So, I had more or less left this behind and run along to the next film in the marathon assuming that Brazilian Cinema Novo wasn’t all that appealing to me perhaps. But this turned out to be a very different experience from Vidas Secas for me. The start had me worried in terms of it’s similarity to Vidas Secas. It starts off with shots of the same barren landscape and here we have shots of the fly-ridden carcass even before the opening credits are over!
We don’t have any of that family walking around quietly across a barren landscape. But we do have the couple who are contemplating selling their cows to buy a piece of land and discussing the uncertainty of being able to harvest anything and I was ready for another tragic treatise on hunger and its consequences. But then the movie has this incongruously cheerful background score that kept me going.
Soon the film became much more interesting to me. For one thing, Manuel goes to the market and the exterior shots here are so different from everything else we’ve seen in the movie so far and reflective of the fact that there is another world outside of the world Manuel and Rosa live in. There’s also an unexpected and rather sudden murder at this point that suddenly speeds up all the action.
Then, there’s the re-appearance of the mystic/preacher we see early on in the film and Manuel’s foray into religious fanaticism. This is also the first reference to the “dry land turning into a sea and the sea turning into land” that seems like a leitmotif in the film. All the disturbing religious imagery drew me in pretty instantly. I was also pleasantly surprised by Rosa getting out of her silent suffering wife mode and actually getting Manuel out of Sebastian’s spell. FWIW, I think this first act was my favorite part of the entire film. It was surprising, had some really cool and striking imagery and I think the basic theme of the film is conveyed sufficiently through this first act making the rest inevitably less interesting give that they just seem to reinforce this theme. That is not to say that I didn’t like the rest of the film but I did feel like the rest wasn’t as strong as this first part. Oh and I was fascinated by the Antonio das Mortes character. For one thing, he wears this black cape and seems like a real badass and I loved the almost mythological nature of his character. I felt like he has a dark and dangerous past that no one really knows anything about. And at this point, I was really excited to see where we’d go with this character.
In the meantime, Manuel and Rosa get involved with some kind of bandit who seems prone to breaking into speeches in defense of the poor. I found this part of the movie rather different from everything that came before this. For instance, Carisco’s speeches are distinctly theatrical and feel very different from the realistic feel the film has had so far. What was interesting to me was the way both Manuel and Rosa seem susceptible to the ideas of these charismatic characters they encounter.
I think the weakest link in the film for me was the final encounter with Antonia das Mortes. For one thing, I felt that the first act set up his character as the plot point that would determine Manuel’s fate. And yet by the time we see them encounter one another, there isn’t much at stake. Everything seems to have degenerated anyway and I found the whole thing far less intense than I’d have liked it to be. Like it didn’t deliver on the promise of that initial set up where we see Antonia set out to look for Manuel and the rest of Sebastian’s followers.
On the other hand, I really liked the ending where we see Manuel and Rosa abandon both religion and the bandit’s ideology and try and escape towards a future and where the “land turning into sea” finally culminates into something that I found visually interesting as well as symbolizing some sort of hope for both of them (but I could be totally making that up).
Two other things that struck me about the film: i.) the use of folk ballads to tell the story which I really really enjoyed. I liked the music quite a bit and felt the device worked well for me here. ii.) the editing felt rather abrupt and peculiar to me. Did anyone else notice that?
Overall, I quite enjoyed watching it.