming that one of Bulbul’s intentions with Abolition was to explain why thousands of Black families were separated and decimated since the Lei Áurea.
Pereira Jr. was instrumental to both Abolition and to my research. In our conversations he shared fresh information and diligently helped me contact the rest of the crew. As I look back at those moments when I held my interview with seven of the crew members, sharing the same space for the first time in years, I realize how important it was to have them all together in a friendly environment.
Severino Dadá worked as the editor for Bulbul’s second film, the documentary Aniceto do Império em dia de Alforria? (1981). In our conversation, Dadá recalled that he was first to be formally invited by Bulbul—with whom he had been friends since the 1970s—to work on Abolition. The two shared thoughts throughout the entire pre-production process, from providing input on the screenplay to helping Bulbul choose the interviewees. Every member of the crew who worked on Abolition is reverent towards Dadá, who is famous for his encyclopedic knowledge, and recognized for his fundamental contributions to Brazilian cinema. Dadá is one of the most active film editors within the history of Brazilian Cinema, his credits amounting to more than 300 films. His fondness for Bulbul was visible when he spoke about Abolition, as he emotionally recalled the intimate friendship which he had with the filmmaker that contributed to this crucial chapter in Brazilian cinema history.
Before working on Abolition, Dadá had already enjoyed a prolific career as an editor, having worked with prominent Brazilian directors such as NelsonPereira dos Santos and Rogério Sganzerla. A native of Pedra, a small city located in the backcountry of Pernambuco state in the Northeastern Coast of Brazil, Dadá began his career as a radio announcer. However, he soon migrated to cinema once he joined the independent film club circuit. His life-trajectory soon intersected with Brazil’s immediate political history as he was incarcerated and tortured by the military during Brazil’s military dictatorship8. Both Dadá’s background as a native of Pernambuco and his political activism were vital to the ways in which he contributed to Abolition. Also, as one of the few white crew members, his political convictions and perspectives as a nordestino9 offered a fresh perspective to the film.
One of the many stories Dadá told me recounts the day that Bulbul was informed of Embrafilme’s decision to fund Abolition. The director invited the editor to São João Batista Cemetery in Botafogo on the South Side of Rio de Janeiro, in order to deliver an ebó, which is a type of offering that is part of the tradition of various Afro-Brazilian religions. The ebó was being delivered by Bulbul to express his thankfulness for receiving the awarded grant that would make the production of the film possible. As they entered the cemetery, a police car that was circling in the vicinity approached them. One of the officers stepped out the vehicle, and he recognized both Dadá and Bulbul. That officer was Paulo Copacabana, who had worked as an actor in some films, including Roberto Farias’s O Assalto ao Trem Pagador (Assault on the Pay Train, 1962) and J.B. Tanko’s Bom Mesmo é Carnaval (Carnival is Truly Good, 1962). As he questioned them for their reasons of being in front of the cemetery late at night, Dadá and Bulbul explained they were about to execute a thanking ritual. Copacabana then proceeded to put them both inside the police vehicle and drove them to a nearby bar in order to celebrate the film grant; they all sat together—Dadá, Bulbul, Copacabana and another cop, who eventually paid the bill.
Another less humorous anecdote recounted by Dadá involved Pelé, elected in 1980 as the Athlete of the Century by the French paper L’Equipe. As an international superstar and the Black symbol of soccer at the time, Pelé was invited to be interviewed and share his thoughts on racism in sports. Pelé declined the invitation, explaining that he believed racism did not exist in Brazil. Disappointed with his stance, Bulbul and Dadá were forced to look for another figure to be interviewed in the film, someone who had a more critical perspective on racial issues in sports, especially in soccer. They ultimately invited Paulo Cézar Caju, who was known throughout his career as a lone critical voice of racism in soccer. Caju promptly accepted being interviewed for the documentary, where he devoted harsh criticisms towards Pelé due to his lack of engagement in the Black struggle. The response to this was immediate: Pelé’s lawyer contacted Bulbul to communicate the athlete's wishes to have the interview removed from the film, as it tarnished his image. Despite such extreme pressure, Caju’s opinions remained in the final cut.
This situation illuminates the difficulties one faces when trying to begin a conversation about racism in Brazil. What Bulbul encountered with Pelé is a common situation in Brazil: eitherBlack figures refuse to acknowledge structural racism or they give the packaged, standardized answer that, despite the existence of prejudice in society, they themselves were never the target of it. I’m left to wonder how painful it must have been forBulbul to hear from Brazil’s most important athlete that racism is a fiction by which he was never hurt. The episode serves as a clear testament to the obstacles that the film had to overcome in providing a more truthful representation of Black life in Brazil.
Alexandre Tadeu, Edson Alves, and Biza Vianna
Alexandre Tadeu, a film electrician, met Vantoen Pereira Jr. when they worked together on Roberto Farias’s Pra Frente Brasil (1982) and they quickly became friends. Soon thereafter, Tadeu met and became friends with Bulbul, as they both frequently attended the bars and night life of Lapa, a historic neighborhood in downtown Rio de Janeiro. Their favorite place to meet became “Tangará”, a tavern where they would exchange new ideas about cinema. Tadeu recalls that they never directly talked about Abolition during those encounters and that he only became familiar with the project when editor Severino Dadá took Bulbul to the offices of Memento Filmes. As a staff member of Memento Filmes, Tadeu naturally became involved with the production of Abolition, offering the crew support with company rental equipment. Tadeu also remembers that during post-production, he would accompany Dadá and Bulbul in the cutting room, and after a long shift of work they would head to São Salvador square, in Laranjeiras, to discuss all of the editing choices of the day.
Edson Alves, aka “Edinho”, was a professional lighting technician and electrician who had a brief stint working on the set of Abolition for ten days. His work can be prominently seen in the fictional sequences in early half of the film.10 However, despite the fact that Ediho only worked on the set for a short period, his presence was very important to Deusa Dineris, who recounted in our interview that she learned many of the ins and outs of a film set from Edinho. I would like to emphasize this relationship between Edson and Dineris it reflects the importance of aquilombamento on the making of Abolition. It was made evident throughout the interviews I conducted that the sense of shared identity and communion that Abolition’s production offered the crew was a respite from the previous experiences that they had in white-dominated working environments which precluded this form of collectivity.
Bulbul’s widow, Biza Vianna, shared with me that the couple were forced to break the agreement they had made to never work together, especially on film shoots. She joined the project at the last minute because it urgently needed a costume designer for the aforementioned fictional sequence in which Princess Isabel reads the proclamation of emancipation. Vianna had a career working in fashion and theater, so she joined the crew and was responsible for both the costume of the fictional characters and the clothing of the crew members who would eventually be shown on-screen in key sequences. Vianna used Zapatistas Army of National Liberation as an inspiration for dressing the crew as a way to suggest an image of a Latin-American resistance. She considers her role on the film to have been small, but other members of the team such as Pereira Jr. and Flávio Leandro think otherwise, stressing the importance of Vianna as both a professional and Bulbul’s partner, whose legacy she oversees today.
Alexandre Tadeu, Fernando Spencer, Severino Dadá e Zózimo Bulbul, during the film editing
Miguel Rio Branco
Lastly, it is paramount to explore the role of cinematographer Miguel Rio Branco, the only white man on the Abolition
shooting crew. Prior to joining the production, his work as a photographer had shown a predilection for popular culture, as can be seen in the series Maciel
documents the precarious conditions in the oldest areas of Pelourinho, a historic neighborhood in Salvador, Bahia. Years later, Rio Branco directed Nada levarei quando morrer, Aqueles que mim deve cobrarei no inferno
(1985), a key short film in his career.11
By the time he worked on Bulbul’s documentary he already was a nationally and internationally acclaimed artist, especially praised for his photography. In August of 2019 I travelled to Araras, a city on the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, to interview Rio Branco and record his memories from working on Abolition
. Rio Branco did not maintain close contact with Bulbul and the rest of the crew after shooting completed, and therefore his thoughts on the final version of the film are enigmatic. According to Biza Vianna, Rio Branco distanced himself from the documentary upon its completion, “never [making] any effort to learn about the film”.
Although Bulbul had wanted to assemble an all-Black crew, he faced challenges when it came to choosing a DP, since, according to Dadá and Flavio Leandro, there were very few Black cinematographers in Brazil. Bulbul believed that Rio Branco’s vast oeuvre12
of photographing Black bodies would provide him with the necessary experience to shoot Abolition
. When I brought this up to Rio Branco during our conversation, he disagreed that this was the reason that had led Bulbul to choose him as DP. According to him, “As long as you have the ability to gaze and possess technical knowledge, you can photograph any type of body, black or white”. I believe that this statement deserves further scrutiny.
Rio Branco’s understanding is opposite to that of Eustáquio Neves, another well-regarded Brazilian photographer who has discussed his struggles during the 1980s to find the right camera equipment appropriate for capturing different shades of dark skin. Neves became known for having developed alternative and multidisciplinary techniques to manipulate film negatives and positives to suit this purpose. According to Neves:
Lighting standards weren’t developed having darker skins in mind, but rather to the Caucasians’. It used to be very difficult to photograph a Black woman in a white wedding dress. One ended up having to lighten the skin instead of portraying the color as it was originally. I used to believe that I didn’t know how to photograph, until I realized the issue wasn’t me, but the standards.13
Neves’s statement reveals that it wasn’t just a matter of having a pure ability to take good photographs, since properly photographing Black bodies involved overcoming different technological factors and social norms that were created by the photographic industry and which went unchallenged for many years. As Abolition would be a film that mostly rendered Black bodies, the aesthetic choices behind the film’s cinematography was a matter taken into serious consideration by Bulbul. Not only was Bulbul forced to reckon with the technical limitations of producing an authentic image of Black bodies, but he also had to consider the cinematographer’s subjective gaze. It was therefore necessary to count on a DP who could be sensitive to these issues. Despite his declared indifference to the systemic prejudices of technical cinematography at the time, Rio Branco’s success with Maciel led Bulbul to believe that the photographer could deliver an image similar to what he had in mind. Despite the disparate choice, the partnership between Bulbul and Rio Branco yielded beautiful results, as the film went on to win the Best Cinematography award at the Festival de Brasília. Rio Branco revealed that he was surprised to receive this award, since he believed that the film’s strengths were its research and screenplay, particularly the unprecedented coverage of the emancipation of slavery by Black creators.
There was also a disagreement between Bulbul and Rio Branco over Bulbul’s decision to pre-conceive the form in which the film would take, as this implied that there would be very little room for debate and experimentation in the film's mode of visuality. Of course, this “preconceived form” was in fact a reflection of Bulbul’s clarity of vision for Abolition. The film was the very definition of a passion project for Bulbul, who therefore knew how he wanted the film to look and what form of construction it should take. For a white cinematographer such as Rio Branco who was used to having greater autonomy in the decision-making process on the set of a film, being relegated to the role of an observer felt like a disappointment. The friction between Rio Branco and Bulbul, of which remnants can still be felt today, reveals the social hierarchy of race within working relationships, and how it was and still is difficult for white people to take directions from Black professionals.
In fact, as a white man, Rio Branco was amazed that he was even invited to work on Abolition.14 During our conversation he expressed that: “In the United States they would never cast me as the DP of a film like this, and my presence in it shows that we Brazilians enjoy the possibility of a bigger interracial relationship than other countries”. However, when we look at the history of racial disparities within the Brazilian film industry, they reveal that Brazilian cinema has always been a predominantly white industry. A thorough examination of the Brazilian film industry sponsored in 2017 by GEMAA (Study Group for Affirmative Action)15 revealed a severely segregated landscape throughout the history of Brazilian cinema. GEMAA’s study looked at the highest grossing Brazilian films between 1970 and 2016. Their findings revealed that gender and racial inequality have always been the norm within the Brazilian film industry. The study claims:
Between 1970 and 2016, the highest grossing films (works seen by more than 500 thousand people) were predominantly directed by white men (98%). We couldn’t identify a single director who was a person of color, though we must state that 13% of the titles couldn’t be analyzed due to lack of data. When it comes to gender, we noticed a very low number of women working as directors: only 2%. And none of them were Black.16
When analyzing the screenwriters of those titles, “only 8% were women and the only Black woman we could identify in the sample was Julciléa Telles, who was the co-writer of the sex comedy A Gostosa da Gafieira”.17 Despite the fact that GEMAA’s study only took into consideration feature-length fiction films, I believe the landscape wouldn’t be much different had other modes or formats of filmmaking been considered.
There is one final element related to Bulbul hiring Rio Branco that is important to note. In my conversations with the film crew, they revealed that Bulbul saw this hiring as a strategic decision: by inviting in a member of the Brazilian elite,18 Bulbul was inverting the common social hierarchy in which white men had all of the decision-making power on a film set. When we consider the hiring from this perspective, we see the irony in Bulbul’s choice. It’s surely no accident that Rio Branco is the only crew member that is never featured on-screen throughout the film. This indicates that the self-reflexivity of Abolition was not intended to include the position of its own DP.
In concluding my analyses of the roles that each crew member had on Abolition, I would like to highlight one last component related to the personal dynamics of the crew. Throughout the interviews I conducted, each crew member mentioned the importance of “tavern talk”, an expression of Bulbul’s that was meant to be applied and understood as an ethical value. Cultivating a bohemian lifestyle was seen by Bulbul as an important ritual that one must always engage in, and even include it within work processes. Upon listening to the crew’s memories of working on the film, I soon realized that many decisions that went into the construction of the film were made during encounters at bars and taverns. It is worth noting here that the word “bohemia”, beyond its connotations of pleasure and entertainment, also connotes a social-cultural practice that takes into account lived experiences from different subjectivities. There are political implications to be gleaned when considering that a nearly all-Black crew was circulating and, to a certain extent, occupying areas of Rio de Janeiro, a city that still to this day disguises its hostility towards Black bodies. Congregating within these spaces and sharing discussions among one another certainly played a significant role in the film’s construction and in the way that the crew bonded throughout the filmmaking process.
The Commercial Distribution and Further Legacy of Abolition
Abolition was finished in 1988 after extensive periods of research, production, and post-production. Bulbul’s expectations for the film were high, as he had just completed a work of unprecedented depth that was to be released in the same year that marked the centennial of the Lei Áurea, one of the most important moments for Brazilian Black activism in the 20th century. This was a period of intense conversations and debates around many topics involving racial issues, and the representation of Black people in film and television was among the most discussed. Bulbul’s goal was to make a major contribution to that conversation.
Everyone involved with the film hoped Abolition would spark a meaningful and broad conversation around these issues, and they all hoped that the film would be released in the commercial circuit and screened at various film festivals. One of the reasons that the crew hoped the film would achieve this success is summarized by researcher Noel dos Santos Carvalho, as he claims the documentary “objectively manifests the political stances taken by Black activism since the 1970s”.19 Bulbul believed Abolition would also serve as a counternarrative to other contemporary productions around the centennial celebration of the emancipation. Bulbul made sure to detach himself from any production that he believed posed an opposition to his political values, which, according to Carvalho, led him to refuse taking part in a special production by Rede Globo, Brazil’s biggest communications conglomerate, that would celebrate the anniversary. He claimed, “There were artists and Black activists who pressed me to be there. But I don’t work for free for [Globo’s founder] Roberto Marinho. And besides, I found their show a demagogic piece”.20
Bulbul was completely engaged in securing a commercial run for his film, and his widow Biza Vianna recalls how releasing the documentary became one of the biggest frustrations of his life. Abolition did not resonate with the public nearly to the extent he had hoped for. When I asked the crew and Vianna about why the film was received so poorly, they all referred to a boycott coming from certain players and intelligentsia within Brazil’s film circles, and within Embrafilme, the state-owned company responsible for distributing the documentary.
The topic of Brazilian commercial film distribution was analyzed by researcher Patrícia Selonk, who highlighted the role played by Embrafilme as the main sponsor of our films since the company’s conception in 1969 until its implosion in 1990. According to Selonk, Embrafilme provided a certain level of infrastructure and helped forge a new public interest in Brazilian cinema despite the fact that the market was dominated by foreign studios. However, Embrafilme’s practices were also met with criticism from filmmakers who made the accusation that they prioritized certain films while delaying the commercial release of others:
Júlio Bressane and Rogério Sganzerla were critical of Embrafilme for its close ties with specific producers, such as Luis Carlos Barreto. The company’s chief of distribution, Marco Aurélio Marcondes, would justify his practices on the basis that these filmmakers’ works were underground, therefore wouldn’t be the recipient of a major financial injection by any distributor.21
Although the fundamental role of Embrafilme was to sponsor new works of Brazilian cinema, they often made insufficient efforts to distribute the films that they had funded to make. When analyzing Abolition’s commercial run – or lack thereof – the mindset of those at the head of Embrafilme becomes evident. The crew members I’ve interviewed assert that the documentary was never officially released, and its distribution was limited to screenings at film festivals in 1988, among which were the Festival de Brasília and the Cine Rio Festival.22 During the latter festival, Vianna recollects that the film was not programmed as part of the main section, in which films were projected within an actual film theater. On the contrary, Abolition was only programmed in a sidebar of outdoor screenings. Similarly, the first showing of Abolition was at an outdoor screening in Bulbul’s hometown, the affluent neighborhood of Ipanema. The screening took place at Nossa Senhora da Paz square and was packed with many viewers and guests. One of them, according to Vantoen Pereira Jr., was a young Spike Lee, who was in Brazil promoting his second feature, She’s Gotta Have It.
Edinho Alves and Alexandre Tadeu explain that the film crew ended up taking the task of distributing the documentary into their own hands. They improvised a communications strategy, which included spreading posters around the city and booking screenings outside of Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of their initial success in attracting a large crowd to the film’s premiere, Abolition would go on to barely make an impact on the national film market, never enjoying an official commercial run.
Beyond Embrafilme’s active disengagement from helping to distribute Abolition, another factor that contributed to the film’s poor reception is its duration. The current cut of Abolition is two hours and thirty minutes long, and according to Flávio Leandro, this negatively influenced the audience’s ability to embrace the work. The length of the film proved to become a point of contention between Bulbul and his crew. The first cut was over four hours long, and it required a strenuous effort on the part of the film crew to convince him to acquiesce to a shorter version.
Therefore, without adequate institutional support or the financial means to distribute Abolition independently, the documentary was only shown overseas years after its completion:
Abolition was awarded at Festival de Brasília ’88 and it also won something in Cuba and while I was at a film festival there, I was invited to show the film in New York. I was also awarded there, but in my country not even a line was written on the papers on the film and on the awards. I came back to Brazil profoundly sad with the international recognition the film enjoyed, while here nothing happened, neither with the film, nor with me. I expected to be known, to show the film, I wanted to be out there talking about it, discussing both Brazilian film history and the topics touched by my documentary, but in the end it felt like “shut up, nigger, there’s no racism in Brazil! You’re making these things up!” That brought a great deal of frustration.22
The lack of acknowledgement and financial support for Black filmmakers, even those with proven abilities such as Bulbul, caused the cineaste to take a long hiatus as a director. Only in 2001, when he received a grant from Rio de Janeiro’s state production fund dedicated to short films, did he produce and direct another film, the documentary Pequena África (2001).23 In the same year he also finished Samba no trem (2001).24 Despite not working as a director between 1988 and the early 2000s, Bulbul’s life was filled with remarkable experiences. He would go on to cement his important legacy with the creation of the Centro Afro-Carioca de Cinema (Afro-Carioca Center for Cinema). The frustrations that Bulbul experienced throughout the release of Abolition drove him to take a personal journey that resulted in the idea to create a space where he could show his films as well those of other Black filmmakers.
