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Imperialism and the Revolutionary Cinema: Glauber Rocha's "Antonio-das-Mortes"

Author(s): Thomas M. Kavanagh


Source: Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 3, No. 2, Film as Literature and Language (Apr.,
1973), pp. 201-213
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3831031
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THOMAS M. KAVANAGH
STATEUNIVERSITYOF NEW YORKAT BUFFALO

Imperialismand the
Revolutionary Cinema: Glauber
Rocha's Antonio-das-Morte

ITSEEMS,
paradoxically, that the highest compliment American film-
critics can pay to a genuinely Third-Worldcinema is their bewilder-
ment. That a film be recognized as Brazilian(or Chinese or Senegal-
ese) implies that, in more than its choice of subject matter and
location, it has broken away from and exists outside of a cinematic
esthetic rooted in the basically imperialistic conventions of "art"
and even of "meaning"to which we are accustomed. Bewilderment
is, however, a dangerous and always transitionalmental state. Intel-
lectual malaise (especially for the "critic"whose job-function-value
is the translation of the different into the language of the same)
rarely leads to the perhaps ideal state of cross-cultural objectivity
from which a valid consideration of differences can begin.
Few patently excellent films have suffered so unjustly for this al-
legiance to their origins as Glauber Rocha's Antonio-das-Mortes.
Released here toward the end of 1969, its short art-house run was
heralded either by summarydismissal in the popular press or rather
more convoluted reprimands from the serious journals. The film
tells the story of a hired-gun (a jagunco) who ends up replacing the
outlaw turned peasant leader (the cangaceiro) whom the rich have
brought him in to kill. Such a subject was bound to evoke in the
minds of its Americanviewers the problem of "revolution,"that al-
most automatic connotation of the Third-Worldcinema which was,
in fact, the most popular point of access for serious discussion of
the film. Such criticism-even when centered on so un-Americana
topic as "revolution"-becomes inevitably the vehicle of a devious
but nonetheless total form of cultural imperialism.This tendency
took its most intelligent form in ErnestCallenbach'sanalysis reveal-
201
202 THOMAS M. KAVANAGH

ingly entitled "Comparative Anatomy of Folk-Myth Films: Robin


Hood and Antonio-das-Mortes."1
Callenbach's study is less significant for the light it throws on
Antonio than as a typical reaction of even the best intentioned
American intellectuals to Third-World cultural phenomena. In a
way, then, it is as our own attempt at objectivity, as our desire to
focus upon rather than to suppress the radically "other," that we
begin our discussion of this film with a consideration of its recep-
tion by our culture.
Once the film's subject has been defined as revolution, the job of
the concerned film-critic becomes a simple one: is the portrayal of
revolution within this film adequate or inadequate? (This criterion
of "adequacy" will, needless to say, be revealed as little more than
the verbal universalizing of a basically ethnocentric value.) Callen-
bach compares Antonio to Curtiz's Adventures of Robin Hood (the
Errol Flynn version) because both films "turn on personal and emo-
tional factors, not external and political ones" (p. 44). As Robin is
nothing more than a disguised noble (Marian's future husband)
who has rejected the evil father (King John and his henchmen) in
order to prepare the return of the good father (King Richard), so
also does Antonio reject his previous complicity with the evil father
(Horacio, the almost feudal landowner) in order to find his identity
in the good mother (the Santa). That which is merely personal can-
not provide an adequate model for a generalized revolutionary
movement.
As though this indictment were not sufficient, Callenbach com-
pletes his dossier by carrying out a hypothetical translation of each of
the film's major characters into their class equivalents. As Horacio is
the feudal master, his steward, Matos, is the emerging but not yet
ruling bourgeoisie; the Professor (the village teacher) is the alien-
ated intellectual class; and Coirana, the cangaceiro, is, like the
Santa, a leader of the oppressed peasant class. Once this translation
has been carried out, Antonio's class-equivalent becomes obvious:
he can represent nothing other than the army; and the film takes as
its center "what is in fact a crucial political phenomenon: the go-
ing-over of the army from the service of the oppressors to that of
the oppressed" (p. 45).

