BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Brazilian rage.

Earth Entranced (Terra em Transe) is certainly the most controversial film of Brazilian auteur Glauber Rocha’s output, and remains one of the most confrontational pieces of work in global cinema. Rocha was the key figure of the Brazilian Cinema Novo movement, a movement that has come to be known as the archetypal Third Cinema. So while people may talk about the ideological conflicts in the West during the 1960s, what went on in Paris, San Francisco etc. seems like a first-year university student picking up Das Kapital for the first time when compared to the tumult in Latin America. Few countries, including Brazil, escaped conflict and bloodshed. And while Brazil’s conflicts weren’t so violent, there were a number of highly traumatic changes, such as the sudden 1964 coup which overthrew the leftist government of João Goulart.

Film, like all art, found itself in the middle of this. And while the original Cinema Novo movement started off based on Italian neo-realism and the French Nouvelle Vague, the sudden shift in the social climate fostered a cinema that was integrally a part of and fundamentally opposed to the social change. As the powers that be became increasingly authoritarian, the filmmakers were forced to become more and more symbolic and coded. Consequently, it is almost impossible to read a Brazilian Cinema Novo film without ever considering the social context, and it’s certainly important to consider it when looking at Earth Entranced.

After all, Rocha is unashamedly targeting his films at Brazilians. This is cinema that attempts to change, to subvert, to move away from the “imperialist” Hollywood and the “bourgeois” New Wave. As a result, his films are hard to decipher from a Western perspective (hint confusing). However, that doesn’t mean the films aren’t fresh, or revolutionary, or exciting.

Earth Entranced follows on from his more well-known work Black God, White Devil (voted the greatest Brazilian film of all-time), and Antonio das Mortes (the only film to date that’s available to watch in Wellington – at the Victoria University library). Made a few years after the 1964 coup, Rocha appears to wonder how a coup can take place so quickly and without any resistance. The quick-shifting political allegiances, and selfishness of those in power that Rocha demonstrates in the film are clearly linked to what went on Brazil – and it’s for this reason probably that both the Left and the Right vociferously derided the depictions of politics in the film. And indeed, the film was banned for some time.

The film is set in the fictional country of El Dorado. Of course, this is a none too subtle symbolic reference to Brazil (also drawing on the potent mythology of the famed city of riches). The film follows Paulo Martins, an idealistic journalist who finds himself caught between two equally corrupt and dangerous politicians. Of course, chuck in nationalisation, foreign companies, populism, religion, money, and political flip-flops and you’ve got a pretty brutal view of Brazil. This isn’t merely a Marxist rant, rather it’s a very pessimistic deconstruction of the failure of politics and ideology in the Brazilian context. This is set-up right from the outset within the narrative.

The editing style is definitely from the Soviet montage school of cutting. Jarring juxtapositions and temporal discontinuity abound. While the narrative could hardly be called focused, the images are potent, from the orgiastic celebrations of the upper class, to the characters’ direct confrontation to the camera. The penultimate image is also amazing, as Paulo takes on the sky with a gun. The sound is quite remarkable – it’s an almost subjective mishmash of music, poetry and charged dialogue. This is the first time that many of these Brazilian films have been screened in New Zealand, and after watching Earth Entranced it’s a rare privilege (if you can call it that) to see films burn with such intensity and anger.