In 1997, when he had the opportunity to travel to Burkina Faso to participate in the 15th Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou,25 he realized how much his work was recognized and appreciated.
(...) They gave me warm reception. From the airport to the hotel and throughout the duration of the festival, I was respected as a Black Brazilian, as a filmmaker and as a guest. When I saw all those people at the opening ceremony, more than 20 thousand people gathered at a track field, it moved me. The difference between “FESPACO” and other film festivals around the world is that over there regular people from Burkina and the neighboring countries engage with the event, while “Cannes” or even “Festival do Rio” are held to the elite, not to the people. 26
Experiences such as those at FESPACO helped to forge Bulbul’s conviction that a new landscape for Brazilian cinema needed to be established. It wasn’t enough to just make films, there was also an urgency to create a circuit for the screening of Black-directed films. As Abolition’s distribution saga illustrates, Black creators faced a double impediment: even when they were able to overcome the difficulties in completing their films, they still had to fight a distribution and exhibition system that was specifically designed to exclude them from theater screens.
Team photo with Edmar Morel
In conclusion, I wish to share with you my individual trajectory throughout the course of conducting research for my Master’s thesis. I consider myself a member of a generation of Black youth that have been promoting long-silenced conversations and reclaiming the memories of those who have paved the way for us to finally occupy spaces to which we have been historically denied. The very possibility of being able to conduct my research was the result of those who have paved the way before me. In my eyes this is the true legacy of Abolition
: providing greater esteem for Black culture, giving it the regard and study it deserves, and scrutinizing history for the purposes of making intellectual contributions to society at large. As an art form, cinema is a tool that has the power to affect, to move and to create new ways of seeing and understanding. To be able to watch and identify myself in a documentary made 32 years ago illustrates how cinema can be timeless.
This change was made possible by the social policies implemented throughout Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s and Dilma Rousseff’s administrations, as they pushed for programs aiming to fight for equal access to education. The implementation of race-based affirmative actions and the establishment of programs such as Universidade Para Todos (PROUNI, University for All,)27
provided an important aid that allowed a younger Black and unprivileged generation to go to college, graduate and find better opportunities within the job market. My own trajectory intersects with these policies: as a recipient of a scholarship from PROUNI, I managed to finish college and subsequently enroll in an advanced studies program. At that program, I was inspired to conduct the research from which this article stems.
It’s also important to highlight the expansion of broadband internet throughout new territories in Brazil, as well as the arrival of cheaper technological devices that enabled the rising of new voices from underprivileged areas of Brazilian society. These voices are now creating radical works of art that continue to push forward the conversations kept alive by Bulbul and others. I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that I was only able to start my research on Abolition
due to an unofficial, sole hyperlink that is available on a Facebook page devoted to the film (@AbolicaoZozimoBulbul). In the early stages of my research, before I was provided with an official link to the film, that page allowed me to re-watch the documentary multiple times, thus structuring the analysis I’ve developed during my master’s thesis. That same hyperlink, and , and the video available on Limite
, makes it possible for Abolition
to be seen by a wider range of people. Bulbul’s accomplishment is a work that must be revisited today so that we can finally acknowledge it as an important and unique historical documentation of our country and a pioneering work of Black cinema throughout the world.
1. For example, Eduardo Coutinho’s documentary Fio da Memória
(1988) and Abolição,
a miniseries written by Wilson Aguiar Filho for TV Globo.
2. Best Historical Research and Best Cinematography at the 21st Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro in 1988; Best Documentary at the New York Latino Film Festival in 1989; and Best Poster at the 11th Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, in 1989, Havana, Cuba.
3. Noel dos Santos Carvalho,. “O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do CinemaNegro Brasileiro”. Revista Crioula
, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012,p. 18.
4. In 1974, Bulbul attempted to obtain permission from Brazil’s censorship bureau that would allow him to screen his latest film, “Alma no Olho”. However, he was called upon by the military to be interrogated. “They were suspicious about the film and its authorship, so they requested Bulbul to decode the images, since they thought there was some implicit subversive leftist message. After this event, which lasted for days, feeling psychologically pressured by the general political atmosphere, and fearful of the repressive state forces that were then persecuting artists, he traveled to New York intending to remain away from Brazil for a while.” (CARVALHO, 2012, p. 14)
5. The “quilombos” (“maroon communities”) were constituted, according toBeatriz Nascimento, as spaces for resistance, for political organization and for reframing cultural and social values for Black people and their descendants. “Aquilombar”, which in English could be interpreted as “gathering ourselves as a quilombo”, is a political and epistemological notion that hase merged specifically out of the cultural-historical Afro-Brazilian process. SeeAnother Gaze
’s discussion of the concept here
6. Momento Filmes is a production company located at Laranjeiras, a neighborhood at the South Side of Rio de Janeiro. The business operations of Momento Filmes were mostly focused towards advertisements, but they also partnered in the production of several short films and some feature films, particularly from independent filmmakers. Additionally, Momento Filmes rented out film equipment.
7. Among the events produced by her company, Dineris emphasizes a party called “100% afrobrasileiro” (“100% Afro-Brazilian”), which was dedicated to promoting Black artists who weren’t part of the mainstream Rio de Janeiro cultural circuit.
8. Brazil was being ruled under a military dictatorship between 1964 -1985
9. Besides serving as a geographical marker, “Nordestino” also represents a specific cultural and sociali dentity that relates to characteristics specific to the Northeast side ofBrazil. Abolition
documents some of the cultural expressions of the “nordestino” identity, such as the “Teatro de Mamulengo and the “Emboladoresde Recife”.
10. These fictional scenes took place at the house of the Marquess of Santos in São Cristóvão neighborhood, located on the North Side of Rio deJaneiro.
11. This film belongs to the Inhotim Museum’s collection in the state Minas Gerais.
12. Miguel Rio Branco is a photographer who documented areas marked by violence, degradation and neglection by the state. The majority of the population in these areas, due to reasons made explicit by this article, were Black.
13. Velasco, 2016, n.p
14. Rio Branco was with the crew members for the majority of the shooting, but had to withdraw from the film when they were shooting the scenes at the Palace of the Marquess of Santos, due to health complications related to hepatitis that was aggravated by his heavy alcohol consumption during the filming.
15. The full report can be read at: http://gemaa.iesp.uerj.br/boletins/boletim-gemaa-2-raca-e-genero-no-cinema-brasileiro-1970-2016/
(only in Portuguese)
18. Miguel Rio Branco is the great-grandson of the Baron of Rio Branco and the great-great-grandson of the Viscount of Rio Branco, besides being the son of a diplomat.
19. Noel dos Santos Carvalho,. “O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro”. Revista Crioula
, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012, p. 17.
20. Ibid 19.
21. Selonk, 2004, p. 98
22. The Rio Cine Festival was launched in 1984. After a fusion with the Mostra Banco Nacional de Cinema, it became, in1999, the Festival do Rio, as it’s known today.
23. Bulbul, 2007 apud DE; Vianna, 2014
24. Noeldos Santos Carvalho,. “O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro”. Revista Crioula
, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012, p. 19.
25. The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou is the largest African film festival. It’s a biennial event held at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, where the headquarters are located.
26. Bulbul, 2007 apud, DE; Vianna, 2014
27. Established by the Law nº 11.096, officialized in January 13, 2005, the Programa Universidade Para Todos (PROUNI, University for All) offers scholarships for students who have enrolled in private universities, since in Brazil only the State and Federal universities are tuition-free. The program, which also sponsors students interested in further specialization, is funded through a system of tax-exemption organized by the national government.
AUGUSTO, Heitor. Past,Present and Future: Cinema, Black Cinema and Short Films. In: Catálogo do 20o FestivalInternacional de Curtas de Belo Horizonte, Belo Horizonte, Fundação Clóvis Salgado, 2018.
CARVALHO, Noel dosSantos. Cinema e representação racial: o cinema negro de Zózimo Bulbul. São Paulo, 2006. Tese (Doutorado) – Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas.Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo, 2006.
_____. O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro. Revista Crioula, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012.
DE Jefferson e VIANNA, Biza. Zózimo Bulbul: uma alma carioca. Rio de Janeiro: Centro Afro Carioca de Cinema, 2014.
NASCIMENTO, Beatriz. O conceito de quilombo ea resistência afro-brasileira. In: Nascimento, Elisa Larkin (Org.). Cultura emmovimento: matrizes africanas e ativismo negro no Brasil. São Paulo: Selo Negro,2008. p. 71 -91.
SELONK, Patrícia. Distribuição Cinematográfica no Brasil e suasRepercussões. Pontifícia Universidade do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, 2004.
VELASCO, Suzana. Sob a luz tropical: racismo e padrões de cor da indústria fotográfica no Brasil. Revista Zum, São Paulo: Instituto xMoreira Salles (IMS), n. 10, 2016. Disponível em:< https://revistazum.com.br/revista-zum-10/racismo-padroes-industria-brasil/> Acesso em 14/03/2020
- Universal Exhibition or the World’s Fair were large events designed to showcase international achievements that were very important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Terra Encantada was shot during the Independence Centenary International Exposition, held from 1922 to 1923 in Rio de Janeiro.
- Chanchada was the term given to the Brazilian popular musical comedies of the 1940s and 1950s by critics of the time. These critics considered these films to be simply bad copies of Hollywood features of the same genre. Atlântida was the most famous, but not the only, studio to produce chanchadas.
- I’m referring here to Christensen’s films Rei Pelé (1961), a biopic, and Cronica da Cidade Amada (1964), a widescreen film that can currently only be seen in a horribly cropped digital copy taken from a VHS tape.
In 2007, I worked as a cataloguer at the Cinemateca Brasileira, Brazil's largest film archive. A major part of the job was analyzing materials that had recently been donated to the archive and it was not uncommon to run into large collections of 16mm films, still kept in Kodak and Ansco film boxes, complete with nicely handwritten notes displaying what they contained. Despite the quantity of home movies that arrived at the archive, prior to this moment I had rarely heard or read about Brazilian home movies and amateur films. After having the opportunity to view some of these films, I quickly became fascinated with them. It was surprising to me that they provided a chance to see life in Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s from a different point of view, meaning not only a glimpse into the lives of amateur filmmakers and their common aesthetics — trembling cameras, faces directly gazing into the camera, jump cuts and discontinuity — but also images of city life that were made from an unofficial perspective. Despite the fact that home movies of this period were produced by bourgeois families, they remain extremely valuable historical documents because they provide us with a closer look at elements that went beyond the middle class home, such as images of historical events, people enjoying leisure time and living within public spaces. In my young cataloguer’s mind, it was obvious that this topic needed further research.
My first encounter with home movies became the starting point of a long path of research that began with a project that focused on the collection of home movies that are deposited at Cinemateca Brasileira. Working on this collection resulted in my dissertation, "Filmes domésticos, uma abordagem a partir da Cinemateca Brasileira
”, the research for which was undertaken at the Federal University of São Carlos. My goal in this project was to build further knowledge about this collection of home movies and to bring more visibility to what was an emerging field in Brazilian film historiography. My research focused on establishing the historical roots underlying the arrival of amateur film equipment in Brazil. Later, my aforementioned path of research led me towards learning about the amateur cinema clubs and festivals
throughout the 1920s and 1950s that formed in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. As Brazilian home movies remain a field with numerous research possibilities, I am currently studying one of the most important film festivals of the 1960s, the "Festival de Cinema Amador JB/Mesbla" organized by the Jornal do Brasil newspaper, which screened the first short films of filmmakers such as Rogério Sganzerla, Andrea Tonacci, Neville D'Almeida, and many other important filmmakers, editors, producers, actresses and actors who were amongst its participants.
I begin with this personal note because more than ten years ago, home movies and amateur films were not a common topic of discussion among those working in the fields of audiovisual preservation and academia in Brazil. But since then, many “Home Movie Day” events have been organized in film archives and festivals across the country. As a field of research in Brazil, the history of domestic filmmaking once mainly relied on foreign references, but over the past few decades numerous dissertations and theses have been written about the national history of home movies. In this regard, I wish to highlight the recent publication of the book Cinema doméstico brasileiro (1920-1965)
by researcher and professor Thaís Blank, a pioneer work within our field. Blank’s work focuses on a wide-ranging field of research that begins with examining the historical roots of home movies and its different genres, taking different collections deposited in Brazilian archives as primary sources. The book provides close investigation of films and contains thorough archival research. The author delineates the process of patrimonialization of domestic cinema and the increasing interest held by national and regional archives in preserving an area of film production (home and amateur movies) that allows different perspectives regarding film history and a deeper understanding of local and regional histories.
The last part of Blank's book is dedicated to the migration of raw material in home movies from their original state to their incorporation into documentary films. The archival fever that has overtaken contemporary cinema has also given a new centrality to home movies and amateur films, materials often used in weaving a personal and experimental cinema. Here I mention some Brazilian short and feature films derived from a much more extensive list that prominently utilize or incorporate home movies:
(Danilo Carvalho, 2013), an experimental film using Super 8mm film from the city of Fortaleza that has been screened in numerous film festivals and has received academic attention.
Já Visto, Jamais Visto
(Andrea Tonacci, 2013), an intricate montage film made with Andrea Tonacci’s personal archive and "left overs" from his lifelong career in filmmaking.
(Sinai Sganzerla, 2019), a short-film made with 16mm footage shot by Rogério Sganzerla and Helena Ignez (the director’s parents as well as the major figures of Brazilian underground experimental filmmaking in the late 60s and 70s) during their years in exile, as they escaped the Brazilian dictatorship installed in 1964.
(Yasmin Thayná, 2019), a collage film with photographs and home videos of Black families and their affective bonding through the sharing of food and common festivities.
Academic research and contemporary cinema has evidently played a pivotal role in the discovery of home movies as a valuable source for history and artistic creation. What also stands as one of the most important conquests of the field is the launch of LUPA - Laboratório Universitário de Preservação Audiovisual
, a university film archive dedicated to film preservation education and collecting amateur films from the State of Rio de Janeiro. Part of the Department of Cinema and Video Studies of UFF - Universidade Federal Fluminense, one of the only films schools in the country with a mandatory course on film preservation integrated in the curriculum, LUPA began operating in 2017. Guided by the energy of coordinator Rafael de Luna Freire, film preservationist and professor of the same department, the initial LUPA project nurtured the desire to create a space where the work of researchers and film preservationists could walk hand in hand, shortening the gap between universities and film archives.
Another one of LUPA’s foremost prerogatives is to contribute to the preservation of those film materials that still receive little attention from film archives: amateur films and the wide array of orphan films from the state of Rio de Janeiro. As the concept indicates, orphan films are those which do not possess a clear status of authorship or legal right holdings. They can also be understood as film materials that don't belong in the traditional cinematic dispositif
(a narrative feature screened in a movie theater), as they have different functionalities: educational, scientific, nostalgic, along with the myriad other forms of appreciation the moving image can assume. What I’ve learned from my experience with these kinds of materials is that, rather frequently, people are not aware of the historical research value they hold and are unsure where to take these artifacts when practical help in film conservation is needed. As the only film archive dedicated to this kind of production in Rio de Janeiro, LUPA soon received its first donation: The J. Nunes Collection. The J. Nunes Collection holds nine reels of 9.5mm film shot in the 1930s and 1940s. Digitized at the laboratory of Cinemateca Brasileira, these images are now available on LUPA's website.
The J. Nunes Collection gives us an interesting look at amateur film culture and how the production and consumption of moving images worked in the 1930s and 1940s. During this time period, amateur films were often produced by Pathé and many portrayed quotidian life in the streets. The images within the J. Nunes Collection provide insights into how leisure time was enjoyed by a middle-class family in Rio de Janeiro: bullfights, religious festivities, trips to the country and a day at the beach. Carnaval was definitely the favorite pastime of this particular family. The films dedicated to this national festivity also show different forms of capturing the extremely popular celebration, each one with a particular aesthetics.
Pathé Baby apresenta: O Carnaval de 1936
was most likely made by hired professionals who sold images to Pathé or produced films exclusively in the 9.5mm format. The film is introduced with steady titles (“Pathé Baby presents”) and serves as news coverage of the parades and street festivities taking place on the Avenida Rio Branco. The corsos,1
with people parading in cars (at the time a very important indicator of social status), the "ranchos”2
and the "sociedades carnavalescas"3
, which paraded with large, ornamented cars and gentlemen riding horses: all these can be seen in the six minute reel. These professional reels were sold by Pathé, the French giant that served as the main supplier in feeding a demand for cinematic home viewing in Brazil, while also offering film projectors and accessories. Pathé maintained a consumer market the company had inaugurated in 1912 with the 28mm Pathé-KOK system, known as "Cinematographe du Salon", or “cinema in the living room”. In 1913 this French system was already sold in Rio de Janeiro by Companhia Cinematographica Brasileira
. In 1922, Pathé launched its most successful system for domestic cinema, the 9.5mm Pathé-Baby, and in September of 1923 the company established the Societé Franco-Bresilienne du Pathé-Baby
, a branch for the Brazilian market. Two months later, the company was permitted by Brazilian authorities to start its commercial activities in Rio de Janeiro. Understanding that the history and preservation of film technology and equipment is a crucial aspect of film history, LUPA has acquired and organized a collection of film cameras and equipment, part of which have been made available to different exhibitions.
In O Carnaval de 1936
and Tourada, Festa da Igreja da Penha e Carnaval
, images of carnaval are captured by amateur hands, noticeable through the shots in which the camera comes in close proximity to the dressed up “foliões".4
Even though some of the locations in these films are the same as those that were captured in the more professional cinematic productions of Rio, here we find a rarer depiction of these areas, with spontaneous street celebrations, followed by the adults and children of the Nunes family playing and singing while dressed up as Chinese dancers. The beauty and the energy of the crowded streets, the body movements, the joy of a group of children; this spontaneity gives the spectator a very intense feeling of the cultural and existential meaning of carnaval, a feeling of rare translation. Expressions of joy can also be found in the core images of Festa da Penha, a religious celebration in a traditional neighborhood of Zona Norte, and in the scenes of the bathers in Balneário da Urca
. The film displays a day spent at the beach and views of the Urca Casino and the Sugar Loaf, both famous sites for tourists. In a different film, Amador J.Nunes saúda todos os amigos e presentes
, amateur dexterity can be seen in nicely shot intertitles, as the film begins as a sort of reflexive home movie: a woman holds an amateur 16mm camera and points it directly at the main camera which is shooting. This reflexive gesture denotes the popular interest in cameras and in the act of filming itself, and we understand from the film that amateurism is about the sheer love of image making and the subjective cinematic experience.
The process of safekeeping these images and making them accessible are gestures of extreme importance towards building the perception that home movies and amateur films are vital materials to be studied and preserved. As a regional film archive, LUPA has amassed different collections in the past few years, including important personal archives such as documentation regarding Carlos Fonseca, film critic and producer with a long career in cultural management at institutions such as Instituto Nacional de Cinema (INC), as well as the materials of many other amateur filmmakers and collectors. These new collections have been revised and organized by students, and the documentation is made available through LUPA's website even while the cataloguing work is still in process, making LUPA an indispensable space for practice and experimentation with strategies for granting access to archival collections. Decentralizing preservation efforts is an urgent issue in Brazil and LUPA is an example of how we can observe that home movies and amateur films are important sources for local histories. The maturation of what was a new field of study ten years ago is a cause for celebration, as amateur and orphan films solidify their place as one of the central initiatives in contemporary film preservation.
