On the aesthetics of banditry

A pioneering work by the most controversial figure of Brazil’s Cinema Novo has left its mark


Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil)
Glauber Rocha
1964, Copacabana/Luiz Augusto Mendes Produções
125 minutes (Portuguese with English subtitles)

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

LATAMROB rating: ****

THIS RECENTLY re-mastered black and white gem by the most controversial figure of Brazil’s Cinema Novo may not be everyone’s cup of tea at two hours long with a tough subject as its narrative based heavily on the lyrics a ballad.

However, for students of cinema, Glauber Rocha’s second and best known film is a beautiful materialisation of the Cinema Novo’s motto (and of any filmmaker’s dream): an idea in the head and a camera in the hand.

Absorbed by the arts, drama, politics and film from an early age, Rocha decided in his twenties to stop tinkering with his studies in law and just reviewing movies and to create them.

The result, Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil), was a Brechtian extravaganza that combines the drama of an opera, the histrionics of a Greek tragedy and the dusty atmosphere of a political western.

In Deus e o diabo na terra do sol Rocha explores the theme of Brazil’s numerous rural messianic sects of the 1940s, which posed a nightmare for the country’s central authorities who viewed them as separatist challenges to their cohesive yet fragile state and moved violently to quash them.

The film tells the story of Manoel (Geraldo Del Rey), a poor young man who falls into destitution and becomes an outlaw after he kills a man of higher class who had conned him when he had tried to sell his last two cows. Defying his fate, Manoel and his wife Rosa (Yoná Magalhães) join the sect of a black religious leader, Beato Sebastião (Lidio Silva), who promises the barren lands of Minas Gerais will become like the sea and the sea like dry land.

Sebastião’s sect is crushed and, in their escape, the couple meet the cruel, white devil Corisco (Othon Bastos), another outlaw who speaks for the poor and who finally duels to the death with Antonio das Mortes (Maurício do Valle), a killer of rural bandits.

Sea of shanty towns

Outstanding cinematography and the oneiric tempo achieved during the film nurtures a surreal atmosphere, clearly influenced by Luis Buñuel (Tristana, Nazarín) and the Italian neo-realists. Hand-held camera work and the employment of many allegories underline the revolutionary Rocha’s artistic sensitivities.

This is the first part of a trilogy which was followed by Terra em Transe (Earth Entranced,1967) and O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro (1969, The Dragon of Evil Against the Saint Warrior) for which Rocha was named best director at Cannes. Some of the characters of Deus e o diabo na terra do sol recur in the second and third part of the trilogy.

In the mind of Glauber Rocha, as among other Cinema Novo directors, creating films was a search for Brazilian identity and a means of awakening political consciousness. For Rocha, the originality of Brazil was the hunger of its people for social justice. This influence has long outlived the movement: the trappings of Cinema Novo can still be found in the works of contemporary Brazilian filmmakers such as Walter Salles (Abril Despedaçado).

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

More on Glauber Rocha at: http://www.tempoglauber.com

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