Cafundó (2005)





Director:     Pail Betti, Clovis Bueno.

Starring:    Lázaro Ramos (Joo de Camargo), Leona Cavalli (Rosário), Leandro Firmino (Cirino), Alexandre Rodrigues (Natalino, adult), Ernani Moraes (Coronel Joo Justino), Luís Melo (Monsignor Joo Soares), Renato Consorte (Minister), Francisco Cuoco (Bishop), Abraho Farc (Judge).

life of black slave in Brazil Joo de Camargo (1858-1942) who led an exemplary life to attain his freedom



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A black man does a balancing act on chairs set on top of each other while reciting poetry.  Then he suddenly disappears.  A woman who was collecting money from the street audience leaves.  She goes to a church and places a small figurine of a black man sitting down on the outside of the building.  (This is a figurine of Joo de Camargo.)  She lights a candle and  leaves. 

Flashback.  Two black men, one named Joo and the other Cirino, are driving mules.  They stop by a stream for a brief rest.  Cirino calls out for Joo but there is no answer.  He searches for him and finds him with his head immersed in the stream.  The fellow pulls Joo's head up out of the water and asks him if he is going mad?  Joo comments that when he closes his eyes:  "I see so many things."  He says his head is full of voices.  His buddy tells him it's no good to be full of spirits.  They move on.  Slavery has ended in Brazil, but Joo comments that for the blacks very little has changed.   

Sorocaba, end of the 19th century.  Joo and Cirino arrive at their destination and deliver the mules.  They speak to their previous owner and he tells them he wants them to volunteer to defend the Brazilian republic.  They will fight next to Marshal Floriano in Itarare for the government and against the federalists.  He explains that he gave his word that he would send his men to fight. 

Later Joo tells his buddy:  "War is white men's thing."  Cirino says they will be clothed, fed and paid and when the fighting begins they will just stay out of sight.  In town the guys admire the black women they see.  A light skinned Hispanic woman named Rosario catches Joo's attentions and he follows her. 

Now the buddies are in the army wearing black boots, red trousers and black jackets.  They board a train with their unit.  They see some action, but stay out of it, and it doesn't take long before the fellows desert.  Joo tells Cirino that he is going home to get his mother at the farm, but he will return.  When he reaches the farm his mother tells him that she is all packed and ready to go.  Carrying her belongings they start walking.  They cross paths with a boy who takes them to Cafundó which looks like a small African village.  The village takes the mother and son in. 

Joo leaves the village one day.  He goes to a steel factory looking for work, but the white foreman throws him out saying he is not looking for niggers.  A black woman and man laugh when Joo gets thrown out by several of the factory workers.  Joo teams up with them and they try to get work at a textile factory.  This time all three get thrown out.  They walk to town and steal some food to eat.  They run into a wealthy white woman who screams when she sees them and they have to run fast to get away from her. 

Joo and the black woman named Levinda find work on an estate in the kitchen.  The white employer likes to flirt with Levinda which makes his wife angry with the cook.  To get even with the family, Levinda pours hot pepper into the beans. 

Joo goes back to the village and teams up with the boy that helped him and his mother.  Joo goes to work at a factory and there he meets up with his old army buddy Cirino.  At night Joo watches a festival.  There he sees Rosario again.  They have passionate sex together.  She tells him that she wants him to take her to see the sea.  While Joo was out on the town two blacks kill the white foreman at the factory. 

In the morning Cirino tells Joo that they have to get out of there.  He's not taking any chances of being blamed for the murder. 

Joo marries Rosario near the sea.  At night Rosario dances and acts as if she is possessed by some evil spirit.  In the morning she asks Joo to take her to some hidden place.  She now works on a farm with Joo.  They pick baskets of corn.  She tells her husband that this is no life for her.  She misses the city, the music and the noise.