1. A parade of cars, very common in Carnaval celebrations of the first decades of the 20th century.
2. A group of costumed Carnaval goers playing musical instruments, singing and celebrating in the streets.
3. Associations dedicated to promoting parades and competitions during Carnaval. Some researchers indicate that they were the inspiration for the Samba schools.
4. Foliões are people who participate in the Carnaval parties.
1. Attraction and Retraction
Usually, we would begin an analysis of black representation in Brazilian cinema by listing a group of films associated with the Cinema Novo movement: Aruanda (Linduarte Noronha, 1960), The Turning Wind (Barravento, Glauber Rocha, 1962), Five Times Favela (Cinco vezes favela, Carlos Diegues, Leon Hirszman, Marcos Farias, Miguel Borges and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1962), Bahia of All Saints (Bahia de todos os santos, Trigueirinho Neto, 1961), The Big Market (A grande feira, Roberto Pires, 1961), Ganga Zumba (Carlos Diegues, 1964). One can disrupt this corpus by offering an expanded view, mentioning two films that do not adhere to the stereotypical, paternalistic or submissive portrayals of black people often found throughout Brazilian cinema. Closer to the filmic language of Cinema Novo, we have Compasso de Espera (Marking Time, Antunes Filho, 1972). Compasso is linked to the movement's second phase where urban themes and the contradictions of the middle class are present in films such as The Dare (O Desafio, Paulo César Saraceni, 1965) and Bebel, Advertisement Girl (Bebel, garota propaganda, Maurice Capovilla, 1968). Soul in the Eye (Alma no Olho, Zózimo Bulbul, 1973), on the other hand, the first film by black filmmaker Zózimo Bulbul (made with leftover film stock from Compasso de Espera), distances itself from the Cinema Novo films, finding its strength in John Coltrane’s jazz and performance elements. Zózimo Bulbul stars in Compasso and directs Soul, so these films form a diptych via an umbilical relationship. Inspired by Eldridge Cleaver’s book Soul on Ice (1968),1 Soul in the Eye is Bulbul’s seminal work. It was made in the context of Cinema Novo but marks itself right from the start with an ambiguous distancing, an oscillation which would accompany the filmmaker throughout his oeuvre, both aesthetically and politically. Consequently, the films of Antunes Filho and Bulbul are simultaneously close and distant from the priorities that the Cinema Novo movement had delineated in the 1960s.
Despite eventual criticism towards black representation in the films of the Cinema Novo movement, Noel dos Santos Carvalho points out that the movement marked an important change of attitude in that respect:
Cinema Novo put black people front and center, away from the stereotypes spread in the past by the chanchadas, the films of the Vera Cruz Company and such. Its anti-racism was based on: 1) condemning racial stereotypes; 2) ignoring the concept of race in favor of the generalistic concept of people; 3) dealing with aspects of black history, religiosity and culture. (...) However, we want to emphasize the change of attitude, the disruption represented by a group of films that took black people away from stereotypical roles and made them the protagonists of their own stories.2
Applying cinema as a tool for thought and anti-racist political practice marks the common ground among Cinema Novo films. However, when considering the form and approach of the films, particularly those associated with black matters, Bulbul’s films appear distant from the Cinema Novo movement. In 1982, amid obscure transactions by Embrafilme,3 Bulbul harshly criticized Carlos Diegues and Walter Lima Jr., and even turned down an offer to work on King Chico (Chico Rei, Walter Lima Jr., 1985), because he considered it “historically abhorrent”, and “mild”, made to be shown “on Globo”.4 He opposed the film’s representation of black people but also the kind of filmic experience it provided, which to Zózimo was innocuous and lacking invention.
The plot thickens. Years later, in the epigraph of his first feature film, Abolition (Abolição, 1988), Bulbul inserts a dedication to two members of the Cinema Novo movement, Glauber Rocha and Leon Hirszman. It was a controversial move because, upon returning to Brazil after a self-imposed exile in Europe,5 it was noticeable how his relationship of attraction-retraction to Cinema Novo remained intact. In fact, today, it seems more accurate to evoke Bulbul as the filmmaker who worked with forms and themes that required an experimental style that no other Cinema Novo filmmaker had the tools to create. This dichotomy offers us a way to determine just how much of an alien Abolition is, be it in relation to Brazilian documentaries, to Cinema Novo or even to Bulbul’s own oeuvre. When considering the relations between cinema, Blackness and racism in Brazil, we identify in Abolition a sort of forcefield which indicates that, rather than integrating or not integrating hegemonic movements, Zózimo chose to follow his own path.
2. Atlantic Cinema
Abolition deals with filmic language within a specific technical and aesthetic dimension by extrapolating its documentary values and proposing a singular experience. Abolition is therefore linked to a group of films that deal with the relationship between documentary and fiction. It is organized in registers, interviews, archive footage and staged scenes in order to expose the opportunistic articulation between the historical lie of the abolition of slavery and the lived reality of black people in contemporary Brazil. Today, more than thirty years after its debut, Abolition seems less like “an expanded Alma no Olho”6 and more like an experience which resonates with these formally exploratory documentary and fiction works. It can accordingly be seen as an “Atlantic” film, i.e., a film made to bring forth a cosmos of free associations. Other examples include films such as The Age of Earth (A Idade da Terra, Glauber Rocha, 1980), Twenty Years Later (Cabra Marcado para Morrer, Eduardo Coutinho, 1984), Ôrí (Raquel Gerber, 1989), and The Thread of Memory (O Fio da Memória, Eduardo Coutinho, 1991). Atlantic Cinema is a cinema of crossing, a cinema pervaded by colonial and racial themes that are at the same time direct and indirect, objective and subjective. Atlantic Cinema contains a myriad of signs in movement through historical ages and facts, with a broad and dilated referential, in an audio-logo-visual polyphony embedded in the film’s form.
The film, with its unique approach, was not well-received by black filmmakers, black researchers or the black public — who, frankly, don’t usually have access to movie theaters. In a later essay on Bulbul, Noel dos Santos Carvalho reinforces the perception that Abolition’s experimentalism could not accomplish its intended effect, as it constituted “an inventory of speeches, performances and lectures regarding the abolition of slavery, which in part accounts for its irregular nature, its repetitions and excesses”. Carvalho also points out that “from the perspective of narrative structure, it’s the most didactic of these films, which adds to its irregular nature” and he adds: “Abolition, with a running time of 150 minutes, couldn't find acceptance from the audience. Not even among the black population. It was restricted to a small circle of intellectuals and activists of the black movement”. In his essay “Esboço para uma História do Negro no Cinema Brasileiro"7 Carvalho calls attention to the fact that the crew of the film was composed almost exclusively of black men and women (the exceptions being Miguel Rio Branco with his experimental cinematography and Severino Dadá with his precise editing), noting that “what we see is mediated by the gaze of this crew. So, it’s not only about telling the history of black people in Brazil, but having a black perspective of history”. In both cases, there seems to be a consensus that the eventual qualities of the film are present on a purely symbolic level, i.e., “out” of the film itself, whether due to the initial effort to try and problematize the abolition of slavery from a black gaze, or due to the representation of the ethnic composition of the crew. Ahead, I will propose some ideas based on the internal structure of the film, to affirm it as a major representation of Atlantic Cinema, the group of films that have formed a singular trajectory in Brazilian film.
3. Material and Treatment
In an interview with Peter Hessli in February 1994, American cinematographer Arthur Jafa makes a distinction between material and treatment. Not being able to choose the material with which to work, African diasporic creativity, self-affirmed by finding new uses, appropriates and deeply transforms the materials at hand: “So a lot of our creativity coalesced around the notion of treatment, that is, transforming in some meaningful fashion, given materials. (...)” Unlike photography and painting, in which the image, as a material product, is the point of arrival, the image produced by cinema is merely a point of departure. The equipment and materials needed to make a film are even more inaccessible to black populations, and so when black people appropriate it, it’s noticeable in very subtle ways. Jafa gives this example: John Coltrane taking My Favorite Things away from its original territory and, with a particular treatment, creating openings which were unthinkable until then, “African-American creativity has been shaped by the specific circumstances Black people found themselves in; we weren’t generally able to dictate the materials we were given to work with”. What makes Abolition extremely exceptional is that, unlike Bulbul’s first film, made with leftover film from Compasso de Espera, unlike the Cuban “archive cinema” of Nicolas Landrián and Santiago Álvarez or even Jafa himself, this film seems to be controlled both ways: in the style of its production and approach, there is a complete ownership of the creation and transformation of the material and the treatment. Said material and this treatment, coupled with the choice of a predominately black crew, indicate conscious aesthetic choices.
Besides all this, Abolition holds its place in the realm of “Atlantic Cinema” for the cosmic quality it possesses. In the film, a linear narrative and a propagandistic representation of reality give way to a field in which Bulbul articulates interviews, archive recordings and photos. Organized in a non-linear way, the film is an ample space without a center, a work in favor of orality, a trancelike sequence of shots, staged interviews, rhythmic editing and local energy. Abolition cannot be simply reduced to a film that features a black gaze on black history, because history for the diasporic is never an ends but a means, a strategy always aimed at the future, for survival in a tough environment. This strategy has one purpose: to make life in the present possible. This seems to me to be he most potent definition of “ancestry”: the ability to tell one’s own history with enough power to break it apart and retell it, to build a singular historicity. So, this is not about an absent or idealized blackness, nor an integrated and coherent resistance movement which unravels in the light of mistakes and conflict. This is about a black man’s gaze encompassed by a black and non-black cosmos which involves him and with which he negotiates his very existence.
Abolition cannot be simply reduced to a film that features a black gaze on black history, because history for the diasporic is never an ends but a means, a strategy always aimed at the future, for survival in a tough environment. This strategy has one purpose: to make life in the present possible. This seems to me to be he most potent definition of “ancestry”: the ability to tell one’s own history with enough power to break it apart and retell it, to build a singular historicity.
4. “What about May 14th, 1888?”
The opening minutes of Abolition are crucial to understanding the way the film moves and develops. An intertitle with an historical marker exemplifies critical irreverence: May 12th, the day before the signing of the Lei Áurea, the documentation of Brazil’s official abolition of slavery. Further ahead, another intertitle: May 14th, 1888. In a text about the film, Bulbul asks: “how was May 14th, 1888?” Playing around with the dates moves the historical axis from the abolition as key event, in favor of relating its causes and consequences to the brutal, incomprehensible present, far from the grasp of history. Every image in the opening of the film is accompanied by the sound of the shutter cracking like a whip. We hear the voices of Clementina de Jesus, Tia Doca and Geraldo Filme singing "Canto I", from the 1982 album O Canto dos Escravos, part of the repertoire of work songs collected by philologist Aires da Mata Machado Filho in the late 1920s, in São João da Chapada, Diamantina, Minas Gerais. The shutter/whip accentuates each change of image — ultimately amassing a collection of photos and paintings that depict the horrors of slavery — in cuts that sometimes follow the rhythm perfectly and other times in a syncopated manner. The association between the shutter and the whip is meant to be in understood critically, signaling new and unexpected ways to think about racial issues in Brazil.
Finally, a third intertitle indicates: May 13th. “Dia de branco” (“day of the white [person]”), a once-common racist saying that was used to refer to the days of the work week in Brazil. A storm hits the city as the Abolition film crew arrives at the Imperial Palace, in Rio de Janeiro, where the shooting will take place. The key grip, a young black man, sets up a light. The lights are for the behind the scenes, there is no interview or any other reason for them. The film then proceeds to show a Congada8 coming into a church with banners. This elliptical manner of free associations, without explicit reason, is a prevalent structural element of the whole film. The variations in rhythm of editing and the interior lighting in the shot indicates a free conception of film form. All of the interviews in the film suggest a dramatic staging, contrary to the historical staging of the signing of the Lei Áurea. The über-fake feeling of this fictional signing of the Lei Áurea conveys to us that the law that freed the slaves was all an act. The purposefully idiotic intonation of actress Camila Amado, playing Princess Isabel, contrasts with the following scene, a long Carnaval parade in the Sambódromo,9 intercut with hilarious shots of the delirious Princess screaming from the balcony of her palace. From the portrayal of the colonial Princess who believed she was playing a key historical role, to the complex expression of Carnaval one hundred years later, an uncertain feeling stands out - something between beauty, discomfort and irony. In the Carnaval of Rio, Black bodies play instruments, dance, sing and work by pushing allegorical vehicles in the procession.10
The sequence of dedications which come soon after is peculiar: “to the master Glauber Rocha”, to Leon Hirszman and "to black filmmaker Hermínio de Oliveira", followed by a mention of the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement) over the images of carnavalgoers leaving the Sambódromo and heading to the Central do Brasil station. This station is where people usually take the train to the Zona Norte and Zona Oeste neighborhoods, as well as to the municipalities in Baixada Fluminense. At this moment in the film, we spot the great samba composer Catoni among the passerbys. We leave the harmonious sounds and dancing bodies of the Carnaval for the Central do Brasil station, and then move into the trains that take the black carnivalgoers to their homes in the Rio suburbs. Cut to a puppet theater show for children which deals directly with racism. Then, shots of the crowded Rio-Niterói ferry feature a synthesizer-heavy soundtrack reminiscent of Krautrock. Black construction workers and shoeshiners, a dog taking a dump, a woman at work, as we go into her house. A baby, a birth certificate dated 1868, and, then we stumble upon an impressive interview with Mr. Manoel, a former slave who, at 120 years of age, gives the following statement: “today we live in bitterness, we didn’t get paid but we had satisfaction. We were satisfied with the food, everyone was satisfied”.
A tone of subtle irony can be detected when we cut from the interview with the grandson of Princess Isabel, João de Orleans e Bragança, to the crew of black technicians with their equipment in hand leaving the Imperial Palace in a hurry. Then, with a single statement, Maria Beatriz do Nascimento dismantles the official truths of the Royal family by demonstrating how the political pact which culminated in the abolition of slavery threw the lives of the black population into precariousness. The passage from a Monarchy to a Republic:11 “black people stopped obeying their masters and started being controlled by the State”.
Joel Rufino sitting on a curb on the idyllic Pedra do Sal, the original stronghold of Rio’s urban samba. Bulbul and his editor, Severino Dadá, make use of an Eisensteinian montage, intercutting the Rufino interview with shots of waves hitting rocks. The sound design allows the urban soundscape and the musical soundtrack to coexist within the interview. Joel Rufino presents Aunt Carmen as a bastion of the Praça Onze, a location in Rio which at the start of the 20th century was known as Little Africa. Writer and actress Thereza Santos makes the assertion, while standing in a storm, that after the abolition the living conditions of black women grew worse.
Abolition, in effect, sets itself far from Cinema Novo by posing a different set of questions. The film relates to Brazilian history by parodying its sociological rules, and its style is similar to that of Frederick Wiseman’s in its use of cinema to apprehend reality by capturing objective information as well as fragmentary and temporary aspects. Such seemingly random displacements accentuate the polyphony and allow for an ambiguous relationship, either emphasizing Bulbul’s very presence, or sharing a space with the spectator, the crew, and the characters. It is not just about black gaze or Bulbul’s gaze; he captures a reality in the film that extrapolates subjectivity, organizing it by fields of action: modulation, intersections, fragments, rhythm and cutting, symbols, posters and words shown on screen.
5. Atlantic Trance
In Abolition, Bulbul allows for sections of the film to modulate through and from subtle changes in themes, signs and elements. One example of this is the samba and the various forms in which it is presented. There are sections in crossing, marked by intersections of the central issue with other “presences”, fragments and details which make it unstable: Native Brazilians, Northeasterners,12 and even white people, aiming at a tridimensional black gaze, i.e., opening up to a cosmological and sociological assimilation that is broader than what white hegemony allows. There is a fragmented and incomplete field intercut by shining presences. This field is marked by a very peculiar use of talking heads, shaped by the interaction of the camera with the interviewee: the theatrically beat-down presence of Benedita da Silva; Lélia Gonzalez talking and gesticulating in the sunlight. The bishop Dom Hélder Câmara providing a critical analysis of beaches overflowing with white bodies while Jards Macalé sings Rio sem tom, a song he wrote to criticize the fact that Tom Jobim had sold a song to Coca-Cola.13 Perhaps due to the influence of orthodox Marxism, Zózimo noticeably devoted very little time to Afro-Brazilian religions, favoring Dom Hélder’s strange interview. Even so, there is a precious interview with Mãe Filhinha, the founder of the IIê Axé Itayle terreiro14, in Cachoeira, Bahia.
Some critics and researchers have commented that Abolition is repetitive. I think this repetition is a necessary asset in the film’s structure, organized by intertwining themes and treatments. There is a trace of repetition which, like the absence of a narrator, can be understood as an aesthetic choice. And, like in The Age of the Earth, the repetition aims to provoke a state of trance, of hallucination. To repeat in order to hallucinate. Repetition brings forth the Atlantic trance. The consensus regarding Glauberian expression as an allegory begets very particular ways of exploring dynamic stasis, the static progression of the dispute between antagonistic forces, which indicates that, when it comes to Brazilian racism, everything is transformed in order to keep the status quo intact. As a complement to that field, there is the written word, posters, watchwords, and intertitles to rectify and break open the shots.
Some critics and researchers have commented that Abolition is repetitive. I think this repetition is a necessary asset in the film’s structure, organized by intertwining themes and treatments. There is a trace of repetition which, like the absence of a narrator, can be understood as an aesthetic choice. And, like in The Age of the Earth, the repetition aims to provoke a state of trance, of hallucination. To repeat in order to hallucinate. Repetition brings forth the Atlantic trance.
A particularly dark moment in the film is that of the anti-interview with anthropologist Gilberto Freyre, author of the classic study Casa Grande & Senzala.15 Unable to speak due to his poor health condition, Freyre is represented by hisson, who limits himself to repeating platitudes from Freyre’s work regarding the value of the “afroblack” element (his words). The camera moves slowly out of the room, as if to indicate an abandonment, which is reinforced by the underexposed cinematography. Other particularly interesting moments: the presence of communist politician Luís Carlos Prestes just twenty minutes into the film indicates a movement towards the unexpected, as it allows for a white political leader to speak in its first few minutes. Black sociologist and journalist Muniz Sodré walks through the corridors of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (I have to note how weird it is to see black people inside a Brazilian university in 1988). Francisco Lucrécio and Correia Leite tell the story of how the Frente Negra16 was founded in the 1930s. The Revolt of the Lash gets a special mention in the interviews of historian Edmar Morel and of the daughter of João Cândido.17 Two repentistas18 sing about the Abolition and the situation of black people in the history of Brazil.The widow of black poet and cultural agitator Solano Trindade complains that her husband’s memory is being erased. Abdias do Nascimento, a playwright, activist and politician, talks about his experience with the Black Experimental Theater.19 Reminiscent of Kanye West, a current icon who has blamed black people for slavery, singer Agnaldo Timóteo insists that first and foremost black people have to change their mentality. Composer Nei Lopes drinks beer while Paulo Moura plays his saxophone, in contrast with the part of São Paulo which is inhabited by people from the Northeast, cornered between misery and the commodification of life itself. Then, Zózimo exposes the violence of the Military Regime on black bodies. Despite the reflexive tone usually attributed to this film, Abolição doesn’t only express the vision of its author. Simultaneously close and away from Bulbul, a cinema with a collective soul is born, in a panel of diffuse presences, always elusive.