'Ernest Callenbach, Film Quarterly, XXIII (Fall/Winter 1969-1970), 42-47. Subsequent references are
made in the text.
ANTONIO-DAS-MORTES 203

The shift within the discourse is complete. Ratherthan speaking


of this admittedly puzzling film, the critic maneuvers his subject
into the realm of abstractpolitical speculation, an area in which he
can remainassured of his adequacy even to things Brazilian.Yes, he
admits, the Russian,Cuban, and Viet-Namese revolutions have cer-
tainly demonstrated the importance one must give to this question
of the army'sallegiances: this is a real problem. But how is it treated
in this film? Callenbach points out that there is no reference to po-
litical or economic factors underlying any such change, but that the
entire question is instead presented as depending on "a change in
understanding,a spiritualconversion" (p. 46) on the part of one in-
dividual. We need hardly be reminded that "armies in the real
world do not switch their historical roles out of goodness of heart
or by some metaphysical impulsion to virtue" (p. 45). Callenbach's
final judgment comes carried by its own inevitability:"This vision
of 'revolution' is Wagnerian, romantic, and philosophically idealist,
and it will get us nowhere" (p. 46).
The entire argument here summarized derives from an initial act
of culturalcannibalism:to be understood, the film's given must first
be translated into a workable set of concepts. The film itself be-
comes a kind of allegory: on one hand it tells the story of a hired
killer in northeastern Brazil;on another properly symbolic level it
speaks of the armyin a Third-World,foreign-dominated and poten-
tially revolutionarysociety. Callenbach's discourse is able to elabo-
rate itself only within the separation of these two levels. The
ultimate gesture of cultural imperialism is to attribute to the film
itself this supposed inadequacy to those norms (the symbolic level)
created entirely within the critic's own analysis. Declaring the film's
real intention to be a statement on the army comes only from the
critic's own ethnocentrism. Callenbach warns: "The way to demys-
tify a feudal system is not to play elegant symbolic games, but to
show concretely how the system works. Only truth is revolutionary,
Gramsci tells us. Antonio is a false hope, his drama is beside the
point" (p. 47). The problem Callenbach refuses to consider-one
redefining the entire film-is how any such "truth"can be commu-
nicated by an artist living under an oppressive regime. Antonio-das-
Mortes addresses itself to a Brazilianaudience, but the forms of its
address remain subject to the restrictions imposed upon them by
the rulersof that society. Callenbach would have us judge the film
in terms of its "universality"-never realizing that such "univer-
sality" is nothing other than a hurriedlydisguised parochialism. He
204 THOMAS M. KAVANAGH

claims that Rocha's Wagnerian vision "will get us nowhere." The


entire world-its struggles and its creations-has, in a sense much
more egocentric than the one intended by the writer, no other
function than that of getting "us" somewhere, of illustrating the
adequacy of our own political theorizations. The resolute other-
ness of Brazilianrealitycan be looked at only as a mirrorheld up to
illuminate our own social problems: "We know that the growing
political agitation and disaffection among draftees in the American
army itself is a source of deep alarm to the Pentagon and the gov-
erning and owning elite" (p. 45). Imperialism,as a form of exploita-
tion, can accommodate itself to any content: if Antonio's story
cannot provide a comfortable lesson for home-town reflections of
revolution, then it must necessarily be condemned as a deviant
form of bourgeois personalism.
A first step in distancing ourselves from this ethnocentrism would
be to consider Rocha'sown claims as to what he was tryingto do in
Antonio: "I wanted to make another film about the northeast of
Brazil,a contemporaryfilm taking place in the psychology and the
reality of the 1960s."2 Such a statement should serve as a warning as
to just how rapidlywe can with justice label as "allegorical"a film
concerned with charactersand events which are puzzling primarily
because they have little resemblance to our own situation. Rocha
has, in fact, consistently emphasized the basic realism of the story
he tells. In an interview given to Cahiersdu Cinema,3 he points out
that even since the coup d'etat of 1964 there exist in Brazilpowerful
rurallandowners who still hire jaguncos as the most effective rem-
edy for local uprisings. As of 1968 the real-life model of Antonio,
one Jose Rufino, was living and actually met with the actor who
played that role. During the filming there surfaced in the Pernam-
bouc region a new cangaceiro named Ze Crispin. In other words,
we must, as Americans, acknowledge the possibility that we are
dealing with a reality quite different from our own and thus fore-
stall our recourse to a symbolic leveling.
Concerning the charge of bourgeois personalism, Rocha has
claimed that "Antonio's change is a profoundly personal and mysti-

