Used several different websites from Brazzil magazine and Brazil Culture (http://www.crl.com/~brazil/culture.htm) to compile this information.
Within a year of the Lumière brothers' first experiment in Paris in 1896, the cinematograph machine appeared in Rio de Janeiro.
Ten years later, the capital boasted 22 cinema houses and the first Brazilian feature film, "The Stranglers" by Antônio Leal. From then on Brazil's film industry made steady progress.
In 1930, still the era of the silent movie in Brazil, Mario Peixoto's landmark film "Limit" (Limite) was made. The film is a surrealistic work about how life conspires to prevent total fulfillment.
In 1933 Cinédia produced "The Voice of Carnival," the first film with Carmen Miranda. This film ushered in the chanchada which dominated Brazilian cinema for many years. Chanchadas are slapstick comedies usually filled with musical numbers.
Ganga Bruta (Rough Gangue) by Humberto Mauro. A classic by a pioneer director from the little town of Cataguases in the State of Minas Gerais.
End of the 1940s
By the end of the 1940's Brazilian film making was becoming an industry. The Vera Cruz Film Company was created in São Paulo in order to produce films of international quality. It hired technicians from abroad and brought back from Europe Alberto Cavalcanti, a Brazilian filmmaker with an international reputation, to head the company.
The Vera Cruz Film Company produced some important films, including the epic "The Brigand" (O Cangaceiro) by Lima Barreto that won the "Best Adventure Film" award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was a romantic presentation of a northeastern backlands badman and was the best known and most cited Brazilian movie overseas until the appearance of Pixote (1980).
Amei um Bicheiro (I Loved a Numbers Game Runner) by Jorge Ileli was a love story of a lowlife from Rio.
The Vera Cruz Film Company closed.
In the 1950's, Brazilian cinema radically changed the way it made films. In his 1955 film, Rio 40 Degrees (Rio 40 Graus), director Nelson Pereira dos Santos employed the filmmaking techniques of Italian neorealism. He used ordinary people as his actors and shot his low budget film in the streets. The director set the stage for the Brazilian cinema novo movement. Other directors went outdoors to shoot, and film production increased.
Luiz Carlos Barreto is considered the father of the cinema novo movement. He was born in Sobral, state of Ceará in 1928 and went to Rio in 1947 as a photographer and reporter for O Cruzeiro, the leading Brazilian magazine at that time. He married his wife, Lucy, in 1954.
Luiz Carlos began making movies in 1961 as script co-author and co-producer of Assalto ao Trem Pagador (The Pay-Train Robbery) a film by Roberto Farias which was very successful. The film was based on a true police story that happened in Rio. Luiz Carlos has been associated in one way or another with the best Brazilian filmmakers, including Nélson Pereira dos Santos, Gláuber Rocha, and Cacá Diegues.
By this time cinema novo was dealing with themes related to acute national problems, from conflicts in rural areas to human problems in the large cities, as well as film versions of important Brazilian novels. O Pagador de Promessas (The Promise Keeper) by Anselmo Duarte won the Cannes Festival Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the story of a Nordestino (someone from the Northeast) who decides to give all he has to the poor and tries to get a cross inside a church against the wishes of a priest.
Vidas Secas (Barren Lives) by Nélson Pereira dos Santos is considered by some to be the best Brazilian movie ever made. It is a story of poverty and despair in the Northeast backlands with a family being chased from their home by drought.
"God and The Devil in the Land of the Sun" (Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol) by director Glauber Rocha deals in an allegorical way with religious and political fanaticism in Brazil's northeast.
"Empty Night" (Noite Vazia), goes back to urban, intimate themes depicting the anguish of lonely people living in industrial São Paulo.
Todas as Mulheres do Mundo (All the Women in the World) by Domingos Oliveira was a comedy that showcased the talent and charm of Leila Diniz, who died prematurely in a plane crash.
End of the 1960s
At the end of the 1960's, the Tropicalist movement took hold not only of cinema, but of music, theatre, and the arts in Brazil. It emphasized the need to transform all foreign influences into a national product. Given the military government censorship, Brazilian cinema had to be careful so it started using allegory as a way around the censors. The most representative film of the Tropicalist movement is Macunaíma, by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade. The movie is a metaphorical analysis of the Brazilian character as expressed in the tale of a native Indian who leaves the Amazon jungle and goes to the big city.
Working at the same time as the Tropicalists, what became known as cinema marginal emerged from a group of directors in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The movies produced dealt with life in a marginal society and were considered "difficult". Among these films are "Rio Babylon" (Rio Babilônia) by Neville d'Almeida, "He Killed the Family and Went to the Movies" (Matou a Família e foi ao Cimema) by Júlio Bressane, and "The Red Light Bandit" (O Bandido da Luz Vermelha) by Rogério Sganzerla.
The Government film agency, EMBRAFILME, created in 1969, was responsible for the co-production, financing, and distribution of a large percentage of films in the 1970's and 1980's. EMBRAFILME added a commercial dimension to the film industry and made it possible for it to move on to more ambitious projects. Among the acclaimed films of the mid 1970's were:
Tati, a garota. Bruno Barreto was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1955. He grew up amidst the Brazilian film industry seeing as how his father and mother were two prominent film makers, namely Luis Carlos and Luci Barreto. At the age of 11 (1966) he made a 16mm film. At the age of 17 (1972) he made his first long film, Tati, The Girl, based on a text by Anibal Machado.