6. The Party is Over
The price paid for being black in Brazil is huge. Zózimo Bulbul’s trajectory in Brazilian cinema is linked to a personal effort to conquer his own ground to work in, and to make it possible for a black filmography to arise. The generosity of Bulbul’s Atlantic aesthetics is contrasted at times by a collective tendency to reinforce militant watchwords and the demand for basic rights. When a black person fails to correspond to what minority groups, society and even his brothers and sistas expect of him, his walk is even harder. Just ask Albert Ayler, John Coltrane or Itamar Assumpção. The list of black men and women who were misunderstood by the black movement because they failed to follow what the community considered appropriate is a long one. These black people are usually unlucky. Bulbul’s name is on that list, and so Abolition might have been a huge disappointment to those who followed his work. Either way, the film bets on collective experimentalism as a way to survive, even though it doesn’t end on an optimistic note.
Amid images of streets filled with trash and the luxury of show houses, Grande Otelo calls on the black “taskforce”: “Nothing was ever abolished and today we have it even worse, because now black and white people are slaves.” Next, black street children impress us with their direct, political discourse: “We are still slaves. No work, no healthcare, no education…” The tragic symbolism is exacerbated. These crescendo signals the end is near, just as the mamulengo doll announces: “And thus, ladies and gentlemen, we end our tragicomedy in various acts, without ever reaching the ending! The abolition of slavery in Brazil. Or, to put it bluntly: black people can go fuck themselves.” An intertitle announces the ending: “the party is over”. The camera is pointed at the Central do Brasil station, then moves slowly down behind the grates of Campo de Santana. The last shot is the Central do Brasil station seen from behind iron bars, materializing, with the camera movement, the mutual imprisonment and the thin dialectics of oppression.
1. Published in Brazil in 1971 under the title Alma no Exílio.
2. Carvalho, 2005
3. Embrafilme is the main producer of Brazilian films since the company’s conception in 1969 until its implosion in 1990. Embrafilme provided a certain level of infrastructure and helped forge a new public interest in Brazilian cinema despite the fact that the market was dominated by foreign studios. However, Embrafilme’s practices were also met with criticism from filmmakers who made the accusation that they prioritized certain films while delaying the commercial release of others.
4. Rede Globo is Brazil’s largest TV network and the largest media conglomerate in Latin America.
5. Carvalho, 2005
7. Draft for a History of Black People in Brazilian Cinema, translated freely, 2005.
8. A popular street procession with song and dance that reenacts the coronation of a king in Congo.
9. A large construction in Rio de Janeiro where the samba school parades take place during Carnaval.
10. Tall vehicles designed in accordance with the theme of that year’s parade.
11. The Republic was installed on November 15th, 1889.
12. People from the Northeast of Brazil are historically subjected to prejudice from the richer regions of Brazil. Especially the South and Southeast.
13. The song was Águas de Março, which was used with new lyrics in many Coca-Cola TV spots during the 1980s.
14. Terreiros are the houses in which the Candomblé religion is practiced.
15. Published in English under the title The Masters and the Slaves.
16. Frente Negra Brasileira, or Brazilian Black Front, was the first black political party in Brazil.
17. The Revolt of the Lash (Revolta da Chibata) was a naval mutiny which took place in Rio de Janeiro in November, 1910. It was a response to the frequent whipping of black sailors by white naval officers. The Revolt was led by João Cândido Felisberto.
18. Repente is a kind of improvised poetry typical of the Northeast.
19. Teatro Experimental do Negro was a theater company founded in 1944 and ended in 1961.
CARVALHO, Noel dos Santos. “Esboço para uma história do negro no cinema Brasileiro”. In: De, Jeferson. Dogma feijoada, o cinema negro brasileiro. São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial, 2005.
_____. O Produtor e Cineasta Zózimo Bulbul — O Inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro. Revista Crioula (USP), v. 12, p. 1-21, 2012.
DAVID, Marcell Carrasco. Abolição: escavações e memórias sobre o Cinema Negro de Zózimo Bulbul. Dissertação de Mestrado, PUC-Rio, 2020.
JAFA, Arthur. “The Notion of Treatment: Black Aesthetics and Film”. In Pearl Bowser, Jane Gaines and Charles Musser (eds.): Oscar Micheaux and His Circle, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001, pp. 11-17.
Menino da Calça Branca
(Boy in the White Pants
), Sérgio Ricardo’s first movie,1
is a 1962 short film made while the Brazilian Cinema Novo movement was still consolidating itself. The film tells the story of a boy from a favela who receives white pants as a gift, and proud of this symbol of social status, wears his white pants while walking through the city of Rio de Janeiro. Sérgio Ricardo’s first film reveals his desire to call attention to Brazil’s lower social classes, something that will become a common theme throughout his filmography (as noted by Gustavo Menezes de Andrade in his 2017 dissertation
). Looking at his career as a whole, this wasn't the first time that an interest in exploring the lives of the lower classes manifested itself. For example, besides working as an actor, Sérgio Ricardo began his career as a musician and composer. In his song “Zelão
”, made one year prior to Menino da Calça Branca
, he sings about a favela musician who lost his home to a flood.
Multi-talented, Sérgio Ricardo both directs Menino da Calça Branca
and composes its soundtrack, on which he explores the sonorities of Bossa Nova using only his voice, guitar and flute. In this article, we aim to highlight the major themes of this short film about a favela child in the city of Rio de Janeiro, analyzing the way the plot develops alongside the music in the film, while also taking into account the larger context of music in Brazilian cinema at that time.
Menino da Calça Branca
is not the first occasion that a Brazilian film showed images of a favela in Rio de Janeiro. For example, there is the case of a lost 1935 film by Humberto Mauro, Favela dos meus amores
. But it was Rio, 40 Graus
(Rio 100 Degrees F.
) by Nelson Pereira dos Santos which would become an important reference for filmmakers of the 1960s who were looking to film in favelas. This 1955 film portrays the lives of five children from the favela in their daily struggle for survival. Nelson Pereira’s film is considered by many researchers, such as Mariarosaria Fabris (2007), as having been influenced by Italian Neorealism in its compassionately humanist way of looking at the lower classes (holding an “ethical posture”, as Cesare Zavattini recommended). The film is similar to the films of the Neorealists that often have sad endings, where characters have no hope for a better future.2
Rio, 40 Graus contains images made in favelas such as Morro do Cabuçu, and we can even see and hear the samba school Unidos da Cabuçu rehearsing in the favela in the film’s final sequence. It is worth mentioning that Nelson Pereira dos Santos decided to edit Menino da Calça Branca for free because he got excited when he saw Sérgio Ricardo’s initial material. In fact, while Sérgio Ricardo was finishing up edits of Menino da Calça Branca, the Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC)3 put together the collective film project titled (Five Times Favela). This work would be composed of five short films by directors of the emerging Brazilian Cinema Novo movement: Leon Hirzsman’s Pedreira de São Diogo, Cacá Diegues’ Escola de Samba, Alegria de viver, Miguel Borges’ Zé da Cachorra, Marcos Farias’ Um favelado and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Couro de gato (Cat Skin).4
Sérgio Ricardo said in an interview that Menino da Calça Branca
was considered to be included in Cinco Vezes Favela
, but it ended up being denied for its “excessive lyricism”.5
He added in the interview that maybe the film didn't have the didacticism intended by the CPC. It is coincidental that, among the five films chosen for Cinco
Vezes Favela, Cat Skin
is also a story about favela children. As the themes of Menino da Calça Branca
and Cat Skin
are similar, this article will compare both films, while taking into account their influential predecessor, Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s Rio, 40 Graus.
To begin, what could this accusation of excessive lyricism be referring to in Ricardo’s film? Like Nelson Pereira and Joaquim Pedro, Sérgio Ricardo filmed on location in a favela (the now extinct Macedo Sobrinho). In the first shot of Menino da Calça Branca
we see slum shacks with shabby rooftops, and as the opening titles run, we hear the song “Enquanto a tristeza não vem
” (“While the Sadness Doesn't Come”). Then a boy appears (played by Zezinho Gama), playing games such as hopscotch and hide-and-go-seek alone and with his friends. No details of the favela setting are spared, as we can see an open-air sewage ditch that runs through an alley. Menino da Calça Branca
does not beautify any aspects of favela life.
Perhaps the most clear example of “lyricism” in Menino da Calça Branca is when Sérgio Ricardo’s favela boy eventually goes to “the asphalt”. “The asphalt” (“o asfalto”) is a term used in popular Portuguese language to connote the city below the hills of the favelas, where the alleys are typically unpaved. Unlike the peanut sellers of Rio, 40 Graus or the boys in Cat Skin,6 when the boy in the white pants leaves the favela, he does not do so to work. Instead, he is allowed a purely playful experience on the asphalt. There, in his white pants, he spiritedly imitates the posture of nearby walking adults, proudly displaying his clean garment while doing so.
Despite taking the utmost care to keep them clean, the pants of the young boy become completely muddy, causing him to burst into tears. While it is a very sad moment in the film, it is not nearly as inexorable and tragic as the instances of death in Rio, 40 Graus or Cat Skin. In the first example, there is the death of one of the boys; in the second, a beautiful white cat is taken to be sacrificed. The films of Nelson Pereira and Joaquim Pedro display a harshness, a cruelty from which the oppressed cannot escape. This, in a way, echoes some of the destinies of characters from Italian neo-realist films: the unemployed man of Bicycle Thieves (1948) who loses his bicycle and becomes too ashamed to become a thief in front of his son, or the retired man of Umberto D. (1952) who relocates his lost dog, but still has no solution for his own financial survival. In comparison to these examples, Sérgio Ricardo’s boy from Menino da Calça Branca is spared any great tragedy, though tragedy does exist around him. For example, at the end of the film, the boy cries because of his muddy pants and a drunken Santa Claus (played by Sérgio Ricardo himself) tries to cheer him up. The drunken Santa Claus has traits of a tragic character: he also begins to cry and the boy cheers him up in return. Spared of greater tragedy, the boy has his soiled pants washed by his mother and he goes back to playing in the favela in his old shorts.
It is only at the very end of Menino da Calça Branca that an encounter with “the real” (in the sense of Zavatinni’s neo-realism) takes place. We see the boy holding a revolver in a close-up shot, and there is some apprehension as to whether or not the weapon is real and loaded. He shoots and another boy shoots back. The image freezes the dual to a standstill and the film ends.
How should we interpret this ending? Are they simply playing the common game of “Cops and Robbers” with toy guns? Are the guns in their hands real, and a tragedy bound to occur? Or is the film suggesting with this game between the children that they both have future careers in crime? If we interpret the final scene as such, Sérgio Ricardo’s film ends up feeling much more pessimistic than of Rio, 40 Graus and Cat Skin. His lyricism is pregnant with tragedy. The verse of Sérgio Ricardo’s opening and closing title song says it all: “[Happiness] plays a little while sadness doesn't come”.
It should be taken into account that Rio’s favelas were still not so violent during the time of the early 60s when Menino da Calça Branca was made. There was not a large presence of organized crime and drugs, as this is something that only began to occur in the late 1970s. The violence that we do see in Menino da Calça Branca is that of social violence, a violence of being excluded from society. But the end of Menino da Calça Branca, like Paul Klee's Angelus Novus, looks at the future and anticipates, even if unintentionally, the loss of a romantic vision of the slums that will take place, a romantic vision that can still be observed in these films and in their public reception.
One could also argue that there is a “whitening” of the favela in Menino da Calça Branca because its three main characters (the boy, his mother and the doll repairman) are not black. Even though almost all of the boy's friends in the film’s opening shots are black, none play a major role in the movie’s story. Far from being reproaches belonging to our contemporary time in 2020, this same criticism was made at the time of the film by Ruy Guerra and others (Andrade 2017). However, it can be argued that this was a problem of other early Cinema Novo films, as the boy protagonist in Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Cat Skin is white as well.7
Music and Rios Favelas in the Years 1955 - 1962
It is important for us to consider how the music composed for Menino da Calça Branca
can be contextualized within the larger panorama of Brazilian music of the time. This is all the more interesting because Sérgio Ricardo had already established a career as a musician before turning to a parallel career in cinema. Sérgio Ricardo composed the Menino da Calça Branca
soundtrack in the Bossa Nova style that he had been previously exploring.8
However, on the soundtrack he solely chose to include his vocals, the guitar, and flute, which was something quite unusual for soundtracks of the time. More generally, one would have appealed toward orchestration, even if the musical piece had originally been a popular song.
For example, this is what occurred in Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s Rio, 40 Graus
. Although the film used Zé Keti's samba “A Voz do Morro
” (“The Voice of the Favela”) as its main theme, it was orchestrated by Radamés Gnattali, an experienced musician in orchestration who mostly worked in radio, moving between high-art and popular music fields. According to a 2001 interview with Guerrini Júnior (2009), Nelson Pereira would have preferred a less grandiose use of music, but the “orchestra” was almost a natural imposition, as it was then considered to be the standard for “film music”. As such, despite the fact that Rio, 40 Graus
had to be interrupted several times due to financial problems, a lot of money was spent in the production to record an orchestral soundtrack.
Building the soundtrack for Menino da Calça Branca
was much different than that of Rio, 40 Graus
. Menino da Calça Branca
was financed by the director himself, and he chose the short film format as it generally allowed for more experimentation. As such, Ricardo employs a much more minimal soundtrack, utilizing only voice, guitar, and flute. The role of music remains primordial in the film, its presence felt throughout nearly its entire length.
In Menino da Calça Branca
, music is mostly found in the nondiegetic foreground, and speech is reduced to a minimum. In fact, the only time articulate speech occurs in the film is during the previously mentioned scene when drunken Santa Claus and the boy confide in each other. Even so, the speech is that of a drunken character, and therefore it is hard to make out what is being said. The film soundtrack is basically built around two songs, “Enquanto a tristeza não vem” (“While the Sadness Doesn't Come”) and “Menino da calça branca
” (“Boy in the White Pants”). “Enquanto a tristeza não vem” can be heard during the film’s opening titles, sung with guitar accompaniment by Sérgio Ricardo, with some additional flute. It then returns in several different arrangements throughout the film. For example, when the song is first used, there is a confluence between the diegetic and nondiegetic spaces of the film: the character played by Sérgio Ricardo whistles the main tune of the song and, shortly afterward, a humming with guitar and flute follows the melodic line on the soundtrack. This variation of the song is also heard when the drunken Santa Claus leaves the white pants as a present for the boy when visiting his home in the middle of the night.
When the boy opens the package and sees the white pants the next morning, we hear another piece of music, “Menino da calça branca”. This music continues over wide shots of Rio de Janeiro´s landscape and favelas. The song lyrics directly connect with the events of the film. In fact, the lyrics of the two songs serve a narrative function9 as the film has no dialogue.
“Menino da calça branca” can be subsequently heard on the soundtrack in varying arrangements. During these later moments, the melody is hummed,10 the song transforming into one without words. It is as if the impact of the earlier sung lyrics have resonated into feelings we can now evoke by only hearing the melody.
The great turning point in the film’s narrative is also announced by the soundtrack: the boy, out on “the asphalt”, sees a marching band playing with their brass and percussive instruments to an newly arranged version of the first song of the film, “Enquanto a tristeza não vem”. The music here functions as an announcement that the boy’s perfect experience with his white pants will soon come to an end. Shortly after we hear the music, a soccer ball falls in a mud puddle right before him and the mud splashes all over his pants. The brass band music, whose sound had been suddenly silenced (a common Brechtian distancing effect), suddenly returns to mark the eruption of sadness in the boy.
The song “Menino da calça branca” (accompanied by guitar and flute in a minor tone) is hummed again when the boy, angered at the fate of his soiled white pants, rips out an advertisement for the white pants11
from the newspaper, urinates on the newspaper, and throws the now separated advertisement into the wind. The song “Enquanto a tristeza não vem” is then sung by Sérgio Ricardo to close the film. Taking the lyrics into account, it is possible that the song is being used to emphasize the fact that the boy’s happiness and playfulness is just an interlude for the sadness that is to come.
It is also important to highlight, in addition to the general importance of the two previously discussed songs, the great role of the guitar throughout the film soundtrack. Several transition moments that would be conventionally played by an orchestra are made with a percussive pattern on the guitar in Menino da Calça Branca
. This reinforces the role of the instrument within the film music, something completely innovative for a score of this period.
Highlighting further comparisons between the music of Menino da Calça Branca
and Rio, 40 Graus
, it is interesting that both soundtracks are completely based off of one or two songs.12
In the case of Sergio Ricardo’s film, one of the songs is of course “Menino da Calça Branca”
and in Nelson Pereira’s film, the previously mentioned samba by Zé Keti, “A Voz do Morro”. In Rio, 40 Graus
, “A Voz do Morro” can be heard in the opening titles and functions as the leitmotif of the five favela boys in the film, as well of the favela itself. In almost all of the instances throughout Rio, 40 Graus
wherein which “A Voz do Morro” can be heard, Zé Keti’s samba is played in Radamés Gnatalli’s orchestral variation: without lyrics and as nondiegetic music. However, the last time we hear the song in the film, it becomes part of its diegesis, as the music is played and danced to by members of the favela Samba School. It is as if by the films end the samba has returned to its place of origin.
Although Zé Keti’s samba is almost always transfigured into its symphonic format, it is interesting that the film manages to retain its association with the samba musical genre, an association confirmed in its final dance and music sequence. In contrast to this, in the favela shots of Sérgio Ricardo’s film, a samba is twice sung acapella by a (very low) female voice, and the rest of the music is that of Bossa Nova, a genre that was mostly associated with an intellectual urban middle class and which primarily dealt with bourgeois problems. While Bossa Nova typically catered itself to bourgeois life, Sérgio Ricardo was part of a sector of Bossa Nova musicians that aimed to politicize the genre, and his lyrics contain the very social problems displayed within the film, problems the artist was already discussing in his song “Zelão”
. As for Nelson Pereira dos Santos, his creative partnership with the samba musician Zé Keti continued into Rio Zona Norte
(1957), a film about the “theft” of sambas from their original popular composers by sectors of the middle class.13
The problems of musical authenticity in these favela movies are quite complex, even more so if we take into account that most of the musical incursions we have mentioned, such as those in Menino da Calça Branca
, are nondiegetic. To problematize the matter further, we could evoke a very influential film of that period, Marcel Camus’s Orfeu negro
). This 1959 French production was made with an all-black cast, with children as it’s leading characters, and it was shot in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Its musical soundtrack, performed at times diegetically by the main character Orfeu, was based on the 1954 theater play by Vinícius de Moraes, Orfeu da Conceição.
In the film, the music was transcribed in arrangements which were closer to the Bossa Nova genre. In a way, this film influenced an entire tradition of utilizing Bossa Nova music within films which were shot in Rio de Janeiro favelas.
In the case of Cat Skin
, the music does not stand out as much as it does in Menino da Calça Branca
. The music of Cat Skin
remains more subtle despite the fact that, similar to Menino da Calça Branca
, Cat Skin
is a film that predominantly utilizes music rather than the spoken word. However, voice over is
featured very early in Cat Skin,
and articulated speech can be found in the diegesis at a latter moment, but only as simple words. Cat Skin
also bases its soundtrack off Bossa Nova songs, composer Carlos Lyra playing with the accepted conventions of film music by exploring melodic, harmonic and mainly timbristic variations for the musical incursions of the film. Carlos Lyra and his musical partners Nelson de Lins e Barros and Geraldo Vandré were also a part of the Bossa Nova movement alongside Sérgio Ricardo.