2Gordon Hitchens, "The Way to Make a Future: A Conversation with Glauber Rocha," Film Quarterly,
XXIV(Fall 1970), 27.
'Michel Delahaye, Pierre Kast, and Jean Narboni, "Entretien avec Glauber Rocha," Cahiers du Cinema,
No. 214 (July/August 1969), pp. 22-40.
ANTONIO-DAS-MORTES 205

cal one. It is not abstract.The mysticismof my film is a partof every-


day reality, a part of the people in the northeast of Brazil whose
everyday realities, whose everydayway of life, is involved in mysti-
cism .... The true revolutionaries in South America are individuals,
suffering personalities, who are not involved in theoretical prob-
lems."4A conventional Marxistanalysis of Brazilianrealityaccording
to some preordained model is, quite simply, irrelevantto the film.
When reduced to a doctrine, Marxistthought, like any other ideol-
ogy, can become the vehicle of cultural imperialism:American at-
tempts at intellectual domination are by no means confined in their
repertoireof standardsto indigenous systems.
Once we accept the Marxist model, with its roots in indus-
trialized society, as something other than the unique paradigm of
desirable social change (a debate carriedon from another perspec-
tive by Regis Debray'sLaRevolution dans la revolution), it becomes
possible to understand Rocha'sonly apparentlycontradictoryclaim
that "These are political actions, not personal actions. My films are
not existential films but socio-political films of analysis."5
These cautionarystatementsshou d be takenas applyingnot only to
the charactersand events portrayedin Antonio, but equallyas much to
the work's form, the mode of its representation.Callenbach'sentire
analysis is, in fact, based on the premise that a truly revolutionary
message can only be communicated within an esthetic of "social
realism."The apparent irreconcilabilityof a revolutionarypraxisand
"folklore"exists only so long as we impose as a universalthe particu-
larlyWesterndisjunction of the intellectual and the volitional. Such a
separationspeaks more directlyof the rationalismof our own revolu-
tionary models than of the necessary conditions for social change.
Rocha mentions that "the greatest uprisingsin Brazilianhistorywere
the wars led by the Blacksand the peasant mystics duringthe time of
slavery.The best known are those of the 'Zumbide Palmares'(Black)
and the Canudos (mystic/ peasant)."6
Antonio-das-Mortes both opens and closes with a baroque image
of Saint George killing the dragon. The figure of the saint, in three
juxtaposed versions differing only in their color, fills the screen at
these significant points as the icon of the film's intent. These visual
variations on a common theme embody the fundamental syncre-

'Hitchens, p. 28.
'Hitchens, p. 30.
6Delahaye, et. al., p. 24. All translations from this article have been made by the author.
206 THOMAS M. KAVANAGH

tism within Braziliansociety. As one might conceive of the entire


film as a confrontation between the warriorsaint and the dragon,
one must, at the same time, remember that Saint George, as the
warrior, is but one variant of a multi-cultural form shared by the
diverse elements making up Braziliansociety. As the explicit fig-
uration of Saint George refers to the white, Christian, European
components within this totality, so is the same symbol charged with
resonances leading back to the Black, African origins of that same
society. It is in the folk chants punctuating the film that explicit ref-
erence is made to OXOSSEand OGUM-the first a god of the hunt
in the native myths of the Bahiaregion, and the second a god of war
in the rites of the Macumba. Eachof them, while referingto differ-
ent systems, represents the same function: the good warriorcon-
quering the evil dragon. Contained within and united by the single
figure of the warrior saint are these three distinct sources of a
mythic, Dionysiac folk energy. Ratherthan a symbol of cultural do-
mination, this figure representsthe appropriationby the people of a
universal structuralizationof ritual combat. It is within the univer-
sality of such an image that common cause can be found by forces
we normallythink of as divided along both racial(black/white) and
religious (Christian/African)lines. The film's final sequence shows
one of the beatas (a mystical religious group drawing upon the
Church but existing outside it-mainly because of its populist social
implications), a Blackman,clothed in red, riding up on the film's
only horse to accomplish the final slaying of Horacio, the land-
owner, the now debilitated ur-dragon. The Santa, the white girl
leading and animating the beatas, mounts the horse with him and
they are led away by the village priest.
This integration, in both image and action, is essential because it
serves to define the source of potentially revolutionary energy
within Braziliansociety. The Blacksand the peasants will constitute
a revolutionaryforce not by alienating themselves from an indige-
nous, properly Dionysiac vision calling into question all established
hierarchies, but rather by integrating this original dynamism into a
precise social movement. To pose as an alternativeeither revolution
or folklore is to rip apart the integral fabric of Braziliansociety. To
analyze this film in terms of such an alternativeis to alienate it from
its vital context in order to carryout upon it a purely inquisitorial
intellectual exercise. The film does operate in terms of social reali-
ties; but the realities in question are, quite simply, different from
our own.
ANTONIO-DAS-MORTES 207

