Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Log 392: Brazilian films, shown in festival in Montreal, prove to have world-class qualities of veracity and feeling

Gold :: Locality: Serra Pelada (Serra Leste) A...
Gold :: Locality: Serra Pelada (Serra Leste) Au-(Pd-Pt) deposit, Curionópolis, Carajás mineral province, Pará, North Region, Brazil (Locality at mindat.org) :: Size: miniature, 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.2 cm (39 grams) :(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cover of "Bye Bye Brazil"
Cover of Bye Bye Brazil

Montreal seems to be bustin’ out in so-called festivals of films from around the world.  A month or so ago we had a Festival du Nouveau Cinema, with 250 films on show. (I saw only three of them and wasn’t much impressed by any of those). Last week we had a Festival of Brazilian Film, appearing for the seventh year with 20 offerings (I have seen five of them, and been mightily impressed by the high quality, and high level of general interest, of them all.) Next week comes a Festival of Moroccan Films, to be following by a massive Festival of Documentary Films, and finally a huge Festival of Francophone Films (with English sub-titles, says the advertising.)
I have been interested in Brazilian films since I saw the remarkable  Bye Bye Brazil directed by Carlos Diegues in 1979, that I still number among the handful of the best films I have ever seen.
It dealt with a rundown, seedy group of entertainers travelling into the interior of the country in a small van to entertain the few people living there, as new roads opened up the previously inaccessible Amazon hinterland.  
Apparently Diegues, now in his early seventies, is still active, but I have never come across any of his subsequent films, unfortunately, although they seem to have confirmed him as one of the most admired members of the Cine Novo movement.
None of his works is included in this year’s offering, but other celebrated directors have their work on show. Taken together the films give their audiences a stimulating account of life in this vibrant, rapidly developing nation. Perhaps the most spectacular of the films I saw is Victor Lopes’ documentary Serra Pelada, the latest in a string of movies that have been made about what is claimed to have been the biggest gold rush that has ever occurred anywhere. One film-maker recently said the manpower employed in removing the Serra Pelada mountain, some 430 kilometres south of the mouth of the Amazon, which amounted to 115,000 bodies, was the biggest accumulation of workers seen since 4000 people were involved in building the Pyramids. Late in 1979 a peasant found large nuggets of gold on his land, and within a month or so thousands of people had crowded in to take advantage of the discovery.
In the next few years these men toiled to remove the earth and carry it away, climbing up and down the sides of mountains by ladder or crudely fashioned steps. Tens of thousands, working at once, swarming over the side of the mountain like ants, covered, head to foot with mud, their bodies gleaming with it, since the earth they were digging up and carrying contained not only gold, but also elements like plutonium and palladium.
Women were forbidden from the work site, where the workers lived in crude shacks, crowded in one on top of the other, the building materials for which had to be carried in by the workers themselves because there was no other access than by plane, which dropped its passengers leaving them with a 15-kilometre walk to their workplace. Almost total anarchy appears to have held sway, with  60 to 80 unsolved murders occurring every month.