The only song heard with lyrics in Cat Skin
is “Quem quiser encontrar o amor
” (“Who Wants to Find Love”). The song is played during the scene when we can see part of the famous samba school parade in Rio’s Carnival, and it is as if the song were being sung by the parade members themselves. Even so, there is a basic orchestration to the song as it is not played solely with percussive instruments like what typically occurs during the samba parades. This is also the song that marks the central relationship of the protagonist boy Paulinho with the white cat he steels from the backyard of a rich woman. During the first encounter between this rich woman and the boy at an early part of the film, the rich woman, interested in the boy, calls him over to drink juice prepared by her butler. While this encounter between the woman and boy is taking place, the song “Quem quiser encontrar o amor” is played non-diegetically in an instrumental jazz variation. This is interesting because it had become accepted, at least in Brazilian cinema circles of that time, that jazz music was mainly associated with the bourgeoisie. The same music, orchestrated differently with more stringed instruments, is what we hear in the film’s moving scenes of the boy becoming close to his white cat, struggling with the difficult decision to sell him for pocket change.
The opening and closing song of Cat Skin
is “Depois do Carnaval
” (“After Carnival”) by Carlos Lyra and Nelson Lins e Barros. In the film’s opening shots, we can see a view of the city of Rio de Janeiro from the favela which reminds us of the opening shots of Rio, 40 Graus
. However, in the beginning of Cat Skin
, besides the traditional orchestration, the percussive instruments that can be heard during the music of the opening titles linger after the titles are concluded, becoming diegetically represented by shaking tambourines. Thus, we can detect a stronger relationship on display here with the samba of the favelas. It is also interesting that, if some transitions in Menino da Calça Branca
were punctuated by Sérgio Ricardo’s percussive guitar pattern, in Cat Skin
, percussive instruments both underscore the boy’s “cat hunt”, and later their own persecution by the people from “the asphalt”.
It is thought provoking that both Menino da Calça Branca and Cat Skin do not have the traditional "from the roots" samba at the base of their soundtracks. But the Bossa Nova in both films was perhaps easier for a foreign audience who would have already been familiar with Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus. Regardless, this type of music has remained a symbol of Brazilian favelas, and by extension, of Brazilian music. However, even Zé Keti’s samba in Rio, 40 Graus is in orchestral form, it is also so distant from “the roots” of samba. Moreover, we can argue that Zé Keti himself already had a great deal of transit on “the asphalt”, composing his sambas while immersed in other influences. This shows us the difficulty of entering into an ontological discussion about what “real” samba is.
In any case, in all three films the directors show a lyrical and humanist look at the lower social classes and put them at the center of the cultural debate. However, it is especially important to have this discussion with Sérgio Ricardo’s Menino da Calça Branca, as this work is usually forgotten in music-related discussions about films of the time that take place in a favela, just as it was left out of the CPC film back in 1962.
1. The film also marks the debut of Dib Lutfi (Sergio Ricardo’s brother) as a cinematographer. Dib will be an essential figure of the Cinema Novo movement, becoming almost synonymous with the technique of hand-held cinematography, mainly employed in important films of the movement such as Entranced Earth (Glauber Rocha, 1967).
2. Zavattini claimed that the filmmaker should represent the lower classes as if he were looking through a hole in the wall. This was not supposed to have a purely voyeuristic goal; instead it was conceived as a means to be able to see the Other in a sympathetic way.
3. An organization linked to the Communist Party at the time.
4. Cat Skin was produced in 1960 and edited in 1961 in France (where the director had been for a small period) and ended up being added to the collective film, exhibited in 1962.
5. Sérgio Ricardo claims this in an interview with Augusto Buonicori made in March 2014 and published in: https://vermelho.org.br/2020/07/25/entrevista-de-augusto-buonicore-com-sergio-ricardo/
6. The boys in Cat Skin catch cats throughout in the city in order to sell them to the fabrication of tambourines.
7. The opening titles indicate that the boys were all residents of the Cantagalo and Pavãozinho favelas. As for the briefly mentioned racial theme, this deserves to be addressed in a separate article.
8. Making a historical analysis of Bossa Nova within the panorama of Brazilian urban popular music, Marcos Napolitano (1999: 171, our translation from Portuguese) observes that, when Bossa Nova appeared around 1959, its musicians inherited “socially rooted aesthetic and ideological formulations”, which comprised, for example, “the recognition of samba as ‘national’ music, leading many of them to propose to renew musical expression without completely breaking with tradition”. After the consecration of the movement in 1959 - 1960, from 1961 on, sectors of the Left realized the potential of Bossa Nova with a young public of students and began to politicize it. Both Carlos Lyra, composer of Cat Skin, and Sérgio Ricardo were part of the so-called “engaged” sector of Bossa Nova (Napolitano 1999).
9. This narrative aspect of the songs will be used by Glauber Rocha in his film Black God, White Devil (1964), in which the nondiegetic songs played by by Sérgio Ricardo (voice and guitar) function as a Greek choir.
10. We have employed the word “hum” here and throughout the article, although perhaps we should more precisely refer to the jazz technique of “scat singing”, which consists of singing without words or employing syllables without logical meaning and improvising. I would like to thank my colleague Alfredo Werney for the information.
11. It is important to call attention to the fact that the child’s interpretation does not reinforce the “angry” side of the revolt, but rather a certain haughtiness and acceptance of what happened.
12. Among 20 musical incursions in the film as a whole, Cíntia Onofre (2011) identifies 13 from “A Voz do Morro” in many rhythmic and melodic variations.
13. On the other hand, Zé Keti was a musician who transited in various social environments, having been invited, for instance, to participate in the famous show Opinião, in the end of 1964, which brought together both traditional popular musicians and artists of the future Tropicália, such as Maria Bethânia. Part of this show appears in the film O desafio (The Dare, 1965), by Paulo César Saraceni.
14. The songs of the play are quite different from traditional samba, though they cannot be considered Bossa Nova either. In any case, the songs from the movie Black Orpheus, especially "A felicidade" and "Manhã de carnaval", were quite associated with the emergence of Bossa Nova. I would like to thank again my colleague Alfredo Werney for this information.
Andrade, Gustavo Menezes de (2017). As populações marginalizadas nos filmes de Sérgio Ricardo.
Dissertation (Undergraduation in Comunication – Audiovisual) – Universidade de Brasília.
Buonicori, Augusto. Interview by Augusto Buonicorewith Sérgio Ricardo. Revista Vermelho. Disponível em https://vermelho.org.br/2020/07/25/entrevista-de-augusto-buonicore-com-sergio-ricardo/
Acess: 2 Oct. 2020.
Fabris, Mariarosaria (2007). A questão realista no cinema brasileiro: aportes neo-realistas. In: ALCEU
, 8 (15), pp. 82 – 94.
Guerrini Júnior, Irineu (2009). A música no cinema brasileiro: os inovadores anos sessenta
. São Paulo: Terceira Margem.
Napolitano, Marcos (1999). Do sarau ao comício: inovação musical no Brasil (1959 – 63). In: REVISTA USP (São Paulo), 41, pp. 168-187.
Onofre, Cíntia Campolino de (2011). Nas trilhas de Radamés: a contribuição musical de Radamés Gnattali para o cinema brasileiro
. PhD Dissertation – Universidade Estadual de Campinas, 2011.
O primeiro filme de Sérgio Ricardo, o curta-metragem Menino da calça branca
foi realizado quando o grupo do Cinema Novo brasileiro ainda tomava suas rédeas. A partir da história de um menino de favela que recebe uma calça branca de presente e, orgulhoso pelo símbolo de status social, passeia com ela pela cidade, o filme já revela o interesse de Sérgio Ricardo pelos menos favorecidos, algo que permeará toda a sua obra fílmica (como observado por Gustavo Menezes de Andrade em sua monografia de 2017
). Mas, se considerarmos a carreira dele como um todo, não era a primeira vez em que esse interesse se manifestava. Além de ter trabalhado como ator, Sérgio Ricardo começou como músico e compositor, e sua música “Zelão
do ano anterior ao filme, tinha como tema um músico, morador de favela, que perde sua casa numa enchente.
Colocando seus multi-talentos no seu filme de estreia, a música de Menino da calça branca
foi feita também por Sérgio Ricardo, explorando a Bossa Nova com apenas voz, violão e flauta. O que nos propomos a fazer aqui é uma reflexão sobre a temática geral desse curta-metragem (a vida de uma criança de favela da cidade do Rio de Janeiro) e seu desenvolvimento junto à música do filme, considerando como isso tudo se situa dentro do contexto da música no cinema brasileiro da época.
Não era a primeira vez que um filme mostrava imagens de uma favela carioca. Há a referência de Favela de meus amores
, filme de 1935 de Humberto Mauro, embora, por ser um filme perdido, não tenhamos como avaliar diretamente suas imagens e sons. Mas uma referência importante da representação da favela para os cineastas dos anos 1960 foi certamente Rio 40 graus
, de Nelson Pereira dos Santos, de 1955, filme que retrata o cotidiano de cinco crianças da favela em sua luta pela sobrevivência diária.
O filme de Nelson Pereira foi considerado por vários pesquisadores, como Mariarosaria Fabris (2007), como tendo recebido aportes do Neorrealismo italiano em seu modo humanista de olhar os desfavorecidos (a importância da postura ética, como defendia Cesare Zavattini2), cujas histórias muitas vezes tinham desfechos tristes ou falta de perspectivas.
Rio, 40 Graus tem imagens feitas em favelas, como no Morro do Cabuçu, e vemos até um ensaio da escola de samba Unidos da Cabuçu na quadra do morro, na sequência final. É digno de nota que Nelson Pereira dos Santos decidiu fazer a montagem de Menino da calça branca sem cobrar nada, ao ficar entusiasmado com o material de Sérgio Ricardo.
Na verdade, na mesma época em que Sérgio Ricardo terminava a montagem de seu curta-metragem o Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC), órgão da época ligado ao Partido Comunista, tinha o projeto de realização de um filme coletivo Cinco vezes Favela. Dele, fizeram parte cinco curtas-metragens de diretores que iriam constituir o chamado Cinema Novo brasileiro: Leon Hirzsman (com Pedreira de São Diogo), Cacá Diegues (Escola de Samba, Alegria de Viver), Miguel Borges (Zé da Cachorra), Marcos Farias (Um favelado) e Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (Couro de gato.)3
Sérgio Ricardo contou em entrevista que seu filme também foi cogitado para compor o coletivo do CPC, mas acabou preterido por “excesso de lirismo”. Acrescentou que talvez o filme não tivesse o didatismo que o CPC pretendesse.4
É curioso que, dentre os cinco filmes escolhidos, Couro de gato
também tratasse de crianças e é por isso que faremos considerações sobre ele em comparação com o Menino da calça branca
, além de nos referirmos ao importante longa-metragem predecessor de Nelson Pereira dos Santos.
A que corresponderia essa acusação de excesso de lirismo quanto a Menino da calça branca
? Assim como Nelson Pereira e Joaquim Pedro, Sérgio Ricardo filmou em locação numa favela (no seu caso, a Macedo Sobrinho, hoje extinta). No primeiro plano do filme, vemos os barracos, com seus tetos mal-ajambrados, e, na entrada dos créditos, passamos a ouvir a canção “Enquanto a tristeza não vem
”. A seguir, vemos o protagonista, o menino interpretado por Zezinho Gama, em suas brincadeiras solitárias ou com amigos. Não são poupados detalhes realistas, como a vala de esgoto a céu aberto que corre numa das vielas. Não há maquiagem da favela.
Talvez o maior problema para essa crítica de “lirismo” seja a de que o menino favelado de Sérgio Ricardo, quando se dirige ao asfalto,5 não o faz para trabalhar, diferentemente dos vendedores de amendoim de Rio 40 graus ou, em Couro de gato, dos meninos que caçam gatos na cidade para poder vendê-los na favela para a fabricação dos tamborins das escolas de samba. Ao menino da calça branca é permitida no asfalto uma experiência puramente lúdica, fora do mundo do trabalho, em que, vestido com sua calça branca, imita o andar de adultos, exibindo, orgulhoso, sua peça de vestuário.
Além disso, o fato de, apesar de todos os cuidados, ter sua calça enlameada, embora faça o menino ir às lágrimas, não é algo tão inexorável e trágico quanto a morte presente em Rio, 40 graus e Couro de gato: no primeiro, a morte de um dos meninos; no segundo, do lindo gatinho branco levado ao sacrifício. Há uma dureza, uma crueldade da qual os oprimidos não têm como fugir, nos filmes de Nelson Pereira e Joaquim Pedro, que, de certa forma, ecoa alguns destinos de personagens de filmes neorrealistas italianos: o desempregado que perde sua bicicleta e passa a vergonha de ser considerado ladrão na frente do filho em Ladrões de bicicleta (1948), ou o aposentado que recupera seu cachorro, mas continua sem solução para a sua sobrevivência financeira em Umberto D (1952), ambos de Vittorio de Sica. O menino de Sérgio Ricardo também é poupado de uma maior dimensão trágica, embora ela não esteja ausente. Por exemplo, no final do filme, chorando por causa da calça enlameada, o menino é consolado por um Papai Noel bêbado (interpretado pelo próprio Sérgio Ricardo). Este, por sua vez, com traços de personagem trágico, também chora e é consolado pelo menino. Mas, como o menino é poupado de grandes tragédias no filme, a calça é lavada pela mãe e ele volta a brincar no morro com sua velha bermuda remendada.
É aqui que acontece um encontro com “o real” (no sentido do neorrealismo de Zavattini) no filme de Sérgio Ricardo: vemos o menino segurar um revólver em primeiro plano, o que já nos causa apreensão se seria uma arma de verdade, se estaria carregada. Ele atira e outro menino atira de volta, a imagem congela, o filme acaba.
O que teria acontecido? Uma brincadeira comum entre meninos de “polícia e ladrão”, uma tragédia naquele momento ou o prenúncio de um futuro no crime? Se olharmos por esse viés, o filme de Ricardo acaba sendo bem mais pessimista que os de Nelson Pereira e Joaquim Pedro. Um lirismo prenhe de trágico. É como diz o verso da canção de Sérgio Ricardo dos créditos do filme e repetida ao final: “Brinca um pouquinho enquanto a tristeza não vem.”
É preciso levar em conta que, na época do filme, início dos anos 1960, as favelas cariocas ainda não eram tão violentas, ainda não tinham concentrado grande parte do crime organizado do tráfico de drogas, algo que começa a ocorrer a partir do fim dos anos 1970. O que havia ali era a violência social contra os excluídos. Mas o final do Menino da calça branca, tal como o Angelus Novus de Paul Klee, olha também para o futuro e antecipa, mesmo que não intencionalmente, a perda de uma visão romantizada das favelas que ainda se nota nesses filmes e em sua recepção pelo público.
Pode-se também argumentar o “branqueamento” da favela do Menino da calça branca, talvez, porque seus três personagens principais, o menino, sua mãe e o reparador de bonecas (o mesmo Papai Noel bêbado) não são negros. Embora, desde os primeiros planos do filme, percebamos que quase todos os amiguinhos do menino protagonista sejam negros, nenhum exerce grande papel na história do filme. Longe de serem reprovações pertencentes apenas ao nosso tempo dos anos 2020, essa mesma crítica foi feita na época por Ruy Guerra e outros (ANDRADE, 2017). No entanto, pode-se argumentar que tampouco é negro o menino que se firma como protagonista em Couro de gato, de Joaquim Pedro de Andrade.6
Música e Favela Carioca nos Anos 1955 - 1962
É importante considerar como Menino da calça branca
pode ser posicionado dentro de um panorama maior da música brasileira, ainda mais porque Sérgio Ricardo, antes de se voltar para o cinema com este filme, já tinha uma carreira assentada no meio musical. Sérgio Ricardo compôs a música do filme no estilo da Bossa Nova que então explorava7
e escolhe deixá-la apenas acompanhada por violão e flauta, algo bastante incomum na trilha musical de cinema da época, quando se optava geralmente por se fazer uma orquestração, mesmo quando se tratava de canções populares.
Por exemplo, é como procedeu Nelson Pereira dos Santos quanto à música de Rio, 40 graus
. Embora o diretor tenha usado como tema principal do filme o samba de Zé Keti, “A voz do morro
”, ele foi orquestrado por Radamés Gnattali, músico bastante experiente em orquestração por seu trabalho na rádio e acostumado com o trânsito entre erudito e popular. Segundo o que depreendemos de uma entrevista de 2001 de Nelson a Guerrini Júnior (2009), o cineasta teria preferido um uso de música menos grandioso, mas a “orquestra” era quase que uma imposição natural daquilo que se aceitava na época como “música de cinema” e, portanto, mesmo num filme que precisou ser interrompido diversas vezes por problemas financeiros, gastou-se bastante dinheiro para a gravação da música.
No caso do filme de Sérgio Ricardo, sendo financiado pelo próprio diretor e, sendo o curta-metragem em si um formato mais livre e propenso a experimentações, ele recebe essa trilha musical mais “enxuta” de voz, violão e flauta, sem tratamento orquestral. Mesmo assim, o papel da música é primordial no curta. Além de sua presença em quase toda a extensão do filme, em sua maior parte como música extradiegética (não justificada no mundo narrativo) em primeiro plano sonoro, o elemento da fala é reduzido ao mínimo: o único momento de fala articulada é quando o personagem do Papai Noel, bêbado, tenta consolar o menino. Ainda assim, é uma fala pouco clara de um personagem embriagado.
O filme é basicamente construído em torno de duas canções principais, “Enquanto a tristeza não vem” e “Menino da calça branca”. A primeira está na forma cantada (por Sérgio Ricardo), com acompanhamento de violão (do próprio Sérgio) e flauta, nos créditos do filme e voltará em diversos arranjos no filme. Em sua primeira parte, por exemplo, há toda uma confluência entre os espaços diegético (justificado no mundo narrativo do filme) e extradiegético: o personagem do reparador de bonecas assobia o tema da canção e, pouco depois, um cantarolar com violão e flauta segue a linha melódica de maneira extradiegética. O cantarolar extradiegético com violão e flauta é novamente ouvido quando o “Papai Noel”, bêbado, deixa o pacote com a calça branca na casa no menino, no meio da noite.
A partir do momento em que o menino abre o pacote e vê a calça branca na manhã seguinte, escutamos outra música: é a canção “Menino da calça branca”, que ouvimos junto a planos gerais da paisagem do Rio de Janeiro e das favelas. A letra da canção faz menção direta aos acontecimentos do filme. De fato, as palavras das duas canções têm uma função extremamente narrativa8 num filme que abdica de diálogos.
Da mesma maneira que ocorrera com a canção anterior, “Menino da calça branca” volta em arranjo com sua melodia cantarolada em dois momentos seguintes, numa “canção sem palavras”, como se não precisássemos mais das palavras para recordar os sentimentos evocados pela letra.9
A grande virada narrativa é anunciada também pela música: o menino vê passar uma banda tocando com seus metais e instrumentos percussivos um arranjo de “Enquanto a tristeza não vem”, um anúncio que o seu idílio com a calça branca terá logo um fim. De fato, pouco depois, uma bola de futebol cai numa poça de lama e mancha toda a sua calça. A banda de música, cujo som havia sido subitamente silenciado (num efeito brechtiano, comum no Cinema Moderno), volta repentinamente para marcar a erupção da tristeza no menino.