The story of Antonio is the story of how one exemplaryindividual


comes to find his identity within and in terms of both the social and
mythic dimensions of his situation. As a jaqunco he has, in selling
himself to the dominating, Europeanized master-class, alienated
himself from his own reality. He is, as Coiranatells him, both pro-
tected by and imprisoned within the gold shield made from the
money paid him by the rich to kill the poor.
Our first view of Antonio is as the ill-adapted (conveyed princi-
pally by his clothes and his manner) inhabitant of the "city" (the
capital of the Province:a much larger,and much more Europeanized
location than that of the small village where most of the action takes
place). He is watching a political parade: the debased, devitalized
ritualwhose absurdityis testified to by the well-dressed, significantly
whiter-faced children of the rich carryingbanners proclaiming "In-
dependencia ou Morte" (a carefully engineered resurrection of a
19th century Brazilianslogan here intended to evoke a false resem-
blance to the contemporary Cuban "Tierrao Muerte"). It is Matos,
the landowner's industry-mindedsteward, who has come to recruit
Antonio for his campaign against the local peasants. Antonio will
accept the offer, but will take no money. His desire to confront
Coirana,the new cangaceiro, is in fact a desire to confront himself:
to confront that potentiality of his social self which he thought for-
ever lost. It is in the long, single-take, fixed-camera,very Godardian
scene in the city bar that Antonio explains how, thirtyyears ago, the
most famous cangaceiro of all, Lampiao, invited him to join his
band. Out of pride, out of a desire to set himself above his true
social situation by aligning himself with the Europeanized master-
class, he refused and went on instead to kill Lampiao and his entire
band. Only later did Antonio realize that in killing this cangaceiro
he had killed himself: "Lampiao was my mirror and I saw myself
reflected in him." Antonio is the living suicide, the man who, ac-
cording to the folksong, "has visited ten churches, but has no pa-
tron." He finds his life defined by a series of actions in which he can
no longer see any meaning. The quest for Coirana becomes a quest
for the self.
The actual killing of Coirana, the long, carefully choreographed
ritual duet in which the combatants are connected by the umbilical
bandana each holds between his teeth, is the ultimate schizo-
phrenic act whereby an alienated self/society is able to identify its
martyrs only by destroying them. It is as Antonio once again as-
sumes the role according to which society has thus far defined him
208 THOMAS M. KAVANAGH

