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
“So behold, because now it’s going to start the battle between the Evil Dragon and the Warrior Saint”. Coirana (Lorival Pariz) urges to a crowd at the beginning of Glauber Rocha’s masterpiece Antonio das Mortes. The two men preparing for confrontation represent opposite sides of the Brazilian’s Northeastern Backlands: Coirana, the charismatic outlaw who claims to be the reincarnation of the infamous cangaceiro (bandit) Lampiao, and Antonio das Mortes, a bounty hunter hired to kill cangaceiros. The battle which fallows is shot in an unusual way, more of a folkloric dance than a fight, permeated with rhythmic poetry, lyricisms and references to Brazil’s popular religions.

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)
A portrait of hounded gangster-killer Antonio Das Mortes, set in the last days of historical Brazilian bandit-ism.
28 June, 6:30pm, Cinema 1

Land in Anguish (15)
Rocha’s brave and multi-award winning work follows a jaded journalist and his dilemma of which political candidate to support in the fictional Latin American state of Eldorado.
28 June, 8:45pm, Cinema 1

Antonio das Mortes (15)
The second part of the Antonio Das Mortes films is another attack on a society on the verge of a breakdown due to its brutality, control and religious fervour.
29 June, 6:30pm, Cinema 1

One Comment

  1. Victoria Weischtordt

    Excellent review for this fantastic film. Deserves to be seen.

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