A canção “Menino da calça branca” é ouvida novamente em sua forma cantarolada, acompanhada por violão e flauta, e em tonalidade menor, quando o menino, num momento de revolta contra o que lhe aconteceu,10
destaca o anúncio da calça branca do jornal, urina no restante dele e joga o anúncio ao vento, num momento libertador de sua tristeza. A canção “Enquanto a tristeza não vem” fecha o filme na sua forma cantada, enfatizando que as brincadeiras infantis do menino são apenas um interlúdio enquanto a tristeza não vem.
Gostaríamos também de destacar, além da importância das duas canções mencionadas, o grande papel do violão na trilha musical como um todo. Vários momentos de transição, que, em filmes convencionais, especialmente longas-metragens da época, seriam feitos por orquestra, são, em Menino da calça branca
, feitos com uma levada percussiva no violão, o que reforça a importância do instrumento dentro da música do filme e a inovação que isso representava como trilha musical.
Relacionando a música de Menino da calça branca
com a de Rio 40 graus
, é interessante que a do longa-metragem de Nelson Pereira dos Santos, assim como a música do curta de Sérgio Ricardo, tem toda a sua base numa canção,11
o já mencionado samba de Zé Keti, “A voz do morro”. Ele é ouvido já nos créditos do filme e pode ser considerado como leitmotiv
tanto dos cinco meninos da favela, quanto da favela em si.
Em quase todas as incursões musicais, o samba de Zé Keti está na versão orquestral de Radamés Gnatalli e sem a letra, como música extradiegética. No entanto, na última vez, podemos ouvi-lo diegeticamente na quadra do morro. É como se o samba fosse devolvido ao seu lugar de origem ao final do filme.
Embora o samba de Zé Keti esteja quase sempre no filme transfigurado no seu formato sinfônico, é interessante que, ainda assim, temos a associação – confirmada na sequência final –, ao gênero musical do samba, enquanto que, no filme de Sérgio Ricardo, ainda que ouçamos duas vezes um samba cantado a capella por voz feminina diegeticamente (em volume muito menos intenso) em planos da favela, o que predomina é a música de Bossa Nova, gênero que era muito associado a uma música de classe média urbana intelectual, relacionada a problemas burgueses. No entanto, como já mencionado, Sérgio Ricardo fez parte de uma corrente da Bossa Nova que buscou politizar a música e sua letra traz em si os problemas sociais mostrados pelo filme, algo com que o artista já se preocupava em sua canção “Zelão”. Já o diretor Nelson Pereira dos Santos persistiu na parceria com o sambista Zé Keti, num filme que tem o compositor de samba e o roubo de sambas como tema, Rio Zona Norte
A questão da autenticidade da música e gêneros musicais em filmes de favela é bastante complexa, ainda mais se levarmos em conta que estão no nível extradiegético, como é o caso da música de Sérgio Ricardo em Menino da calça branca
. Poderíamos evocar ainda um filme muito influente da época, realizado numa favela do Rio de Janeiro e com elenco todo negro, tendo crianças também como personagens importantes: Orfeu Negro
. É uma produção francesa de 1959, dirigida por Marcel Camus, cuja trilha musical, muitas vezes diegética e executada pelo personagem Orfeu, foi baseada na da peça Orfeu da Conceição
de Vinícius de Moraes de 195413
e transcrita para o filme em arranjos mais próximos da Bossa Nova. Ou seja, de certo modo, esse filme influencia uma tradição de se associar música no estilo Bossa Nova a filmes de favelas cariocas.
Quanto a Couro de gato
, as músicas estão incluídas de forma mais orgânica com as imagens, no sentido de não se destacarem tanto quanto em Rio 40 graus
e, principalmente, em Menino da calça branca
. Isso ocorre mesmo que, como no filme de Sérgio Ricardo, a música seja o principal elemento sonoro de Couro de gato
(em relação ao elemento falado, a voz over
é ouvida de forma bastante econômica no início do filme e há apenas dois momentos de voz articulada na diegese, mesmo assim, apenas na forma de palavras), sendo o filme baseado também em canções da Bossa Nova. Jogando com as convenções aceitas de música no cinema, o compositor Carlos Lyra explora variações melódicas, harmônicas e principalmente timbrísticas para as incursões musicais no filme. Assim como Sérgio Ricardo, Carlos Lyra e seus parceiros nas canções do filme, Nelson de Lins e Barros e Geraldo Vandré, vinham da Bossa Nova.
A única canção ouvida com letra em Couro de gato
é “Quem quiser encontrar o amor
” (de Carlos Lyra e Geraldo Vandré), em imagens de desfile de escola de samba, como se estivesse sendo cantada diegeticamente por aquele coletivo. Mesmo assim, há uma orquestração de base. Essa é a música que marca toda a relação do menino protagonista Paulinho (nome do intérprete nos créditos) com o gato branco, que ele rouba do quintal de uma mulher rica. A mulher se interessa pelo menino, chama-o para tomar suco e, em todos esses momentos, a canção é ouvida numa variação instrumental jazzística, numa associação convencional já aceita no cinema brasileiro da música de jazz
com a burguesia. Essa mesma música, numa orquestração mais vistosa, é a que ouvimos nas cenas mais líricas da relação de amizade do menino com o gato branco, já em sua posse na favela, e sua difícil decisão de ter que vendê-lo para o abate.
Já a canção nas primeiras imagens do filme é “Depois do Carnaval” (de Carlos Lyra e Nelson Lins e Barros), em planos da vista da cidade a partir da favela, que lembram os planos de abertura de Rio 40 graus
, sendo também ela a música que fecha o filme. No entanto, nesse início de filme, para além da orquestração tradicional, há a permanência dos instrumentos percussivos que soavam na música dos créditos e que são representados diegeticamente, pouco depois, pelos tamborins, fazendo uma relação maior com o samba das favelas. É interessante também que, se a levada de violão de Sérgio Ricardo pontuava algumas transições em Menino da calça branca
, em Couro de gato
, a percussão serve como som característico da “caçada” dos meninos aos gatos e, depois, da perseguição das pessoas do asfalto aos meninos.
É curioso que tanto Menino da calça branca e Couro de gato não tenham o samba tradicional “de raiz” na base de sua trilha musical, mas sim, a Bossa Nova, que, talvez para um público estrangeiro – e levando em conta todo o sucesso de Orfeu Negro de Marcel Camus –, tenha ficado como símbolo de favela e, por extensão, de música brasileira. No entanto, mesmo o samba de Zé Keti em Rio 40 graus está em formato orquestral, distante também do “samba de raiz”. Além de tudo, é de se argumentar que o próprio sambista Zé Keti tinha um grande trânsito no “asfalto”, fazendo um samba já imerso em outras influências, o que mostra a dificuldade de se entrar numa discussão ontológica sobre o que seria um verdadeiro samba.
De todo modo, todos os três filmes mostram um olhar cheio de lirismo dos seus diretores para os desfavorecidos, colocando-os no centro do debate cultural. Chamamos a atenção para a importância de considerarmos o filme de Sérgio Ricardo Menino da calça branca na discussão sobre filmes da época passados em favela, já que ele costuma ser esquecido, tal como foi deixado de fora do filme coletivo do CPC.
1. O filme também marca a estreia de Dib Lutfi (irmão de Sérgio Ricardo) como fotógrafo de cinema. Dib será um nome essencial para o Cinema Novo, virando quase que sinônimo de “câmera na mão” em filmes importantes do movimento, como Terra em transe (Glauber Rocha, 1967).
2. Zavattini defendia que o cineasta deveria proceder à representação das classes pobres como se ele pudesse olhar por um buraco na parede. Não se trata aqui de um procedimento com objetivos puramente voyeurísticos, mas sim como um meio para enxergar o Outro de modo compassivo e humano.
3. Couro de gato foi produzido em 1960, montado em 1961 na França (para onde o diretor havia ido para um estágio) e acabou sendo adicionado ao filme coletivo, exibido em 1962.
4. Na entrevista de Sérgio Ricardo a Augusto Buonicori, realizada em março de 2014 e publicada em https://vermelho.org.br/2020/07/25/entrevista-de-augusto-buonicore-com-sergio-ricardo/
5. “O asfalto” é, na linguagem popular, a referência às ruas pavimentadas da cidade, em oposição à favela.
6. Os créditos indicam que os meninos do filme eram moradores dos morros do Cantagalo e do Pavãozinho. O tema racial, aqui brevemente mencionado, mereceria ser tratado em outro artigo.
7. Fazendo uma análise histórica da Bossa Nova dentro do panorama da música popular urbana brasileira, Marcos Napolitano (1999, p.171) observa que, ao surgir por volta de 1959, os artífices da Bossa Nova herdaram “formulações estéticas e ideológicas socialmente enraizadas”, que se traduzia, por exemplo, “no reconhecimento do samba como música ‘nacional’, fazendo com que muitos deles se propusessem a renovar a expressão musical sem romper totalmente com a tradição.” Após a consagração do movimento em 1959 – 1960, a partir de 1961, setores da esquerda perceberam o potencial da Bossa Nova junto ao público estudantil e começaram a politizá-la. Tanto Carlos Lyra, compositor de Couro de gato, quanto Sérgio Ricardo fizeram parte dessa corrente “engajada” da Bossa Nova (NAPOLITANO, 1999).
8. Esse aspecto narrativo das canções será aproveitado por Glauber Rocha em seu filme da mesma época, Deus e o diabo na terra do sol (1964), com canções de voz e violão de Sérgio Ricardo extradiegéticas funcionando como um coro grego.
9. Usamos aqui e ao longo do artigo a palavra “cantarolar”, embora talvez o mais preciso fosse se referir à técnica jazzística do “scat singing”, que consiste em cantar improvisando, sem palavras ou com sílabas sem sentido lógico. Agradeço ao colega Alfredo Werney pela informação.
10. Chamamos a atenção de que a interpretação da criança não reforça o lado “raivoso” da revolta, mas sim uma certa altivez e aceitação do ocorrido.
11. Cíntia Onofre (2011) contabiliza, entre 20 incursões musicais do filme como um todo, 13 são da “Voz do morro” em diversas variações rítmicas e melódicas.
12. Por outro lado, Zé Keti era um músico que transitava em diversos meios, tendo sido convidado a participar do famoso show Opinião, no final de 1964, que reuniu tanto músicos populares mais tradicionais quanto artistas da futura Tropicália, como Maria Bethânia. Parte deste show aparece no filme O desafio (1965), de Paulo César Saraceni.
13. Já havia nela canções bem diferentes do samba tradicional, embora tampouco sejam consideradas Bossa Nova. De todo modo, as canções do filme Orfeu Negro, principalmente “A felicidade” e “Manhã de carnaval”, foram bastante associadas ao surgimento da Bossa. Agradeço todas essas informações ao colega Alfredo Werney.
Andrade, Gustavo Menezes de (2017). As populações marginalizadas nos filmes de Sérgio Ricardo.
Dissertation (Undergraduation in Comunication – Audiovisual) – Universidade de Brasília.
Buonicori, Augusto. Interview by Augusto Buonicorewith Sérgio Ricardo. Revista Vermelho. Disponível em https://vermelho.org.br/2020/07/25/entrevista-de-augusto-buonicore-com-sergio-ricardo/
Acess: 2 Oct. 2020.
Fabris, Mariarosaria (2007). A questão realista no cinema brasileiro: aportes neo-realistas. In: ALCEU
, 8 (15), pp. 82 – 94.
Guerrini Júnior, Irineu (2009). A música no cinema brasileiro: os inovadores anos sessenta
. São Paulo: Terceira Margem.
Napolitano, Marcos (1999). Do sarau ao comício: inovação musical no Brasil (1959 – 63). In: REVISTA USP (São Paulo), 41, pp. 168-187.
Onofre, Cíntia Campolino de (2011). Nas trilhas de Radamés: a contribuição musical de Radamés Gnattali para o cinema brasileiro
. PhD Dissertation – Universidade Estadual de Campinas, 2011.
Introducing Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu
Sérgio Ricardo’s debut short film Menino da calça branca (1962) and his first feature-length film Esse mundo é meu (1964) can together be thought of as sensorial film experiences1 for their unusual combination of elaborate soundtracks and experimental cinematography. Despite their striking audiovisual configuration, the two films remain underseen and under evaluated. Looking back at them with recurrent questions about how to disarticulate inequality and discrimination in audiovisual form brings forth suggestive material.
Bossa Nova and Cinema Novo composer, singer, actor, and film director Sérgio Ricardo (whose actual name was João Lutfi) wrote and directed Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu. Truly a multifaceted artist, he composed the music for both films and acted in them as well. The films were shot on location in neighboring favelas; the short in Macedo Sobrinho, and the feature in Catacumba. These favelas used to be in proximity to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and Humaitá, areas in the affluent neighborhoods of Southern Rio de Janeiro. In the late 1960s, only a few years after the films were shot, both communities were transferred to faraway places with weak infrastructure as part of a government “cleansing” urban policy. Today, the two films offer rare visual documentation of a time when the neighborhood had more diverse populations.
Sérgio Ricardo collaborated on these films with his younger brother, the cinematographer Dib Lutfi.2 At the time, Lutfi worked as a cameraman for TV Rio. He became well known in Brazil and abroad for his technical and creative ability with handheld 35mm film cameras. Lutfi started as an amateur photographer, and then worked with the heavy studio television cameras of the time, which stood on large rolling tripod-carts. After working with this heavy equipment, Lutfi would leave behind the studio work to experiment with lighter equipment that allowed him to create unexpectedly beautiful 35 mm handheld camera movements, such as the ones that can be seen in Esse mundo é meu.3
The way that sound and music interplay in Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu makes them stand out from other works of their period. Indeed, a common element between Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu is the sparse dialogue throughout both films. Another notable element in the sound design of Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu is their use of music not as background sound, but as narrative commentary. This approach does connect the films with other works of their time, such as Glauber Rocha’s Deus e o diabo na terra do sol (1964), a film for which Sérgio Ricardo composed and sang on the soundtrack (Rocha writing the lyrics himself).4 Moreover, the editing of both films avoids the classic configuration of synchronic sounds and images.
The production teams behind Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu included participants of the intense artistic atmosphere from the early 1960s, suggesting that even though he was just starting his career in film, Ricardo took part, and in a way, marked an unusual intersection between Bossa Nova and Cinema Novo.5 Modern film pioneer Nelson Pereira dos Santos edited the short while working on Glauber Rocha’s first feature, Barravento (1962). Barravento and Menino da calça branca were both exhibited in the First Bahia Film Festival, an event that gathered the effervescent film community of the time.6 The Mozambique-born Cinema Novo director Ruy Guerra edited Esse mundo é meu.7 Guerra was part of the CPC (Centro Popular de Cultura), the cultural arm of the National Student Union that produced Cinco Vezes Favela (1962), a collection of short films that featured some members of the burgeoning Cinema Novo movement as directors. CPC did not accept Ricardo’s film to be a part of the collection, citing issues with its poetic and lyrical qualities that were not in line with their more revolutionary artistic efforts.
Scene Analysis of Menino da calça branca
Menino da calça branca tells the story of a boy who has a friendship with a local doll repairer (played by Sérgio Ricardo). The artisan has an undeclared crush on the boy’s mother, who is single and making her living as a laundry woman. He tenderly sculpts the face of a puppet to resemble that of the boy’s mother, and grants the boy’s one true wish by giving him a pair of white pants as a Christmas present.
The shoeless and shirtless white favela boy in shorts playfully somersaults in the grass until, in an upside-down position, he stops and sees the object of his desire between his open legs – a pair of white pants on a passant man (interpreted by cartoonist Ziraldo8). This peasant man is presented through the boy’s upside-down POV. Cinematographer Dib Lutfi then pans to the sky, only to retrieve the boy on his feet by Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, following after the man in white pants. The vibration of a guitar cord emphasizes the spatial transition provoked by the pan shot. No music is used in this scene, but the unobtrusive noise of the streets can be heard on the soundtrack in an attempt to add a deeper layer of expression to the image.
In Menino da calça branca, white pants signal a dream of growing up and being fully included. It is clear that the young boy desires inclusion because, for instance, he mimics a perfectly synchronized diegetic marching band. However, we learn by the films end that white pants were inadequate for the boys daily playful life in a muddy environment, signalizing the impossibility of this naïve and depoliticized dream.
Scene Analysis of Esse mundo é meu
Esse mundo é meu is a particularly bold work for its willingness to confront cultural taboos. The film begins with a solemn Afro-Brazilian religious hymn. It depicts sexual pleasure. It portrays an illegal non-professional abortion (which was highly controversial at the time, and still would be today). It legitimizes the disrespect for a priest in a largely Catholic country, and it advocates for working class unionization. Bringing such a leftist agenda to a film was possible in Brazil in the pre-military dictatorship era, but after 1968 it was forbidden.
The opening sequence of Esse mundo é meu establishes the outside favela landscape with a series of long whirling shots, including many zoom-ins and pans. On the soundtrack, an orchestrated version of an Umbanda Afro-Brazilian hymn begins the film in a peculiarly solemn way, signaling an engaged attempt to bridge the gap between popular and erudite culture through syncretic non-Christian religion.9
Differences between Menino da calça branca and Esse mundo é meu are the likely result of Ricardo’s attempt to incorporate some of the criticisms the short initially received for having an only white cast and for not being political enough. In parallel editing style, Esse mundo é meu tells the story of two protagonists, a white steel worker named Pedro played by Sérgio Ricardo, and a black shoe shiner named Toninho played by Antonio Pitanga. The steel worker does not have enough money to marry his beloved girlfriend Luzia. Scenes of work inside an actual small factory with diegetic noise music are one of the elements that make this film particularly distinctive.10
The credit sequence gives way to the introduction of Toninho, played by Antonio Pitanga. As Toninho wanders through a crowd of daily commuters on their way to work, Ricardo sings their names: “Bento, Zé, Tulão, Benedito…”. The purpose of this is to highlight that many people share the same struggles of Toninho. The song is followed by a voice-over dialogue between two secondary characters who have yet to be introduced, Toninho’s love Zuleica and her more affluent (because he owns a bike) boyfriend. From there, the film moves to the factory. Over images of daily work, a dialogue commences between the second couple, Pedro and Luzia. They discuss commemorating Luzia’s birthday by visiting all the places throughout Rio that she loves.
Both Pedro and Luzia are in love, but due to a shortage of money, they cannot afford getting formally married. Despite Pedro’s visible sadness over their situation, the couple decides to take a lovely journey through a park to commemorate Luzia’s birthday. They ride a carrousel and a Ferris wheel. While on the Ferris wheel, Sergio Ricardo’s melancholic song “A fábrica” [The factory] plays on the soundtrack, the lyrics stating, “How can a woman live with a man who doesn’t have a cent?”. In this scene, the music counteracts the romantic atmosphere. Stunning shots of Pedro and Luzia circling through the air on this Ferris wheel mark the couple’s sensual affection. The camera flows with the motion of the Ferris wheel as if to suggest vertigo, love and sensuality. Placed in the seat above the couple, it moves between their bodies, the sky, and other surrounding seats. Luzia moves into Pedro’s shack, she lies down, he starts to take her clothes off. A medium shot avoids showing whole bodies. The camera fixes on her face as she gets aroused.
