Glauber Rocha’s Antonio das Mortes
Cult Brazilian director’s film is released on DVD and features in a retrospective of his work at the Barbican
Glauber Rocha sets his reinterpretation of the Christian myth of Saint George versus the Dragon in the weastern-esque landscape of Brazil’s Northeast. The significance of the words said by Coirana might resonate in retrospective when the figure of good and evil, the holy and the beast, shift through the story. After killing the Coirana, Antonio das Mortes – introduced previously as the hired gunman in Black God, White Devil – has the insight that the true enemy of society is not the cangaceiros, but the local landowner, the source of all oppression in the small village of Jardim das Piranhas. His decision to challenge the long established social structure makes him come cross the path of different characters, such as the deluded professor, the vicious colonel and the adulterous wife living in a tragic state of solitude.
Being made during the turbulent years of Brazil’s 1960’s, Antonio das Mortes discuss the relevant subjects of its time, like the equal distribution of land and revolutionary armed fight as a solution against the post-colonial exploitation. Because of the political views presented in film, Glauber had to leave the country in 1971, seeking exile in Chile, Portugal and Spain. He never completely returned to Brazil until, because of lung infection, he had to be transferred from a hospital in Lisbon to be treated in Rio de Janeiro, passing away in 1981.
Glauber Rocha extends the style of the Cinema Novo proposed in manifesto Eztetyka da fome (An Aesthetic of Hunger, written in 1965) to deliver his most ambitious piece. Antonio das Mortes can be seen as one of the most important and influential Brazilian’s films of all time, gaining rave reviews from the likes of Martin Scorsese, its international praise defies the idea that the film’s intricate range of obscure folkloric references might scare the ones not familiar with Brazil’s popular culture. The lure of Antonio das Mortes lies in Glauber’s modern take on the Western genre, the result is a colorful expressionist and yet deeply symbolic opera. The hypnotic dance of colors, the echoes of folk music, the complexity of the unusual characters, the aridness of the countryside, all elements help telling the story of a man ready to kill a dragon, whatever the dragon may be.
By Fidel Madeira Godoy
You can catch Antonio das Mortes in the special screenings of The Directorspective: Glauber Rocha, at the Barbican this June:
Black God, White Devil (18)
Land in Anguish (15)
Antonio das Mortes (15)