A partial transcript of Episode 22 of my arts and culture radio show, THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full show.
It must be said, however, that the history of cinema in Brazil is a reflection of its tumultuous political history. In fact, cinema had periods of few ups and many downs, and struggled to become a hugely popular form of entertainment due to its reliance on state funding.
Brazil has always traditionally been a politically conservative country because its ruling classes have mostly been white, conservative men. But there was a period of liberalization that Brazil experienced from the late ’50s to the coup d’etat of 1964, via such progressive Brazilian presidents as Kubitschek and Goulart.
During this time, Brazilian cinema was renewed by a movement known as the Cinema Novo, which translates as New Cinema. The movement had been particularly influenced by Italian neo-realism.
It also came with a manifesto, penned by Glaubert Rocha. The strongest theme outlined in the manifesto was an “aesthetic of hunger,” where hunger was outlined not only as an alarming symptom but also the essence of Brazilian society.
In fact, Rocha wrote, “Herein lies the tragic originality of Cinema Novo, in relation to world cinema: our originality is our hunger and our greatest misery is that this hunger is felt but not intellectually understood.”
Essentially, this statement reflects the desire of many Cinema Novo filmmakers, including Rocha himself, to make movies that would reflect society as it was rather than depict a vision of everyday life that represented society as the ruling politicians wanted it to be represented.
Rocha in fact directed some of the best films of the movement, including Barravento, about an educated black man returning to his home rural village to free the people off the shackles of mysticism, which he considers a factor of political and social oppression; and Black God, White Devil, about an employee who begins to follow a self-professed saint after murdering his employer. Two other great figures of cinema novo were Ruy Guerra and Nelson Pereira dos Santos.
But unlike other like-minded movements of the time that sought to counter the predominant cinema of its country, the most famous of these being the French New Wave, Cinema Novo was relatively short-lived. Its first wave lasted only about four years and came to an abrupt end with the 1964 coup d’etat, which re-established a military regima politically aligned to the interests of the United States government in the most heated period of the Cold War.
There were films made after 1964 that are considered Cinema Novo movies. But the first wave is the one that you really need to see from this period. Much like Czechoslovakia, it took some time for Brazilian cinema to regain some freedoms.
Indeed, the film that marked a significant rebirth for Brazilian cinema, if ever it had been truly born on an internationally significant scale at all… was City of God from 2002 was Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund.
It shouldn’t be surprising to note that this particular film was made just one year after the election of Lula, generally regarded as the first left-wing president since Joao Goulert was dethroned, so to speak, in 1964.