Even though Luzia initially was the one to propose having kids, when she actually gets pregnant their lack of financial conditions motivates her decision to go through an illegal non-professional abortion. This in turn leads to her death. Pedro, now a resentful widower, leads a workers’ strike for better wages. By talking about abortion, still one of the main causes of female death in Brazil, Esse mundo é meu violates another persistent taboo. Also, it is important to note that this female character detains agency, albeit her decisions lead to her death.
A black shoeshiner, Toninho, saves money to buy a bike in order to win over Zuleica, the woman he loves. Toninho is left without his savings because his mother used them to pay for his stepfather’s funeral, so he ends up stealing a bike from a priest. Despite robbing this priest, his ending is a happy one. Having won Zuleica over, the new energetic couple embraces and turns around and around in an empty lot. The film celebrates the couple’s affection with an amazing 360 degree tracking shot, capturing their long embrace. Mid-shot, the cameraman begins to move around them in the opposite direction, intensifying the feeling of dazzling encounter.
Favela Situation Films
In his well-known critique of Cinema Novo, French-Brazilian researcher, professor, and filmmaker Jean Claude Bernardet considered Menino da calça branca mushy (“piegas”).11 Bernardet situated the short among what can be thought of as a wave of favela situation films. He considered Menino da calça branca within his broader notion of marginalism, i.e. films made by middle class filmmakers who chose to approach subjects that were not at the center of their contemporary life. Even though these filmmakers attempted to teach viewers about revolution, Bernardet observed that because they were allied with the bourgeoisie in the so-called national popular alliance, they had to avoid the main structural class conflicts. Instead of focusing on the contradictions of daily working-class life, films approached subjects such as different segments of the lumpen proletariat, favela urban inhabitants, and Northeasterner outlaws from the backlands. In doing so, filmmakers remained alienated from the working classes, despite their best intentions.12
In the early 2000s, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund's City of God (2002) became part of a transnational wave of what international film festivals were calling favela situation films. Some of these favela films have been immensely popular among viewers and international critics. Others have provoked criticisms for their roles in reinforcing gender, race, and class discriminations. In Brazil, these criticisms have stimulated a debate about how to disarticulate visual expressions of discrimination. Favela films deal with sensitive places and bodies, making discrimination and inequality visible within high-valued public transnational filmic spaces. In doing so, these works provoke multiple sensitive reactions among audiences.
National governments do not like what they understand to be negative representations of their beloved countries. Strong reactions to Luís Buñuel’s Los olvidados (1950) by the Mexican government, for example, already suggested that making poverty visible to a world-wide audience can incite an explosive reaction from governments. Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s Rio 40 graus (1955) was another work that was censored, this time due to its depiction of favela children struggling to survive. Black Orpheus13 (Marcel Camus, 1959), on the other hand, was a popular success in Brazil and abroad, but its artificial mise-en-scene offended the search of realism and improvisation that drove New Cinemas.
The sentimentality in Sérgio Ricardo’s films might appear to undermine predetermined revolutionary reactions against class and racial discrimination. Nonetheless, both films approach work, women, and religion in ways that were not common at the time. The female characters in Ricardo’s films present a realistic depiction of lower-class women from that period: they face the hardship of an unassisted illegal abortion, or they’re single mothers who have to work hard to support their children.
Sérgio Ricardo’s initial films enrich our knowledge about the political and aesthetic debates that animated effervescent filmmakers in early 1960s Brazil. The ways in which transmedia references inform musical choices - including an orchestrated Umbanda hymn, a band play, a song from a Chico de Assis play, atmospheric noise – and collaborations by other fellow artists, and filmmakers suggest the potential of thinking about the complex web of art production, and circulation, within the arts community of that period.
In the two films, sound and image rhyme in unexpected asynchronism in ways which combine sensuality, complex visual movement, silence, noise, and instrumental/sang explanatory lyrics. This audiovisual sensory quality might disarticulate common sense audiovisual class, race, and gender discrimination, and open horizons for change.
1. Elsaesser, T. a. M. H. (2009). Film Theory: An introduction through the senses. London, Routledge
2. Sérgio Ricardo would go on to collaborate with his brother Dib Lutfi on his next two feature length films, Juliana do Amor Perdido
(1970) and A Noite do Espantalho (
1974). The two brothers collaborated with Glauber Rocha in Terra em transe
(1967). Lutfi would go on to work with Eduardo Coutinho, Domingos de Oliveira, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Walter Lima Jr., among others.
3. Dib Lutfi took Arne Sucksdorff’s 1962-63 film course, which first introduced NAGRA direct sound equipment to filmmakers in Brazil. In 1963-64, besides working on his brother’s films, Lutfi assisted Sucksdorff on his feature Fábula
or Mitt hen är Copacabana
(1965). The differences between Sucksdorff’s “academic” tripod and lightening and Lutfi’s hand held cinematography and natural lightening techniques are remarkable. The differences suggest the varying ways in which the local appropriation of foreign techniques can result in different aesthetics. Hamburger, E. (2020). "Arne Sucksdorff, professor incômodo no Brasil." https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=7287020
4. Glauber Rocha created a cordel
style song and asked Sérgio Ricardo to listen to his recordings of popular Northeasterner repentistas
, who sing, and play the rabeca in popular markets and other public spaces. Their compositions absorbed ongoing events and figures, mixed with old Iberian structures. While this folk style was familiar to Rocha, Ricardo was introduced to cordel
to compose the music. The result is a well-known song that managed to bring popular culture to an experimental film. Xavier 1999 , Carvalho 2011, Debs 2014
5. Leal, H. (2008). O Homem da Montanha, Orlando Senna. Carvalho, M. d. S. S. (2003). A nova onda baiana: Cinema na Bahia 1958-1962. Salvador, Editora da Universidade Federal da Bahia.
6. Although Guerra is credited for editing the film, and not credited for the song, his dense and detailed biography mentions his friendship with Sérgio Ricardo and authorship of the lyrics of the song “Esse mundo é meu”,
but does not mention the editing work on Esse mundo é meu
. Even though the film is named after the song, only the main chorus from the original song is there. The song would reverberate as it was recorded by Sergio Ricardo in the film’s album, and later by the very popular singer Elis Regina. Borges, V. P. (2017). Ruy Guerra, paixão escancarada. São Paulo, Boitempo.
7. An emblematic example of this dynamic occurred in 2008, with the presence of the Executive Director of the Cinemateca Brasileira at the 3rd annual CineOP. The theme of CineOP that year was National Audiovisual Preservation Policy: Needs and challenges
. Throughout the event, the Executive Director took a firm stand on opposing the articulation of other audiovisual heritage institutions with the Ministry of Culture’s representatives, and the creation of the Brazilian Association of Audiovisual Preservation (ABPA).
8. Ziraldo also designed the film’s credits. He also appears in Esse mundo é meu;
Visual artist Lygia Pape designed the credits for the feature.
9. This Umbanda hymn says Oxalá / meu pai / Tem pena de nós /Tem dó / A volta do mundo é grande / Seu poder é bem maior (Oxalá/ my father / have pity on us / have mercy /the turning of the world is large /but your power is much larger) Maestro Gaya is credit for the film’s music, therefore this and other orchestrations are his.
10. Esse mundo é meu
includes “ Canção do último caminho” from the cordel
playAs Aventuras de Ripió Lacraia
, written by CPC playwright Chico de Assis. The play is featured in the sound track to indicate that Luzia died: “Neither hunger nor temptation, neither pain nor love, His soul became a little bird, beautiful flight took off, He went far away on his way, He went to heaven to fly there.” (p. 17) https://issuu.com/todoteatrocarioca/docs/as_aventuras_de_ripi___lacraia_-_19
11. Bernardet, J. C. (2007 ). Brasil em tempo de cinema, São Paulo.
12. See for example Cardenuto, R. (2008). Discursos de intervenção: o cinema de propaganda ideológica para o CPC e o ipês às vésperas do golpe de 1964. PPGMPA. São Paulo, Universidade de São Paulo. Mestrado
. , Cardenuto, R. (2014). O cinema político de Leon Hirzsman (1976-1983): Engajamento e resistência durante o regime militar brasileiroibid. Doutorado
13. Based on an original play by Brazilian poet, and diplomat Vinícius de Moraes.
Sadness lives in the favela
Sometimes it wanders around
Who was longing, smiles
And plays a little
While the sadness does not come
(verses from the song "Enquanto a tristeza não vem", by Sérgio Ricardo)
"Esse mundo é meu" is one of the most famous songs in Sérgio Ricardo's repertoire. Composed during the first half of the 1960s in partnership with filmmaker Ruy Guerra, its lyrics are a fighting call for human dignity. The historical context of the song is crossed with the utopian enthusiasm of the time, when the political revolution pervaded the Brazilian cultural field. "Esse mundo é meu" emerged as music that translated the growing spirit of rebellion against dominative social structures. Through the intensity of samba, and with a rhythm contagious to bodies and minds, Sérgio Ricardo's song sought to enunciate the epic dimension of a people who above all wished to achieve their liberation. The first few verses of the song denounce the violence of a society marked by authoritarian deformation. A nameless lyricist, who was a reflection of the historically massacred popular voice, reveals the tragic situation of their existence: " I was a slave in the kingdom and I am / a slave in the world where I am / but in chains no one can love". As a prisoner, submissive to hierarchical structures of power, the human being hasn’t got a chance of being happy. The appeals made by the lyrical self to magical entities, with their "mandingas" and their requests for help to Ogum, the orixá of war, do not result in the desired emancipation. Although it is an essential part of the country's identity, especially popular culture, Afro-Brazilian religiosity fails as an instrument to transform the world's disorders.
Faced with spiritual beliefs which do not solve dilemmas, faced with the "holy warrior of the forest / (...) [who] does not come," there is only one possible way for the lyricist to fight oppression: men and women must take history into their own hands, take the reins of the future, and become active subjects of their own liberation. As the lyrics of the song announce, it is necessary to "fight". If the statement that the world belongs to human beings is true, as stated countless times in the chorus, then it is solely up to them to transform it. In the strength of his sonorous gesture, of his call to rebellion, Sérgio Ricardo's song is structured as revolutionary pedagogy. By exposing the violence of society, from a dialogue with the musical heritage of popular origin, the lyrics of "Esse mundo é meu" (“This world is mine”) show that political resistance lies mainly in the hands and actions of the oppressed classes themselves. In the few verses of the song, hope lies in human beings, and not the supernatural, as the driving force for the transformation of existence.
A committed artist and intellectual, of a generation that took on the creative craft as an unavoidable commitment to struggle, Sérgio Ricardo provides a humanist philosophy in "Esse mundo é meu” that would set the tone of his creative path through life. Becoming a kind of manifesto, the song was covered by artists such as Nara Leão and Elis Regina. "Esse mundo é meu” contains the essence of an artistic project that Sérgio Ricardo would continue until 2020, when he died at the age of 88. In "Esse mundo é meu" we find the synthesis of a political posture, of a Marxist affiliation, that would structurally influence the works he would make over the course of decades. In his multifaceted artistic output - music, films and paintings - his critical analyses of the country, as well as his aesthetic practices, were almost always formulated with the creative and poetic considerations of the popular class as a starting point. Positioning the cultural wealth, lyricism and dilemmas of the people at the center of his creations, in what he believed to be a commitment of the militant intellectual to the oppressed, Ricardo constantly returned to his revolutionary foundational pedagogy, newly elaborating the bet on human action as a possible path to happiness. In Sérgio Ricardo's works, the people resurface continuously in the form of tragedy and liberation. If on one hand their existence is precarious, marked by misery and violence, on the other hand they possess the energy capable of operating real transformations in the world. The creative essence of Ricardo is in the oscillation between death and life, between limiting social domination and the desire to break free from these chains. His work critically exposes (and explains) oppression, but also longs for (and manifests) its overcoming.
Although Sérgio Ricardo's revolutionary pedagogy is recurrent in his songs, such as "Enquanto a tristeza não vem" and "A fábrica," it seems to me it was in filmmaking, especially that of the fictional genre, that he was able to more fully exercise the didactics behind his commitment to the popular class. In making films in which he used his own songs as lyrical and political commentaries, Ricardo found a place of creation that allowed him to broaden his readings around the dramas faced by the oppressed. The dilemmas and desires of the people, present in the verses of his songs, deepened as critical dramaturgy through his cinematographic creations. This bold narrative, built on the encounter between engaged sound work and imagery of social tragedy, are present as early as the first film he directed. Under the direct influence of Nelson Pereira dos Santos's realistic cinema, especially from Rio, 40 Graus (1954) and Rio, Zona Norte (1957), the short film Menino da Calça Branca (1962) revolves around a favela child who lives under extreme conditions of hardship. In a marginalized geographic space in Rio de Janeiro, a hill which lacks even basic sanitation, a nameless boy who lives with his mother in a small wooden shack dreams of owning a pair of beautiful white pants. In a country of authoritarian heritage like Brazil, where the value of the citizen is measured by his material possessions, such desire is not insignificant. The eager prospect of getting a new outfit, the same one used by a gallant man who strolls through beautiful areas of Rio de Janeiro, goes beyond simple vanity. In the boy's mind, this object of desire may allow him to achieve respect and a place in the world that is not available to him due to his miserable condition.
In Menino da calça branca, signature aspects of Sérgio Ricardo's cinema manifest themselves. From a mise en scène tributary of neorealism, in which the narrative develops in real locations of social exclusion, the film presents not only the perverse effects of oppression on the popular class, but also a lyrical dimension in which glimpses of happiness can be found in the child's dream for a new outfit. Present in the short film as a reflection of the people, as a means of learning about segregationist Brazil, the drama of misery and the desire for happiness would reappear sometime later in Sérgio Ricardo's filmography, more precisely between 1963 and 1964, when he began to direct a new film. In what would be his first feature film where a clear creative convergence with the Cinema Novo movement can be perceived, Sérgio Ricardo would return to the central components of his revolutionary pedagogy, this time giving it greater tragic force. With a narrative that serves as a call to struggle, of summoning the human being to break with the shackles of history, it seems no coincidence that Sérgio Ricardo's new film was titled Esse mundo é meu (This World is Mine), the same name as the song in which he had expressed the general principles of his political philosophy. In this work, made under the effect of utopian euphoria, still at a historical moment in which it seemed possible to emancipate Brazil, music and cinema come together as an act of rebellion against the deleterious state of things.
In the film Esse mundo é meu, Sérgio Ricardo's camera once again enters the geographic space of a Rio favela, this time to tell two stories revolving around the dramas of the popular class. Through parallel plots that never cross but complement each other as a diagnosis of social misery, the feature film critically reveals the daily tragedy experienced by the Brazilian people. In one of the plots, the protagonist is Toninho. A black boy who lives in a depleted shack, the main breadwinner of his mother and sick stepfather, Toninho works as a shoeshine in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Despite the hard limitations that his difficult life impose on him, Toninho is a dreamer. Similar to the child of Menino da Calça Branca, who also lives in a situation of material poverty, Toninho projects that if he could obtain a common consumer good, he would have the possibility of being happy. Gathering money day by day, little by little, he wants to buy a bicycle to win over Zuleica, a young woman who doesn't date boys who can only walk as their means of transportation. Guaranteeing social status for those who have nothing, a simple bicycle becomes the epicenter of Toninho’s desire to break free from his dire situation. While kneeling on the ground shining shoes in a subordinate position to his clients, the character gets lost in daydreams in which he imagines being on two wheels next to his beloved Zuleica. In Toninho's narrative, the desire of the people emerges as a promise, a glimpse of happiness reserved for the future. Although Esse mundo é meu can be criticized for portraying Zuleica as a stereotype of the futile woman, the film never stumbles into a political moralism that considers the particular desires of the people less important. In Sérgio Ricardo's feature film, the popular class dreams of revolution, but also of conquering the challenge to own a bicycle.
It is particularly in the second plot, with tragic dimensions, where revolutionary desire lies most. Unlike Toninho's narrative, where the happiness of being in a relationship emerges as projection, Pedro's story begins with joy. Pedro is a white man working in a small steel plant, and his narrative begins with the happy celebrations of his conjugal life next to Luzia. During a walk through Rio de Janeiro, where they go to the theater, the amusement park and the beach, the two celebrate the fact that they will live together in a shack located in the favela. The atmosphere of contentment, however, lasts for a short duration. Despite their passion, the couple faces severe financial difficulties that culminate in terrible consequences. With no expectations for the future, and faced with Pedro's failure to achieve a salary increase with his boss, Luzia decides to abort a newly-discovered pregnancy. For Luzia, there is no sense in bringing a child into the world who will go hungry. In the midst of a mise en scène that borrows stylistic elements of horror, Luzia undergoes an illegal abortion, a high-risk operation carried out inside a dirty and unhealthy shack. Pierced by twisted sewing needles during a violent storm that suddenly hits the area, the character meets an agonizing death. In Esse mundo é meu, Luzia's tragedy synthesizes the social misery faced by the Brazilian popular class. Were it not for the situation of misery, were it not for the poverty imposed by the powerful, she would probably be alive next to her son. Slaves in the world they are living in, and chained by oppression, these people have no chance of being happy. This political pedagogy, the essence of Sérgio Ricardo's art, is found in several passages of the feature film. It is present in a melancholic speech by Pedro, in which the people's joy is compared to the ephemeral taste of cotton candy, and it reappears in the sequence in which the couple rides a Ferris wheel, a moment in which the fun is ruined by the sadness chanted in the song "A fábrica". In the second plot of Esse mundo é meu, the message is evident: in an unjust society that is socially divided, the people are closer to tragedy than to happiness.
Because of this, the dual narratives are necessary. In Esse Mundo é Meu, the death of Luzia not only provokes critical reflection about the terrible effects of oppression, but it is also the last straw that impels Pedro to revolt against the patronal class. Although the call to struggle was already being hinted at throughout the course of the film, especially when the narrative is invaded by fragments of the 1963 play As aventuras de Ripió Lacraia (The Adventures of Ripió Lacraia), the effective act of insurrection only materializes after Luzia's disappearance. In Sérgio Ricardo's revolutionary pedagogy, popular tragedy and political resistance coexist, the former becoming the cause for the emergence of the latter. The sequence that closes Esse mundo é meu, a virtuous swirl of the camera capturing Toninho's joy in Zuleica's arms, seems to indicate a possible restitution of happiness, an allegory of a utopian future. But this future will only come if the workers, summoned by Pedro, really take possession of their future by coming together against the patronal class. Between 1963 and 1964, when Sérgio Ricardo placed this revolutionary gesture in his feature film, conducted by the character he plays himself, Ricardo was not alone in the Brazilian cinematographic panorama. This revolt that emerges from tragedy, an ideological consciousness acquired as a result of the pain of the world, is a recurring theme in films like Barravento (1962), by Glauber Rocha, Pedreira de São Diogo (1962), by Leon Hirszman, Ganga Zumba (1963-64), by Carlos Diegues, or Os Fuzis (1963), by Ruy Guerra. Although Sérgio Ricardo is not considered by popular historiographers to be a member of Cinema Novo, perhaps because his central trajectory is located in the musical field, Esse mundo é meu has an intense dialogue with the political and stylistic universe of this cinematographic movement. It is worth remembering that in 1964 Ricardo would compose the theme song for the film Deus e o diabo na terra do sol with Glauber Rocha, a song where we can find another return to his foundational pedagogy, to the idea that critical learning can lead to changing of social reality. As the lyrics of the song state: if the lesson that the world is wrong, that history belongs to man, is well understood, the next step will be the revolt that will make the "sertão become the sea," that will make the aridity of existence finally become a utopia.
