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November 06, 2019

Denver Film Festival - Marighella


Wagner Moura - 2019
ArtMattan Productions

It was a bit disappointing for me that the screening of Marighella was lightly attended. The fact is that as a result of the last election in Brazil that saw the ascent of Jair Bolsonaro, this is now a Brazilian film that Brazilians can not see. There are controversies regarding Wagner's presentation of Carlos Marighella regarding his political views as well as the casting of Seu Jorge in terms of racial representation. But for those even casually following events in Brazil, it is easy to see that Bolsonaro would want to limit the exposure of a film that follows government activity following the U.S. backed military coup that took place in 1964, that lasted for twenty-one years. For Bolsonaro and his followers that era is subject for nostalgia and commemoration.

The film is structured as a thriller. There is Marighella's organizing of stealing weapons and robbing a bank in order to finance armed insurrection with a small group that shares his political beliefs. There are also scenes of the police detective, Lucio, who doggedly pursues Marighella and his gang on behalf of the government. Lucio's obsession, which means also opposing U.S. diplomats, is somewhat akin to Javert's pursuit of Jean Valjean in Les Misarables. On Marighella's side, there is discussion of the political basis for taking direct action and a justification for what may be described as terrorism. For Lucio, the law means that even stating that there is political dissent is an illegal act, and that torture and murder are justifiable when done on behalf of the state.

The scenes of torture and the brutality of the police make Marighella difficult to watch at times. For stateside viewers, there is the added discomfort of seeing how the U.S. government has strongarmed certain countries in the name of fighting Communism. What was totally unintended by Wagner in making the film is not only that Jair Bolsonaro has been working to revive some of the repressive aspects from that previous era, but that he has found kinship with Donald Trump which some may find troubling.

Marighella is the directorial debut of Wagner Moura, better known as the star of the Netflix series, Narcos as well as his role in the two Brazilian Elite Squad films. While Moura's own politics are well known in Brazil, as he stated in an interview: "This film is not a response to any particular government, especially this one. I didn’t make the film as an opposition to any particular government, but of course any piece of art has to have a conversation with its own time. So, the way the film will be received in Brazil cannot be detached from the reality we are living here."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 6, 2019 07:00 AM