Cinema of Brazil

Ashes and Diamonds (1958, Andrzej Wajda)


Anguished Land (1967, Glauber Rocha)


Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004, Lav Diaz)


They all clambered into Mikolka’s cart, laughing and making jokes. Six men got in and there was still room for more. They hauled in a fat, rosy-cheeked woman. She was dressed in red cotton, in a pointed, beaded headdress and thick leather shoes; she was cracking nuts and laughing. The crowd round them was laughing too and indeed, how could they help laughing? That wretched nag was to drag all the cartload of them at a gallop! Two young fellows in the cart were just getting whips ready to help Mikolka. With the cry of “now,” the mare tugged with all her might, but far from galloping, could scarcely move forward; she struggled with her legs, gasping and shrinking from the blows of the three whips which were showered upon her like hail. The laughter in the cart and in the crowd was redoubled, but Mikolka flew into a rage and furiously thrashed the mare, as though he supposed she really could gallop.


“Let me get in, too, mates,” shouted a young man in the crowd whose appetite was aroused.


“Get in, all get in,” cried Mikolka, “she will draw you all. I’ll beat her to death!” And he thrashed and thrashed at the mare, beside himself with fury.


“Father, father,” he cried, “father, what are they doing? Father, they are beating the poor horse!”


“Come along, come along!” said his father. “They are drunken and foolish, they are in fun; come away, don’t look!” and he tried to draw him away, but he tore himself away from his hand, and, beside himself with horror, ran to the horse. The poor beast was in a bad way. She was gasping, standing still, then tugging again and almost falling.


“Beat her to death,” cried Mikolka, “it’s come to that. I’ll do for her!”


“What are you about, are you a Christian, you devil?” shouted an old man in the crowd.


“Did anyone ever see the like? A wretched nag like that pulling such a cartload,” said another.


“You’ll kill her,” shouted the third.


“Don’t meddle! It’s my property, I’ll do what I choose. Get in, more of you! Get in, all of you! I will have her go at a gallop!…”


All at once laughter broke into a roar and covered everything: the mare, roused by the shower of blows, began feebly kicking. Even the old man could not help smiling. To think of a wretched little beast like that trying to kick!


Two lads in the crowd snatched up whips and ran to the mare to beat her about the ribs. One ran each side.


“Hit her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cried Mikolka.


“Give us a song, mates,” shouted someone in the cart and everyone in the cart joined in a riotous song, jingling a tambourine and whistling. The woman went on cracking nuts and laughing.


… He ran beside the mare, ran in front of her, saw her being whipped across the eyes, right in the eyes! He was crying, he felt choking, his tears were streaming. One of the men gave him a cut with the whip across the face, he did not feel it. Wringing his hands and screaming, he rushed up to the grey-headed old man with the grey beard, who was shaking his head in disapproval. One woman seized him by the hand and would have taken him away, but he tore himself from her and ran back to the mare. She was almost at the last gasp, but began kicking once more.


“I’ll teach you to kick,” Mikolka shouted ferociously. He threw down the whip, bent forward and picked up from the bottom of the cart a long, thick shaft, he took hold of one end with both hands and with an effort brandished it over the mare.


“He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!”


“It’s my property,” shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a swinging blow. There was a sound of a heavy thud.


“Thrash her, thrash her! Why have you stopped?” shouted voices in the crowd.


And Mikolka swung the shaft a second time and it fell a second time on the spine of the luckless mare. She sank back on her haunches, but lurched forward and tugged forward with all her force, tugged first on one side and then on the other, trying to move the cart. But the six whips were attacking her in all directions, and the shaft was raised again and fell upon her a third time, then a fourth, with heavy measured blows. Mikolka was in a fury that he could not kill her at one blow.


“She’s a tough one,” was shouted in the crowd.


“She’ll fall in a minute, mates, there will soon be an end of her,” said an admiring spectator in the crowd.


“Fetch an axe to her! Finish her off,” shouted a third.


“I’ll show you! Stand off,” Mikolka screamed frantically; he threw down the shaft, stooped down in the cart and picked up an iron crowbar. “Look out,” he shouted, and with all his might he dealt a stunning blow at the poor mare. The blow fell; the mare staggered, sank back, tried to pull, but the bar fell again with a swinging blow on her back and she fell on the ground like a log.


“Finish her off,” shouted Mikolka and he leapt beside himself, out of the cart. Several young men, also flushed with drink, seized anything they could come across—whips, sticks, poles, and ran to the dying mare. Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.


“You butchered her,” someone shouted in the crowd.


“Why wouldn’t she gallop then?”


