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September 25, 2018

Joaquim Pedro de Andrade: The Complete Films


Joaquim Pedro de Andrade - 1959-1981
Kino Classics BD Region A Three disc set

I may have bitten off more than I can chew here. This set contains six features and eight shorts which I saw over the course of three days. I know that there are a bunch of cultural references that I missed, and that may also be missed by those not familiar not only with Andrade, or Cinema Novo - the Brazilian "New Wave" of the Sixties and early Seventies, but the history of Brazil from its days as a Portuguese colony to its more recent history at the time the films were made. None of this should dissuade anyone from taking a look at these films but instead serve as a reminder of how those of us in North America are generally better informed about Europe than the continent south of us.

By the time Cinema Novo had made its way to art theater and film festival showings in the U.S., it was in a state of decline in Brazil. This was a time when some cineastes were looking for the various waves of young filmmakers around the world, with several of the films picked up by New Yorker Films or Grove Press Films. Unlike the French New Wave, where we had some idea of what the rebellion was all about, Cinema Novo was both a rebellion in terms of filmmaking and of taking a political stance. I don't think too many of us were aware of Brazilian film history, and only had the vaguest ideas regarding culture and history. I would think that for many of us, the only Brazilian film we were aware of prior to Cinema Novo was Black Orpheus - the Greek legend transposed to Rio during the Carnival, by French filmmaker Marcel Camus.

It is the short films that offer the most accessible viewing. Tropical Lane especially will come as a surprise. Sex is frequently a part of Andrade's work, and this film, about a young man and his erotic encounters with watermelons was made forty years before the pineapples of Girls Trip and the peaches of Call Me by Your Name. Animal lovers may be upset by Cat Skin, about a young boy from Rio's favelas who steals a cat for the purpose of selling it, cat skins being used to make tambourines. Cinema Novo, made for German television, provides a brief history of the loose group of filmmakers who in turn were inspired by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, who amazingly died at the age of 89 last April, outliving many of the filmmakers he inspired. Andrade even shows one of the filmmakers getting a loan from a bank to finance his film. There is also a scene of an editing crew gathered around the flatbed Moviola, the film editing machine that they all share, a gift through UNESCO. Brasilia: Contradictions of a New City is fascinating in its history of a city completely built from the ground up, with idealized intentions, but without fully anticipating certain consequences. As the capital of Brazil, many of the top political leaders still preferred to live in Rio or Sao Paulo. Housing was made up of blocks of huge, six story apartments. Even with housing available for lower income families, there was still the spontaneous creation of shacks in distant outskirts, either for those who worked in Brasilia but could not afford to live there, or for the many who came for the limited jobs in construction. As noted in the final credits regarding the restoration of this film, the producers may have been expecting a different film than the one made by Andrade.

Among the features, Garrincha: Joy of the People is a documentary about the popular soccer star with unusually twisted legs. Nicknamed after a bird, Manual Francisco dos Santos is seen feted by fans and the political elite. The film is also about the Brazilian love of soccer. Conjugal Warfare jumps between three narratives - an elderly couple, finding reasons to be unhappy with each other, a married man seeking happiness with an unusual variety of prostitutes, and a sleazy lawyers whose sexual advances a rebuffed by several women, who then finds himself on the receiving end of a male admirer.


The Conspirators takes place in 18th Century Brazil, with several men discussing possible rebellion against Portugal. The incident was known as the Minas Gerais Conspiracy, taking place in 1789. One of the leaders, Tiradentes, was executed, while the others were exiled. One of the sources of inspiration was the then recent American Revolution. After Brazil was became a republic in 1889, Tiradentes was declared by martyr, and ironically also made a patron of the Military Police, a point made at the conclusion, featuring a parade. It should be noted that The Conspirators was made during the time of military rule in Brazil.

The original poster for MacunaĆ­ma is the inspiration for the cover of this blu-ray set. This film and Andrade's final feature, The Brazilwood Man are both freewheeling allegories about Brazil, its government, culture, race, and sexual relations. Andrade also uses distancing devices adding to the artificial qualities of many of the scenes. As such, I feel in discussing these films that they are better served surveys on Andrade by Olaf Moller and Ela Bittencourt.

All films end with credits regarding to 2K restoration required for each of the films. An essay by Fabio Andrade is also enclosed.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 25, 2018 10:00 AM