A estrela sobre
Pereira do Santos's Ogum's Amulet (Amuleto de Ogum) about candomblé.
Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's Connubial War (Guerra Conjugal) relates the humor and travails of married life.
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Dona Flor e seus Dois Maridos), directed by Bruno Barreto, was an international success. Based on the novel by Jorge Amado, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is a delightful story about a widow living a triangular affair with her second husband and her deceased husband's spirit.
In the 1980's television started to cut into movie attendance. Many theatres closed their doors, especially in the interior of the country. Many of the films of the 1980s were concerned with political questions.
O beijo no asfalto
Pixote became one of the best known and most cited Brazilian movie overseas. It is a terrible tale of the abuse of children in a poor country. The custodians of the boy's school bemoan the fact that Brazil has laws that protect children from becoming labeled as criminals and that they cannot be sent to prison, but this is laughable when the so-called school is little more than or perhaps even worse than an adult prison (where being locked-up at least provides some deterrent against the rule of jungle law). Just about every terrible thing that can befall youngsters happens in this film. It is very brutal to say the least.
They Don't Wear Black-Tie (Eles não Usam Black-Tie), was directed by Leon Hirzman, and tells the story of a strike in the industrial area of São Paulo.
Gabriela, cravo e canela
Memories of Prison (Memórias do Cárcere), 1984, by Nelson Pereira dos Santos portrayed the life of political prisoners.
One of the most outstanding films of the 1980's was The Hour of the Star (A Hora da Estrela), directed by Susana Amaral. It tells the story of an immigrant girl from the northeast in a big metropolis.
O romance da empregada
EMBRAFILME ceased operations in 1990.
A Show of Force (Assassinato sob duas bandeiras)
Bruno Barreto moved to the United States in 1990 after making eight films in Brazil. So far he has already done three films and another on the way. He married the North American actress Amy Irving.
Heart of Justice (O coração da justiça)
The Story of Fausta
Carried Away (Atos de Amor)
O que é isso, companheiro? Based on a book by Fernando Gabeira, it tells the story of the kidnapping of an American Ambassador by a group of college students during the military dictatorship in Brazil in 1968.
Fabio Barreto's O Quatrilho Um Jogo de Fascínio e Sedução (O Quatrilho A Game of Fascination and Seduction) delighted Brazilian audiences. Quatrilho is the name of a card game played in Brazil which requires its players to betray their partners in order to win. The movie is a slice of life that goes back to the early 1900's when a small group of Italian immigrants in the southernmost part of the country had to adapt to their new land. It is based on a true story of two couples who faced the anger of their community after having lived together and swapped partners.
The big hit of the year was Carlota Joaquina.
A Ostra e o Vento (The Oyster and the Wind) by Walter Lima Júnior .
Central do Brasil (Central Station) by Walter Salles Jr. was nominated for an Oscar for the best foreign film. The story deals with a woman who for a fee writes letters for the illiterate and in the process turns into a good Samaritan. The movie won the 1998 Berlim Festival main prize, the Golden Lion.
Brazilian Films Available Through Amazon.com and other sources (with English subtitles):
Luso-Brazilian press has some summaries of these movies at their website:
Bye, Bye Brazil
This film is a fascinating tour of a quickly disappearing Brazil. It is a wonderful way to explore the fifth largest nation in land area in the world. A group of traveling entertainers just barely making their living (often supplemented by the prostitution of the woman character known as the "Queen of the Rumba") by traveling from one backwoods town to the next. The journey starts in the very dry region in northeast Brazil where the troupe picks up two young "hicks" and extends into the jungles of the Amazon. The entire troupe, however, is somewhat gullible because they do not realize how their backwoods Brazil is disappearing as television and major highways unite almost all the country's diverse regions into a modern Brazil. We witness the troupe's surprise and disgust as they move from one part of Brazil to another.
The journey is a sad one as it in part traces the ecological damage being done to Brazil by rapid industrialization and the damage done to the small backwoods towns and to the native Brazilians -- the "Indians." But it is always an interesting story because it also traces the emotional development of a young man with an obsessive love complex into a mature young family man.
This film takes place in northeastern Brazil which is the blackest and poorest area of Brazil. It is also an area that is dominated by various religions inspired by what we popularly call voodoo. More specifically, the movie is set in a small, isolated fishing village during a time of a scarcity of fish. On the farms, men could look in on their women, wives and daughters. But this is a problem in fishing villages where the men are often out fishing and cannot easily return. In addition, a common problem facing those who fish is finding enough fish. Given that these men live in an area dominated by religions inspired by the spirit world, it is no surprise that they should blame the dolphin for two of their biggest problems: the scarcity of fish (the dolphins are blamed for eating and scaring off the fish) and sexually compromising their women.
