BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: a girl and a gun.

IN 1968, Jean-Luc Godard was about to give up mainstream filmmaking, and become an even more militant figure with his Dziga Vertov group. But while he moved over into obscurity, a new generation of filmmakers worldwide were using Godard’s techniques to challenge institutions that were arguably more overbearing than the ones Godard was railing against. Red Light Bandit (Bandido da Luz Vermelha), is one of those films, where Godard’s famous maxim of a movie only needing “a girl and a gun” formed the major basis of the plot. However, Red Light Bandit was also made under highly oppressive conditions – it was at the cusp of increasing repressiveness in Brazil (under the AI5, a government decree that curbed political freedom) and many artists were forced to either renounce their previous opposition or go underground and making highly symbolic and coded films.

The film is directed by Rogério Sganzerla, an obscure name in the West, but one who is gaining more and more popularity. His reputation is intact in Brazil, but his films are near impossible to source overseas. Red Light Bandit was the twenty-three year old director’s debut, and starred his soon to be wife, the legendary Helena Ignez. The film certainly feels like Godard – there are clear homages to Pierrot le Feu and A Bout de Souffle in particular, and a clear anti-authoritarian streak. It also has same schizophrenic feel of the early work of Yugoslavian Dusan Makavejev (eg The Switchboard Operator) with crazy collages of news, multi-narratives, and manic montage. It also seems natural that a director would attempt to confound potential censors (like Makavejev and his fellow Black Wave filmmakers) with highly symbolic, yet deeply anti-authoritarian films. This film’s huge success in Brazil, suggests in part, that it was successful at capturing this spirit.

The film looks at an infamous criminal – the Red Light Bandit – who breaks into houses and rapes the women. As the police try and track him down, the media hype his story up and he eventually becomes a cult figure used by everyone from corrupt politicians to his girlfriend. The crimes committed by the Red Light Bandit are shocking themselves, but Sganzerla put these crimes within the context of the actions of the politicians and the police, and in the process, shows a highly corrupt and brutal Brazil. This is certainly angry stuff, but this film is also frequently hilarious. The voiceovers argue with each other, and random interludes (such as the UFO sequence) get chucked in. But is the tone of desperation that sticks with you in this film – this is the portrayal of a society that is slowly descending into repression and despair. What’s also disturbing is that this film also seems to tap into a contemporary society – and consequently, extends its reach far beyond the borders of Brazil.

See also:
» The Muse of Brazilian Cinema: An Interview with Helena Ignez