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

BEING voted the greatest Brazilian film of all-time is not an accolade that is lightly given. (Also having Sergio Leone quote the film in Once Upon a Time in the West is pretty cool too with Henry Fonda’s jacket). This is also pretty remarkable considering Rocha was only 25 when he wrote and began to direct the film. And, as in Earth Entranced there is some considerable talent on show in Black God, White Devil. However, like Earth Entranced there was a lot that didn’t make sense to a non-Brazilian audience – the anger and frustration is directed at the Brazilian institutions, and consequently the film is a little oblique. However, formally, his films are certainly interesting to watch.

The film is set in the 1940s and looks at a couple (Manuel and Rosa) whose disillusionment with their situation forces them to turn to religion and banditry. The corruption and violence of these two cause further anguish for Manuel and Rosa, and through this, articulates a sense of helplessness for many in Brazil. Rocha is clearly wielding his scalpel on the institutions – government, the Church, even the bandits who claim to help people (the caingaceiros).

The film is a lot more measured in relation to Earth Entranced. Whereas the latter film freely used montage, seemingly improvised imagery and a freewheeling narrative, Black God, White Devil was slower in pace, and more constructed in its imagery. While I preferred the freshness and the franticness of Earth Entranced, this certainly had some compelling imagery. The editing was of a pause-burst-pause variety: long slow stretches where nothing happened, followed by a burst of energy and then back to the longer cuts. This method is extremely unnerving (it’s also interesting that this editing pattern has rarely been used, except more recently with directors like Takeshi Kitano).

The film is almost a Brazilian spaghetti Western, and the story is a companion piece to his 1966 film Antonio das Mortes. Rocha employs wide, open spaces throughout, a rather desolate and barren mise-en-scène. The rock carrying scene is particularly amazing for example. The film also has a folky ring to it, with ballads acting like a chorus – such as singing about Antonio das Mortes, and the events on screen. There is a sense of legend and myth about the narrative, but also more importantly a desperate cry in a bleak and cruel world.