that he realizes his absolute alienation not only from that role, but
also from that society. The death of the self is the simultaneous
rebirth of the self. Coirana bleeds and dies only to be miraculously
resurrected in the lament he sings from the mountain amphitheatre.
He can never completely die in the same way that a particular act of
revolutionary consciousness is smashed only to be reborn in the
further actions of those whom it inspires.
The killing of Coirana is the initiation of an existential hiatus, a
break in assigned and accepted roles, which is ended only with the
second ritual combat: that between Antonio and Mata Vaca, the
pompously opaque jagunco without a conscience, the Antonio of
thirty years ago. Defeating and killing Mata Vaca is the first act of
the new self: the killing of the old self. As a social force, as well as
an individual consciousness, Antonio has become the rejected im-
age of thirty years back. The initial act of pride, the sundering of self
from society, has been repaired.
It is between these two moments of diametrically opposed roles
(that of Dragon, that of Warrior Saint) that Antonio undergoes the
revolutionizing of his consciousness. It is significant that the cata-
lyzing agent of this process is the Santa: the central figure of the
mystical cult representing both syncretism and miscegenation. It is
first on the basis of physical resemblance that Antonio is able to
integrate his memories of the past with his present situation: the
Santa reminds him of a girl he knew in his youth, a girl who, after
being forced to whore for a living, ended by falling-sick with tu-
berculosis-into the river where she was eaten by piranhas. Antonio
carries Coirana's bleeding body back to the crowd, places it before
the Santa, and genuflects to kiss her foot. This scene is followed by
Antonio's pilgrimage to the shrine of the Santa who, identified with
nature, is seated beneath a tree in an open, uninterrupted plane.
The significance of this encounter is underscored by its presenta-
tion through a series of long, perfectly silent takes alternating be-
tween the immobile Santa and Antonio's halting approach. It is to
her that he can enunciate his confusion: "I have passed through ten
churches, but I have no patron." Then, in asking of the other, he
inquires only after himself: "I want to know if cangaceiros still ex-
ist." The Santa's only answer is the prophecy prefiguring the rest of
the film: "He who kills a brother will be cast to the bottom of the
seas. Be on your way, Antonio, and trod the burning paths of the
world begging forgiveness for your crimes." Later, it is at this same
ANTONIO-DAS-MORTES 209

tree, now with Coirana's Christ-like body fixed upon it, that An-
tonio is again visited by the Santa who symbolically rearms him
with the gun he will use to destroy Mata Vaca and his band.
It is at this point that Antonio's fate becomes properly tragic: as
the internal battle of the self is won through a politicized awareness
of the exterior, so also is the field of battle displaced from the indi-
vidual consciousness to the open-ended, tragic struggle to formu-
late a revolutionary praxis. The self has won its own spiritual unity
in transforming the struggle against its own schizophrenia into that
other battle against the much greater division of class domination
and exploitation. At the end of the film the town of lardim das Pi-
ranhas is left in the now reconciled hands of Blackman, Santa, and
priest. Antonio, condemned to tread the burning paths of the
world, can know neither home nor fulfillment. Our last image of
him is as he walks into the distance along a super-highway punc-
tuated by the signs of foreign exploitation (Shell Oil) and ruled over
by the cars carrying the agents of that exploitation. The burning
paths of revolution lead from this initial act defining Antonio's po-
litical consciousness to its alignment in the battle with that infini-
tely more complex dragon of the city: the seat and symbol of
exploitation, domination, and class division.
Rocha's films all turn around his understanding of the particularly
Brazilian relationship among three types of consciousness: the po-
litical, the revolutionary, and the mystical. The role of the Professor,
the local school teacher, helps clarify the fundamental distinction
between a political and a revolutionary consciousness. The Profes-
sor is the educated, intellectually adept idealist turned cynic as a
compensation for his inability to become independent of or to have
any effect upon his situation. He is an alcoholic who can muster up
just enough courage to bury the expendable Matos when he is mur-
dered by his master. His characteristic response to Mata Vaca's
mass-murder of the beatas is to flee the village. It is at the truck stop
on the road to the capital that Antonio, now the symbol of a nas-
cent revolutionary movement, finds him and carries him back to the
tree where Coirana's body is sprawled. In one of the film's most
forceful scenes, Antonio, holding the Professor's body crumpled
against his own, stares at Coirana while the revitalizing energy of
social commitment begins to flow, as it were, through him to the
body he so tenderly cradles. The image is of two faces which fill the
entire screen: one intense, eyes straight ahead on the icon of the
210 THOMAS M. KAVANAGH