In spite of all the desires formulated in the first films of Cinema Novo, including those made by Sérgio Ricardo, the political transformation would not materialize in Brazil. In the complete opposite of the desired utopia, on the reverse side of the dream, the country would see the implantation of a military dictatorship starting in April 1964, an occupation of power by the far right that would last at least until 1985. Represented on the screens as a revolutionary agent, through a romantic artistic imagery, the popular class would not offer resistance to the coup that imploded the fragile foundations of Brazilian democracy. In a historical context of suppressing freedom, of pulverizing the ideological projects of the left, the directors of Cinema Novo would discover the enormous distance between social reality and the utopian images that had populated their films. In part, what had served as the essence of their creative processes was now an illusion. Through self-criticism, with a certain amount of bitterness, the filmmakers would realize that their portrayal of the people, even constituting denunciations of misery, did little to match the real political condition of the oppressed class. Without escaping populism and revolutionary euphoria, they had projected images on the screens which were more attuned to their desires for engagement than to the complexities and contradictions of the world. Faced with such a fracture, Cinema Novo, in the second half of the 1960s, would change its thematic axis. In the first years of the dictatorship, taking the representations of the people from the center of the works, the directors would turn mainly to narratives about the failure of their political project, about the melancholy of militants and intellectuals of the left in authoritarian times, as is noticeable in the films O desafio (1965), by Paulo César Saraceni, Terra em transe (1967), by Glauber Rocha, and O bravo guerreiro (1968), by Gustavo Dahl. Curiously, even though directly influenced by Cinema Novo, Sérgio Ricardo would not accompany such thematic displacement, remaining firm in his artistic commitment to the popular class. Even if his cinema never returned to the previous revolutionary triumphalism, now abandoned in the face of the perversities of history, he would remain faithful to the political pedagogy in which the people, in their tragic condition, emerge on the screen as a force of rupture against oppression. Although there is a change of tone in Sérgio Ricardo's following films, a move away from the utopian romanticism that has collapsed, at the same time Ricardo's commitment to the oppressed class is kept alive, with the bet that in it lies the possible power of transformation.
Such permanence is present in Juliana do amor perdido, a film Sérgio Ricardo made in 1970. In his second feature film, Ricardo leaves behind the geographical space of the favela, moving his camera towards the sea. In the interior of an island cut off from the world, where fishing is a means of subsistence for a beach community, the popular class emerges in the beginning of the narrative wrapped by the plastic beauty of a religious ritual. From a mystical ceremony in praise of the deities, composed of songs, drumming and gestures of worship, the local people gather to remove the fish that will serve them as food and merchandise. The ritual, with a sublime tone, derives from the aesthetic magnificence of the mise en scène, and gives prominence to the character who will become the protagonist of the film. A young woman endowed with great beauty, an element of mediation with the mystical plane, Juliana is considered by the town as the ultimate incarnation of holiness. The initial atmosphere of wonder, however, will be short-lived in Sérgio Ricardo's second feature film. Behind the beauty of the ceremony and the beauty of popular worship, there is a terrible violence that contaminates the lives of the islanders. As in Glauber Rocha's 1962 film Barravento, the religious dimension in Juliana do amor perdido serves as a power mechanism for alienating the people and maintaining social hierarchies of oppression.
What in principle should be synonymous with protection and giving, the supposed divinity existing in Juliana's body is presented in the plot as a political instrument for the containment of popular dissatisfactions. Nourishing faith and devotion around the girl, whose sanctity turns out to be false, her father exercises control over the fishing community, guaranteeing benefits through spurious agreements with an American who owns the island. Unlike Esse mundo é meu, the popular class emerges in Juliana do amor perdido not only as a victim of an unjust society, but also as an agent of domination that turns against their own peers. In a historical context marked by failing utopias, just as Ruy Guerra had done in A queda (1976), the representations of the people, now fractured between suffering and serving the powerful, become more complex. In the world of Juliana do amor perdido, in which the island's village inhabitants are left to alienation, the one who suffers most is Juliana. For being aware of her religious falsehood, for being the object of cult and male erotic voracity, and for not accepting to continue as a plaything in the hands of her own father, the character desires to break with the imprisonment imposed by existence. In Juliana's longing lies the founding political pedagogy of Sérgio Ricardo. Chained by the authoritarian structure of the world, slave to the kingdom of magic and men, the character will not be able to find happiness.
For Juliana, the chance to overcome this imprisonment will be born from an encounter with a train conductor, a man who controls the means of locomotion necessary for her to leave a universe taken by violence and oppression. The passion she begins to feel for Faísca (Spark), whose surname holds in itself the power of rupture, originates not only as sexual desire, but above all as expectation of a future in which she can shake off the enormous weight of being a false saint. In the course of her escape from her new partner's side, Juliana will finally find the chance to experience a life free from the social ties that exist in the fishing community. Like the protagonists of Esse mundo é meu, Toninho who dances next to Zuleica or Pedro who has fun with Luzia in an amusement park, Juliana sees the possible materialization of joy far from the authoritarian machinery of society. If structures of power were not causing the removal of compassion in the world, the popular class could be happy. In a moment of great lyrical intensity, when Faísca and Juliana find themselves alone on a deserted beach, the sea that used to burst as a space of domination, the sea in which the character needed to dress up as a cheating saint, now resurfaces as a metaphorical place of pleasure and rupture. Although the waters no longer contain the revolutionary allegory present in Deus e o diabo na terra do sol (1964), where they emerged as an epic symbol of an entire people in emancipation, they are re-energized in Sérgio Ricardo's film narrative, appearing as a welcoming space for a female in search of liberation. If historical time was still that of pre-1964 utopian romanticism, if the country were not hostage to a military dictatorship in 1970, perhaps Juliana do amor perdido would conclude here. Perhaps, as in the final image of Esse mundo é meu, the narrative would conclude with Juliana and Faísca in the fullness of their happiness, with a mise en scène lyrically evoking the expectation of a libertarian future.
Such an outlook, however, is not held for the couple. After a series of narrative twists and turns, Juliana will again be imprisoned by the fishing community, whose alienation turns into unmeasured violence against this "saint" who should guarantee the protection of the village and not abandon it. Treated as a traitor, imprisoned by fascist religious beliefs, Juliana will face harsh aggressions imposed on her body. During a new attempt to escape, because the burning desire for rupture remains, Juliana will meet her final destiny. In despair, pursued by the men and women of the community, she is run over by the train guided by Faísca, killed precisely by the means of transportation that should offer her the paths to possible redemption. Under the effect of the historical context of the military dictatorship, when Brazilian social contradictions were intensified, Sérgio Ricardo's cinema no longer finds the previous disposition to idealize utopian futures. In authoritarian and militarized times, the artist updates the political pedagogy present in the essence of his creative work. As a result, Juliana do Amor Perdido is a film that teaches us about the mechanisms of oppression that influence the popular class. Another example of the ideological commitment to the oppressed, the feature highlights the revolutionary energy that emanates from the people, the vitality that leads them to persistent attempts to break with the system of domination. However, even if happiness materializes, an overwhelming tragic dimension emerges in the film, a destruction reinforced by prejudices, economic interests and hierarchies of power. The life and death of the popular class, their suffering and the strength of their resistance, founding creative elements of Sergio Ricardo's art, resurface in Juliana's narrative of lost love. Updated, political pedagogy teaches that times are tragic, but that the people, as a social class, continues to contain the desiring power of rupture.
And it is precisely the life and death of the people that re-emerge, with great poetic intensity, in the third feature film directed by Sérgio Ricardo. Based on a script originally written in 1968, but taken to the screen only in 1974, A noite do espantalho (The Night of the Scarecrow) moves the filmmaker's creative process towards another geographic space of exclusion, towards the northeastern sertão. It is there that the popular class faces a life crossed by hunger and submission to the authoritarian forces of colonialism. If until then Sérgio Ricardo's filmography had been dedicated to representations around the sea and the urban favela, localizing in these territories the oscillation between tragedy and the resistance of the oppressed, now his cameras turn to one of the most impoverished regions of the country, a scenario of great material precariousness also present in the central films of Cinema Novo such as Vidas Secas (1963) and Os Fuzis (1963). Continuing the filmmaker's artistic project, expanding it towards the dilemmas found in the interior of the Northeast, A noite do espantalho brings back to the scene, as a new act of engagement, a political pedagogy mediated by the miserable existential condition of the Brazilian people.
Moving to the sertão (hinterland), a choice that is not fortuitous for a militant artist, Sérgio Ricardo would elect the city of Nova Jerusalém (New Jerusalem), located in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, as the setting for his third feature-length film. Nova Jerusalém is a city that was artificially built in 1968 with buildings that attempt to imitate the architecture of ancient Jerusalem described in biblical texts. This location is where the narrative of A noite do espantalho has become known in Brazil, it is a space of Catholic celebration in which recurring staging of The Passion of Christ takes place. Considered the largest open-air theater in the world, an icon of Christian power in Latin America, Nova Jerusalém has become a territory of religious pilgrimage where hundreds of actors and faithful gather annually to stage the suffering faced by Jesus Christ in his final moments of life. However, by placing his film in this symbolic location, of intimate coexistence between kitsch and the sacred, Sergio Ricardo was in no way mobilized by any form of respect for Catholic devotion. Keeping firm in his critical disposition against religious alienation, a position already present in Juliana do Amor Perdido, the artist borrows a locality impregnated by faith without the intention of promoting celebrations, but with the perspective of operating political ruptures in a space that is socially considered as symbolic for the devoted. By filming in Nova Jerusalem, in the same territory where emotional commotion comes from the via crucis and spiritual resurrection, the filmmaker refutes a reenactment of the last days of Christ, replacing it with another tragedy that has nothing to do with the ascetic dimensions of Catholicism. By appropriating the sanctified city, its streets and buildings, the artist removes the original Christian component, putting in its place an anguish directly related to the social reality of the country. In A noite do espantalho, in a movement of materialistic subversion, Jesus is removed from the scene. Contrary to religious expectations, Nova Jerusalém becomes the stage for another passion, that which involves the anguish and suffering of the Brazilian popular class. In Sérgio Ricardo's political theatricality, in his film of engagement, what is on display is The Passion of the Sertanejo People.
In the film A noite do espantalho, the most daring work in Sérgio Ricardo's filmography, the story about the passion that surrounds the oppressed is built through an aesthetic experience endowed with great inventiveness. Taking up what is in the essence of his creative work, a stylistic project composed from convergences with the universe of popular art, in his third feature film Ricardo seeks to establish a poetic encounter with the musicality that comes from the northeastern songbook. If before, in the film Esse mundo é meu, the samba emerged as a cultural expression related to Rio de Janeiro's dilemmas, in dialogue with the music existing in the hills and slums, now, in his new film, Sérgio Ricardo seeks creative approaches with sound roots linked to the sertaneja identity. The battle song, the cordel poetry, the wheel dance and the work songs, among other rhythmic matrices of northeastern origin, cross the narrative totality of A noite do espantalho as an operatic rhapsody that reveals the lyrical dimensions, the tragedy and the acts of survival belonging to the popular class. In the form of a passion of the people, Sérgio Ricardo's political pedagogy, the foundation of his filmmaking, is now invested in a songbook that becomes a thread of critical learning about the structures of oppression that exist in the Brazilian sertão.
From beginning to end, through sung dialogues, the film borrows traditions of popular musicality, modernizing them in order to narrate the misadventures that involve the oppressed in the interior of the Northeastern region. Like an opera of the people, a cinematographic musical about the adversities of the world, this feature film by Sérgio Ricardo puts on the screen the figure of a singer, an enigmatic scarecrow who is there to tell an episode of suffering and resistance that took place inside a small village in the backlands. Performed by Alceu Valença, who would become a nationally renowned composer and singer, the scarecrow crosses the film as a figure that holds the memory of popular misfortunes, as someone who wishes to share with the viewers his knowledge about the condition lived by the miserable class. Just as in Deus e o diabo na terra do sol, fulfilling a poetic-pedagogical function, the singer finds himself here to teach about the precariousness of existence. In announcing that his story is the fruit of truth and lies, of a fictional vein that comes directly from reality, the scarecrow invites us to become aware of the world, hoping that perhaps some form of "use and good profit" will result from it. It is from the voice of this storyteller, owner of great wisdom, that the narrative linked to the passion of the people of the sertanejo (countryside) sprouts.
In A noite do espantalho, the story presented by the singer reveals the authoritarian power relations existing in the Brazilian Northeast. In the interior of a sertanejo village, in a region severely affected by the dry climate, the popular class lives its days under the aggressive domination of the colonialist elite. A rich landowner who is the ultimate symbol of despotism, the Fragoso Colonel exercises unbridled control over the local population, forcing them to live in an oppressive state of near slavery. Subjected to the demands of power, imprisoned by the servitude imposed on them, the oppressed find themselves enveloped in suffering marked by hunger and material misery. In this universe fractured by social division, where the violence of the Jagunços imposes colonialist authority, the people seek refuge for their daily hardships in religious mysticism. However, as in Juliana do amor perdido, salvation through faith presents itself as something illusory. Despite the promises made by a messianic leader, by this figure so recurrent in the imaginary sertanejo, the miracle of redemption fails. With great frustration, the people watch the wreck of their expectations when the transforming rain does not arrive, anguishing themselves in face of the religious failure that foresaw the end of misery through the waters coming from the sky.
Faced with spiritual beliefs that do not solve the world's contradictions, acquiring political consciousness about its miserable condition, the town will seek to build an act of resistance against Colonel Fragoso. As is typical in Sérgio Ricardo's cinema, in the essence of his critical pedagogy, the tragic dimension of daily life impels the oppressed to try to break the system of domination. Once again, the foundational ideas behind the song "Esse mundo é meu" (“This world is mine”) manifests itself. To be happy, to achieve their emancipation, the popular class needs to take history into their hands, overcoming forms of alienation that impede transformative political actions. The power coming from the oppressed, however, will also fail as a mechanism of confrontation against the abuses of colonialist power. Even if a political force resides in the people that never extinguishes itself, a desire for freedom that mobilizes its existence, their attempt at resistance will be massacred in the narrative of A noite do espantalho. In the face of insurgencies coming from the miserable, who refuse to leave their lands, Colonel Fragoso orders the annihilation of the rebels. Under the watchful eye of a dragon, symbol of capitalist colonialism in Brazilian lands, a group of jagunços exterminate the sertanejos, putting an end to the rebellion that had been rising.
As in Sérgio Ricardo's other films, in A noite do espantalho, popular happiness materializes in moments when authoritarian forces are distant. Again, when the expectation of a break with the domination of oppression is drawn, a lyricism crosses the dramatic fabric as a manifestation of the joy coming from the oppressed. Especially in the sequences in which the sertanejos oppose local power, proposing the construction of an autonomous community to the colonialist system, contentment emerges in the form of a liberative power that emanates directly from the people. In A noite do espantalho, Sérgio Ricardo puts the most beautiful utopian images of his filmography on the screen. This materialization of happiness is especially evident in the moments in which the community is transformed into a collectivity, building a new village in resistance to the colonel. With a documentary-esque mise en scène, accompanied by a music of exaltation for the popular communion, the sertanejos come together and collectivize their work instruments with the intention of building the houses where they intend to live. The project of creating new homes is fulfilled from materials such as stirred clay, cut wood and tree leaves. While the mutirão (community) is being developed, something unique happens. For the only time in Sérgio Ricardo's fictional cinema, the film crew manifests itself on screen, capturing with their microphones and cameras the people's libertarian action. In a great communal act, the hands that built the houses and those that register the world share the joy of living without boundaries. The utopian power emerges in the fictional scene, but also behind the scenes, bringing together the act of artistic creation with the communal creation from the popular class. The message, put between the lines of the film, seems clear: were it not for existing power structures, this would be a possible life. In these images of plenitude, the existential bet of Ricardo resides. Unfortunately, as before in Juliana do amor perdido, the authoritarian reaction buries the glimpse of a possible future. In the form of a musical passion, Sérgio Ricardo's political pedagogy manifests itself once again, bringing forth a critical teaching about the world's suffering.
In A noite do espantalho, however, Ricardo’s political pedagogy becomes more somber due to the real life authoritarian condition found in Brazilian society. In Sérgio Ricardo's third feature film, the mechanisms of oppression do not materialize on the scene solely from the violent actions of villainous characters like Colonel Fragoso or the capitalist colonizing dragon. In the film, through a more complex approach to the authoritarian (de)formations of the country, the Northeastern colonialism emerges as a structural dimension capable of corrupting, even, the spirit of the popular class itself. Distant from the revolutionary purity that resided in Esse mundo é meu, in which the people were represented exclusively as victims of society, in the film A noite do espantalho Sérgio Ricardo makes an effort to show that the sertanejos, in the midst of miserliness, are hostages to a system of domination that recurrently turns them into instruments of violence at the service of the economic elite. As a result of the world's structural breakdowns, a shattering of the popular class emerges in the dramatic fabric.
In A noite do espantalho, the protagonist of the passion sung by the scarecrow is a man of popular origin who finds himself fractured between two distinct personalities. On the one hand, amidst the disorientation that runs through him, he appears on stage as the cowboy Zé Tulão. Performed by actor Gilson Moura, Tulão becomes the main political leader who stimulates the town to resistance. Owner of great wisdom, holder of conscience about the world, he shares his critical knowledge with the other sertanejos, impelling them to take possession of the colonel's lands as an act of rebellion against the mechanisms of oppression. On the other hand, becoming the dark face of the same man, the protagonist of A noite do espantalho also materializes as the jagunço Zé do Cão. Now played by José Pimentel, Zé do Cão carries the fate of death, representing the colonialist corruption that leads the popular class to become a murder weapon in the hands of the powerful. In his jagunça incarnation, he leads the genocide that exterminates the rebellious village. Fractured in two, crossed by existential instability, the protagonist of the film exists as both the personality of light and darkness. A metaphor of a people imprisoned by colonialist rule, oscillating between libertarian desire and servitude to power, he translates the complex effects of a society perverted by authoritarianism. Although he seeks a rupture like the cowboy Zé Tulão, protecting the transforming power of the popular class, the character cannot escape the authoritarian contamination, becoming also the jagunço Zé do Cão, assassin of his own brothers. The storm experienced by the protagonist will only end with his death, when, to the delight of Colonel Fragoso, one personality ends up annulling the existence of the other. For Maria do Grotão, a woman in love with the two identities of a single man, she finally only mourns for the one who carried the cross of shattering in life. In A noite do espantalho, the sertanejo passion endows the most complex political pedagogy of Sergio Ricardo. The imprisonment of the popular, which prevents him from happiness, is more perverse than appearances dictate. This is the teaching transmitted by the film. Suffering does not come only from hunger, material precariousness, or the tragedy associated with death. It also resides in the oppressive system that contaminates the popular class, making it exist as victim and tormentor at the same time. Even if the joy materializes temporarily in A noite do espantalho, as a lyrical glimpse of a utopian desire, the structural corruption that affects the people annihilates any possibilities of redemption.
In A noite do espantalho, Sérgio Ricardo’s updated political pedagogy also lies in the singular treatment given by him to the universe of the northeastern sertão. Without a shadow of a doubt, the feature film presents an intense dialogue with the cultural imaginary that is present in films of the first phase of Cinema Novo or in lit