“My property!” shouted Mikolka, with bloodshot eyes, brandishing the bar in his hands. He stood as though regretting that he had nothing more to beat.


– Crime and Punishment (1866, Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

O Estranho Caso de Angélica (2010) (The Strange Case of Angelica)
Manoel de Oliveira


The Strange Case of AngelicaAndré Bazin famously remarked that the photographic image, by its very conception, seeks to ‘embalm’ dead objects and preserve them for posterity. Cinema, suggests Manoel de Oliveira’s wondrous new work The Strange Case of Angelica (2010), does one better in that it also resurrects these dead objects back to life. Quite literally here. At heart, it’s the story of amateur filmmaking and budding cinephilia – the joy of discovering the marvel of the moving image, which, like the discovery of sexuality, is a private ecstasy. Two well-read men in the film discuss how matter and anti-matter unite to form pure energy while our anachronistic lead man Isaac (Richard Trêpa) is still bewitched by how mise en scène – his profession – can meet montage to create pure magic. Like the director’s previous film, Angelica straddles two worlds – ‘contemporary’ and ‘classical’ periods – both of which tease and pull and push Isaac. Isaac, admittedly, is a man of old ways (he’s probably exactly 115 years old), marooned in the present economic landscape, who finds his romance thwarted not just by class (as in Eccentricities) but also by religion and by the fact that his love interest is dead. He, however, trusts that he can find love through the power of his art and escape his current predicament. (Alas, he has to die so that he can enter his art). Using unpolished CG that’s almost as old as the protagonist, Oliveira takes us back to (rather, attempts to recreate) the historical juncture at which we might snap out of our sensual numbness in order to start all over and, once again, discover the magic – of romance, of cinema.

Ônibus 174 (2002) (aka Bus 174)
José Padilha

“Didn’t you kill my friends in Candelaria? I was there.”


Many would have seen the devastating account of the Brazillian slums and the juvenile violence breeding within them in Fernando Meirelles’ brilliant feature City of God (2002). However, a similar themed documentary film, Onibus 174 (2002) (aka Bus 174), does not get the same attention and credit as City of God. Released late in the same year as its fictional counterpart, Bus 174 is centered on a hostage situation in Rio de Janeiro, where an armed man named Sandro who had taken 10 hostages aboard a public bus.

(Spoiler Alert)

Sandro Rosa do Nascimento boarded a public bus on June 12th 2000 with a loaded gun in the intention of robbing the passengers. Things go out of control and the intended robbery snowballs into a tense hostage situation with full coverage by the national media. Sandro demands a gun and a new driver for the bus from the police. The police are neither able to negotiate and resolve the clutter nor are able to snipe him down because of the media. It is gradually revealed that Sandro is a kid brought up in the streets of Rio and had seen his friends being slaughtered by the police in the Candelaria church massacre.

As time goes, Sandro panics and asks his hostages to scream and even asks one of them to act dead in order to push the police. At around 7 in the evening, Sandro alights from the bus taking a female hostage along with him as shield. As the police try to capitalize the situation, one of their men approaches Sandro and fires from inches near his head. It misses and hits the hostage who is then shot many times by Sandro himself. The police now take the defenseless Sandro, stuff him into their vehicle and pounce on him, suffocating him to death.

(End of Spoilers)

For a documentary running for about two hours, the film could have been branded overlong if not for the director’s attempts to interestingly intersperse the various threads of the narrative and hence give the feel of a mainstream thriller. The calm and composure with which Luanna Belmont handled Sandro and talked him into contemplation shows that a brave person is not necessarily the one with the gun. Her act redefines what a hero is and even reveals the power of expression.

Bus 174 puts forth several social and political issues prevalent in Rio including the ostracizing of slum dwelling children by the public and government, ineffectiveness of the Rio police under crunch situations and the incessant intrusion by the media on delicate matters, but never once becoming unfocused on the central event. Though seemingly a tad sympathetic towards the teens of the slum, the film never champions any issues put forth and leaves the conclusions to the viewers.

Where Bus 174 scores over its companion piece is its tag of reality that persuades the viewer to know and analyze the world around. It does not let one to lay back and detachedly watch the on-screen massacre as one does in City of God. It prompts the viewer to listen to, not hear, the cries of the oppressed and weak. The last two adjectives are not to be associated with the brutality on the slum-dwellers or the pressure on the police but the involuntary involvement of civilians and innocents in the acts of violence.

In a world infested by racism, bigotry and communalism, it is only the efforts of individuals, not governments and organizations, which will help bridging the rift between them and prevent further misery. The Bus 174 incident is an embodiment of that statement. Don’t miss this one.