Joo and Rosario got into the city, but find it suffering from a plague of yellow fever.  Rosario gets a lot of attention from the men.  They criticize her for being with a black man.  Joo goes to see his mother and Rosario stays at home.  He finds his mother dying.  Joo returns home to find mules all around his house.  He also finds a man screwing his wife.  He starts whipping the man.  Rosario and the fellow have to run for their lives. 

Joo is drunk on the streets of the town.  He asks the priest about God punishing the town with the plague.  The priest says this is not God's punishment. 

Joo is a real drunk and no longer the hard worker he used to be.  The bartender tells him to straighten out his life.  Other men tell him to get a woman of his own color because black with white never works out.  Joo walks through the mud of the road, slips and falls.  He dreams of a snake approaching him and the spirit of Exu.  He climbs up a quarry wall and finds an angel of sorts who says because of his humbleness he will be protected.  He dreams that he wakes to find the priest there.  He tells Joo that he is to build here a chapel in honor of Lord of the Bonfim and devote his life to helping others, easing pain and curing illnesses.  When fully awake he says he will build the Church of the Red Water in honor of Jesus of the Bonfim. 

Electricity comes to the local town.  Joo is there to see the celebration   Also there is Cirino.  The two buddies run into each other.  Cirino is now a heavy drinker, but Joo has given up drinking.  Together the two men start building a church. There they are united with the boy, now all grown up, from the village where Joo and his mother lived for awhile.  The young man is quite the sculptor and he creates a sculpture of Jesus for the church. 

Joo has a vision of his mother.  She dresses him in a traditional African costume and he dances in front of her. 

Now people from all over come to Joo for help of all kinds.  Even Levinda shows up at the Church of the Red Water.  She tells Cirino that it looks like their friend has become famous.  Levinda visits with Joo and tells him that he has become a saint.  She now has to work as a prostitute and hates that life.  Joo invites her to stay and work for the church to help organize things. 

A man with a very sick daughter comes to see Joo.  The church now has a hotel next to it and Joo puts them over there.  It's Monday and on Mondays the voices don't speak to him.  He will look over her tomorrow.  The church also has a band, complete with colorful uniforms, to play music.  They parade through the streets of the town.  The local clergy and some of the leaders of the town do not approve of this .  They says that the church is composed of fanatics and outlaws and they make blood sacrifices.  It's witchcraft.  But the problem is that Joo is well-known and important people come to see him.  He is even called "The Black Pope". 

Four policemen come to the church.  They say that from now on black magic and witchcraft are prohibited in this district.  The people of the church say they do not practice voodoo.  Joo comes out and the police arrest him and take him to jail.  In jail Joo runs afoul of some blacks who ask him why does he deny their African gods? But others in the jail have heard of Joo of Camargo and they protect him.  Finally, an order comes to release Joo from jail.  He is released. 

When Joo arrives at his church there is a bit of a market atmosphere around it.  He starts tearing down these things.  He then scolds the vendors and their customers.  They should not be selling and buying oil, because it is free, he says.  He goes into the church.  There he has a vision of Exu.  Exu criticizes Joo for thinking he is Jesus now, chasing the money lenders from the temple.  Joo denies this.  Joo retreats to nature to think about what he should do.

Back to the present.  The people sit on the steps of the city church. 

Joo de Camargo was arrested 17 times.  In 1921 he established the "Association of the Good Lord of the Bonfim of the Red Water".  He died in 1942 at the age of 84.  5,000 people attended his funeral.  He has been worshipped ever since.   

Good movie.  It deals with the end of slavery in Brazil but the continuance of blacks being at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.  The hero of the story decides to dedicate his life to religion and helping people, mainly the poor.  This brings him afoul of the town authorities who don't like him working outside of the official religious institutions where they cannot control him and his followers.  So they send the police after him to bring him under their control.  Although the movie is religious in nature, it's not what you would call a "religious" film.  It's not at all preachy.  It was the social surroundings that were the most interesting part of the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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