revolutionary leader he will replace; the other unshaven, fatigued,


eyes shut. Slowly the eyelids begin to flicker, they open, and with
the same intent energy the Professor is able to draw himself up,
stand alone, and walk to Coirana'sbody which he embraces as he
arms himself with the fallen leader's rifle and sword. Later,at the
gun battle where Mata Vaca and his band are mythicallydestroyed
in the super-parody of a western shoot-out, it is the Professorwho
first steps forward to declaim, in the best politician's style, that he
has shed no one's blood, but that he is now prepared to shed his
own to avenge the oppressed of the sertao. At this point Antonio
steps up beside him and states: "We fight side by side, but your
business is politics and mine is with God." The Professor agrees,
saying that Antonio will fight with his courage while he will fight in
his shadow. Antonio then makes the final distinction: "No, Profes-
sor. Fightwith your ideas, they are worth more than I am." The Pro-
fessor is the politician, the educated, verbally skilled, but personally
fissured leader brought to the surface by forces he perhaps under-
stands, but can never control or consolidate into a workable social
order. As Antonio sets off for the distant city to continue fighting in
a battle which is never completely won, the Professorstays behind:
the new "headman" who will live with, and undoubtedly be cor-
rupted by, those same forces from which power has momentarily
been wrested. The politician operates in terms of ideas: they are
both his strength and his ultimate weakness. His greatest lacking is
Antonio's mystical identification with the oppressed for whom he
fights. In this sense Rocha's previous film, Terraem Transe (1966)
could be considered as a sequel to Antonio-das-Mortes:it takes up
the Professor-politician'sstory at the point when the revolution has
come to power only to be pervertedand betrayed to the very forces
it sought to vanquish. The revolutionaryconsciousness is a properly
tragic projection of present energies into a future course of action
which will endlessly struggle for, but never achieve as a definable
stasis, the goal it seeks. The political consciousness is, on the other
hand, one firmly delimited by the present: it can conceive of the
ideal only as a rearrangementof the real; it knows victory only be-
cause it has chosen to accommodate itself to the forces working
toward its future defeat.
The revolutionaryconsciousness derives from a unifying, integra-
tive awareness and compassion: it sees the Braziliandiversityof reli-
gions, races, and cultural heritages not as oppositions to be played
off one against the other in the name of exploitation, but as the
ANTONIO-DAS-MORTES 211

potential elements of a unique, self-sustaining and self-perpetu-


ating amalgam. The dragon of evil is incarnated in those forces
which attempt to abstract themselves from, to set themselves up as
the masters of, this diversity. Horacio, the land owner, is the de-
crepit, now totally blind remnant of a master-class on the wane; re-
fusing even to consider the question of agrarian reform, his unique
concern is for his cows. For him, the people are only "those miser-
able parasites" to be kept in line by the timely employ of jaguncos.
Matos, his overseer, is the prophet of the new exploitation. He real-
izes that the road to domination is no longer that of the huge estate,
but rather that of industrialization, that of service to the northern
master-nation all too anxious to share a pittance of the profits to be
reaped from the conversion of peasant into proletarian. Agrarian re-
form, giving each peasant a pacifying parcel of land, would be a
small price to pay for the facade of "law and order" necessary to
attract foreign industrialists.
A vision of the self as separate from the surrounding society is
essential to each of these forms of exploitation. The masters wear
different clothes, have Latinized names, call each other by titles
(Colonel Horacio, Doctor Matos) and define their manhood in
terms of their sexual identification with the white-skinned, blond-
haired grande dame-whore figure of Laura. Enshrined in silken
gowns, she is the displaced Dona recalling a lost colonial past of
firmly established class demarcations. Throughout the film Laura is
presented as the putrid center of personal and economic distinc-
tions based on race. A Bahia whore purchased by the aging Horacio
in the twilight of his masculinity, she is quick to change her alle-
giance to the rising star of Matos. When the game is discovered, she
is equally willing to retrieve her position by stabbing him to death.
Women in Rocha's films, apart from the desexualized virgin-santa,
are always a vehicle of corruption: a wasting of the male's vital en-
ergy in a narcissistic contemplation of a lost past. In one of the
film's most forceful sequences, the Professor, grappling to make
love to Laura on top of Matos' bloody, castrated body, refuses to
hear the priest's frantic appeal for help in stopping the slaughter of
the beatas. The background song heard later as Antonio drags the
Professor's body to the crucified Coirana states that they must
"climb the upward path with no help of a woman's hand." The Pro-
fessor's final classification as a political, as opposed to a revolution-
ary, agent is substantiated by his necrophilic fixation on kissing
Laura'sdead body after the shoot-out.
212 THOMAS M. KAVANAGH