This story is of a woman named Tereza, her father and sister, and aunt. Tereza is seduced and becomes pregnant by "o boto" (the dolphin man). The child is the son of the dolphin man and is released into the sea, but soon returns. Tereza never marries, but following the death of her father, is pursued by the local merchant, Rufino, who is comparatively wealthy. Tereza does not love the merchant, but she eventually marries him. This sets up a competition between the dolphin man and Rufino for the soul of Tereza.
One problem with the film is that we do not really know which man Tereza really loves, and since we do not know if either man is worthy of her, the viewer does not root for one or the other of the suitors. But it is still an interesting film, even if somewhat gimmicky.
Ele, O Boto - Com Carlos Alberto Ricelli, Cássia Kiss, Ney Latorraca. Direção de Valter Lima Jr. (Transvídeo).
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
This movie is the most well-known Brazilian movie abroad. The now world known actress, Sonia Braga, plays the part of a beautiful woman from the state of Bahia in Brazil who desires a homey lifestyle but who fell in love with and married a scoundrel who cheats on his wife, gambles her money away, and even hits her. (The Bahian setting is important because this mainly black state has a strong vodoo tradition.) Jose Wilker does a great comedic job in playing the role of the no-good,but highly sexual, husband.
Dona Flor loses here husband to his excesses, but finds that she is still much in love with him in spite of his faults and continues to have erotic dreams involving her now deceased husband.
Dona Flor eventually remarries, this time to a man who is the homey type, but who is sexually unimaginative in the extreme. In order to deal with her sexual frustration in her second marriage, she has to call on the spirit of her first husband with some very erotic and comedic results. The movie is very sexy and charming.
The Fable of the Beautiful Pigeon Fancier (1988)
This film is available with Spanish dubbing of a Brazilian film with English subtitles. The story is a kind of Midas story. And like the story of Midas, it is a criticism of the rich in Brazil. Brazil has considerable economic inequality between its social classes. This is criticized by following the story of the privileges a local rich man enjoys in the town. The economic disparities are shown effectively by contrasting the lavish life-style of the rich man with the filth of the town streets.
The rich man collects love affairs instead of money. But like the love of money, the love of sex without real love and affection, often leads to unpleasant results. The rich man is shown having an affair with the wife of one of his friends and asking a destitute black woman to disrobe for money.
The rich man's undoing is when he falls in love with the beautiful pigeon-fancier, wife of a musician. He actually starts to fall in love with the woman and schemes to win her. But when one approaches love with a Midas orientation, the results are likely to be unsatisfactory.
This is a western with a theme familiar to fans of American westerns: revenge. But it is a bit different in that it has a female as the hero and deals with a problem that to this day is still ongoing in Brazil: the unequal distribution of land and the killing of squatters by rich ranchers. Undoubtedly the social theme strikes some resonance in the hearts of socially sensitive Brazilians, but is less interesting to Americans no doubt.
Luzia's parents are killed by ranchers and she seeks her revenge. She is the strong, silent hero similar to the American tradition, but the "revenge" is very uneven and somewhat unsatisfactory.
Outlaw Love (Amor Bandido)
Not all love relationships are healthy ones. This story tells how a young Brazilian woman with a deceased mother and a father from whom she is alienated turns for love to a young man of extremely mysterious and questionable background. This is not really a Bonnie and Clyde story, because the heroine is basically a decent person, but one who is obsessive about love. Her father, a well-known detective in Rio de Janeiro, tries to save her from self-destruction, but fights an up-hill battle amidst the squalor of the sexual and criminal underworlds of Rio.
It is estimated that Brazil imported up to as much as ten times as many slaves as imported by the United States. In Brazil many of these slaves were able to run away and form their own communities known as "quilombos." The only similar phenomenon in the United States that I can think of is the experience of the Seminoles who were a mixture of fleeing Creek Indians and escape black slaves along with other strains. And like the history of the Seminole Wars, it was not an easy matter to defeat the forces of the quilombos. But the destruction of these communities as a threat to the institution of Brazilian slavery was seen as a necessity by the whites. And this destruction was ultimately accomplished with considerable brutality.
The movie traces the story of the quilombo known as Palmares in the mountains outside of the town of Recife in northeast Brazil. It is an especially interesting story because it makes such a fascinating contrast with our American stories of slave revolts and escapes. One roots for the black settlement, but always is conscious of the probable fate of that same settlement.
The Story of Fausta
In Brazil there is a tradition of the "malandro," those persons who use their wits and somewhat questionable moral methods to navigate their way through a society characterized by considerable class and race inequality. Fausta is a woman experiencing a level of poverty much worse than that experienced in most of the United States (and she is actually a couple of steps above the worse living conditions in the shantytowns of Brazil). Our heroine is caught in terrible misery with an abusive and loafing husband and an alcoholic grown son. She desperately wants to leave her husband and her poverty, but illiterate and only able to work as a maid, the cards seem stacked against her. Her only advantage lies in her relationship with a number of women caught in the same web of circumstances. To get herself out of poverty, she starts a relationship with an old man who has some money stashed away in his room in a boarding complex. Her attempts to get out of poverty and away from the slums are always fascinating with a great performance by Betty Faria (who also starred in "Bye, Bye Brazil").
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