After a while a decision was made to build a town, 30 kilometres away. An architect and planner Sebastiao Rodrigues de Moura, better known as Coronel Curio, was contracted to clear away the shacks, but he decided to keep  them, and to build a respectable town in addition. He called the place Curionopolis after himself and became its first mayor, and for a time manager of the mine. I would have liked a better defined explanation of his role in the whole story, which seemed to have some sort of ruthless undertone.
The film interviews many people who became prominent in this environment in its gold rush years, but if I have one criticism to make, it is of a lack of precision in the information offered.  The garimperos, as the miners were called, appeared almost like slaves in the celebrated photos taken in the 1980s by photographer Sebastiao Salgado, and used in the films Koyaanaqqatsi and Powaqqatsi, but they apparently did not think of themselves as slaves: they were all hoping to become rich. Each of them had claim to a tiny square of land that they hoped would yield one of those fabulous gold nuggets which were each worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Eventually the barricades holding back the water collapsed, and all that remains now is a polluted lake, at the bottom of which people still believe there is gold, and they hope to find it. The mine was closed, and fell into the hands of a Canadian company, Colossus Mines, which, along with a 29 per cent holding of a co-op company, is preparing to build a regular, underground mine that they believe will make possible the mining of palladium, plutonium and gold.
The opening film at the festival was called Gonzaga, and was a biography of a simple country boy who became a famous singer in Brazil. By following the course of this character’s life  director Breno Silveira was able to provide yet another convincing and interesting version of Brazilian life along the back roads. This was the story of a man who had a successful  career, but neglected his family. The son he neglected, known to everyone as Gonzaguinha,  grew up hating and despising his father, refusing to be known as his father’s son, as he carved out his own career and became a noted singer of Brazilian ballads. The film follows them until the moment of reconciliation, when they agree at last to to appear together on stage.
Silveira was also director  of the impressive movie Along the Way, yet another exercise in discovery of the backlands of the nation. The primary character of this film is a truckdriver, deeply disillusioned, who has withdrawn into himself because of some accident in his past. He discovers  that a boy of about nine years has stowed away on his truck, in which he is heading towards Sao Paulo. It takes a long time for these two to open up to each other at which point they become united in their mutual misery, alienation and loneliness. The boy has lost his mother, and never known his father whom he is now hoping to meet, because without him the boy has nothing and nobody; the man is shown to have an abandoned daughter, and to carry the responsibility for an accident that left the girl motherless. There is only one rather mawkish moment  in this film, but that apart, this is a film dealing in powerful emotions that I found were achieved and highly effective. The film was inspired by the songs of a man called Roberto Carlos, songs that were played through the film, beautiful, expressive, slightly melancholy ballads that added immensely to the mood of the film.

The film Olga, directed by Jayme Monjardin, probably benefitted more than the othr films from the recent period of left-wing rule in Brazil. It is based on the life of Olga Benario, a German-Jewish Communist activist in pre-war Germany. Fleeing Hitler, she goes to Moscow and is assigned to accompany the leader of Brazil’s Communist party, Luiz Carlos Prestes, back to Brazil, where they are to carry out a Communist revolution. They are instructed to pretend to be married, but in fact they fall in love, and become inseparable. When the revolution fails Olga is arrested and deported to Germany to face the rigours of imprisonment and death at the hands of the Nazis. This is an amazingly emotional film, devastatingly effective and moving, and one rather doubts that it could have been made under one of Brazil’s conservative or military governments.
A film directed by Marcelo Machado celebrates the formation in the 1960s, almost simultaneous with the rise of the Beatles in England, of a Brazilian musical movement from the north-east of the country, which came to be known as Tropicalia or Tropicalismo.  This movement was stimulated in large measure by the afore-mentioned Roberto Carlos. But the leaders of the movement appear to have been singers such as Caetano Veloso, who provides a beautiful ballad in this film, and Gilberto Gil, and a group called Os Mutantes. The impact this film had on me was unusual, for with its shots of wildly enthusiastic young people in huge audiences, reacting just as people reacted to the Beatles, it reminded me of how much goes on around the world that we never hear anything about. The feeling aroused by this movement appears to have been widespread among the populace of Brazil, as were similar movements going on in other countries that are better known to us. A note on the Internet records that the group Tropicalia  became an inspiration for many in Brazil to oppose the military government of the time, even though the movement itself lasted hardly more than two years. Yet it was credited in Brazil as having changed the face of Brazilian music completely. It had been preceded by Bossa Nova, which was considered to have had a more bourgeois origin, to have represented a sort of devil-may-care, unimpassioned easy-going attitude, compared with the emotional tones of Tropicalismo  as it was sometimes called. Yet another of these Brazilian films with a strong emphasis on social change, social content, and a broad-ranging curiosity about everything in life.
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1 comment:


  1. بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم تقدم لكم شركة الكمال جميع خدمات رش المبيد يجميع انحاء المملكة بافضل انواع المبيدات للقضاء على جميع الحشرات الطائرة والزاحفه كالصراصير والفائران والنمل الابيض والبق والذباب والناموس
    شركة رش مبيدات بالطائف
    شركة رش مبيدات بجازان
    شركة رش مبيدات بحائل
    والسلامه عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

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