Braziliansociety is a confluence of contrasts: Indian and colonial,


black and white, Christianand pagan, industrialand agricultural,in-
tellectual and mystical. The film's esthetics, as well as its vision of
the revolutionary, is based upon the integration of these apparent
opposites. The sound track, taken for the most part at the time of
shooting, provides us with a veritable enumeration of these ele-
ments. Eachsequence is punctuated by a sound change as abrupt as
it is total: from the silent glade of the Santa'sshrine to the rhythmi-
cally explosive folksongs of the beatas to the electronic music ac-
companying Matos' burial, every element is marked by its own
musical style. The bourgeois sexuality linking Matos and Laurais
adequately identified by the juvenile, Americanized love duet they
sing to each other as he adorns her with jewels; the powerful, al-
most irresistible communion of the suffering peasants is the basis
for the all-engulfing, Dionysiac chants that function as a back-
ground to the cangaceiro's call for revenge upon the oppressors:
they continue uninterruptedafter his death and cannot be silenced
even by Horacio's guns. The last third of the film is structured by a
native ballad telling the story of a blackmanwho went to hell, was
snubbed by the gatekeeper, and organized a revolt against the devil.
As the song goes on, its mythic figures are graduallyreplaced by the
film's own thematics as we see prepared and enacted the final
showdown between Antonio and Mata Vaca. In a sense, this aspect
of the film is an elaboration of Rocha's claim that "it is in its music
that one finds the real history and the real sociology of Brazil-even
more so than in its books .... One can find in this music even the
mental structuresof the people."7
Visually,Antonio-das-Mortes is characterizedby long, Antonioni-
like takes from a fixed camera panning to take in successively the
different elements within a single location. Behind this implicit re-
jection of the montage model, behind this moving away from the
director's rearrangingin a "significant" way the otherwise mean-
ingless pieces of a brute reality, one can detect the same vision of
Braziliansociety as a totality already containing within itself all the
potential forces necessary to a revolutionary praxis. In describing
how he went about filming the central scene of the combat be-
tween Antonio and Coirana,Rocha has stated:
I told the crew, "Ok, we're going to do the fight between Saint
George and the Dragon." While I was telling them this, an old woman

'Delahaye, et. al., p. 33.


ANTONIO-DAS-MORTES 213

said to me, "Ah! the fight, I remember, I know a song about it." Then
another old woman said, "I know another song." When she started
singing we were all set up to do the fight. At the same time some of
the actors started to move in time with the music, and I saw the whole
thing I j,st put the actors there, the characters in the film. This was
my only intervention. I was at the same time both a spectator and a
participant. Everybody found their places naturally. We did the whole
take and we didn't even have to cut; it was completely real, even the
moment when Antonio-das-Mortes wounds the cangaceiro: it was
they themselves who decided it."8
Thus the film-maker is also a revolutionary after the model of
Antonio. Glauber Rocha grew up in and knows intimately the
northeastern region of Brazilwhere Antonio's story takes place. In
the same way that the main charactercame to discover himself and
his revolutionary duty by understanding and loving the people
through his attempt to unify and direct their separated, dispersed
energies, so also has Rocha defined the function of the revolution-
ary film-makeras "an attempt to psychoanalyze the people to find
the sources of their energy and, by attempting to channel these
sources as artistic means, to analyze their true characteristics."9To
make a revolutionary film within Braziliansociety is to hold up a
mirrorto that society; but a mirrorwhich, through its form, be-
comes the communication of that message Antonio was able to act
upon only thirty years after his initial glimpse into the realityof his
self and of his society.
What then, to return to our initial question, is our position as
viewers from outside that society? What have we to learn from such
a film? Once again, I would say that we have first to learn an objec-
tivity: a readiness to allow this other to exist as other and likewise to
resist the basically imperialistic desire to anathematize it as but a
deviant and inadequate variantof the same. As we might hopefully
have learned to overcome our tendency to set ourselves up as the
world-policeman of democraticorthodoxy,so also mustwe recognize
and refuse the equally appealing and hardlydissimilartemptation to
invest ourselves now as the guardiansof revolutionaryorthodoxy. It
is as nothing other than a latter-dayStalinist that Callenbach is able
to proclaim of Antonio-das-Mortes:"This may be an interesting ap-
proach, but it is surely not a revolutionaryone" (p. 45). Colonialism
can find no more comfortable, no more unassailable disguise than
that of arbiterfor the elaboration of theoretically "adequate" anti-
colonialist models.

"Delahaye, et. al., p. 33.


9Hitchens, p. 30.

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