With an idea in one´s head and a camera in one´s hand
Glauber Rocha was born in Vitoria-de-Conquista in Brazil in 1938, and his films from the 60s established him as a classical master of the Brazilian cinema novo. Using poetical and metaphorical montages and the motifs, legends and rituals of folklore, he sought to express cultural independence. In 1981 he died at the early age of 43 of a lung-ailment.
An ´idea in one´s head and a camera in one´s hand´ should be enough for a film, said Glauber Rocha, born in Vitoria-de-Conquista in 1938. This was the credo of Brazilian cinema novo. Rejecting commercial filmmaking in the spirit of Hollywood, a few young Brazilian filmmakers began producing and financing their own films. Produced with meagre means, these focus on the land´s poverty, violence and social contrasts, unlike films from the big studios, which show Brazil only as a tropical paradise for the upper class.
Glauber Rocha studied law for a short time then worked as a journalist and a film critic, but together with Nelson Pereira dos Santos, he then became the leading exponent of the new wave. He had got to know Nelson Pereira dos Santos in 1957 during work on his ´Rio 40 Graus´ (´Rio at 40 degrees´), which showed life in a favela (slum) and paved the way for cinema novo. In 1958, with the experimental short film ´Pátio´, and in 1959 with ´Cruz na Praça´, he became a director himself.
In his first long film ´Barravento´ (Storm´), made in 1962, Rocha looks at superstition and social conflicts in a Brazilian fishing village. Chosen by the sea-goddess Yemanja, young Aruan can deploy magic as long as he has no sexual intercourse. Firmino, a black man who has returned to the village from town-life, wants to show that Aruan has feet of clay, so finds a prostitute to seduce him. This fails, but Aruan loses his magical powers for the moment and brings misfortune on his family. He then moves into town, and the prostitute kills herself. Already in ´Barravento´, Rocha mingles realism with poetical and mythological motifs.
Likewise in his next feature film, ´Deus e o diabo na terra do sol´ (´God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun´) with original music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Glauber Rocha looks at the influence of religious and political fanaticism in Brazil. Like ´Vidas Secas´, directed in 1962 by Nelson Pereira Santos, the tale is set in the north-east. ´Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol´ won the international film critics´ award in Cannes in 1964 and established Rocha internationally as a leading Brazilian filmmaker.
The shepherd Manuel and his wife Rosa are on the run. The couple join the mystic followers of a black man who is prophesying an apocalyptic revolution to change the Sertão in the arid north-east into a sea, and the sea into the Sertão. After tearing themselves away from the mystics, the couple chance on the remaining members of a group of bandits keen on razing the Sertão. The best attitude is revealed to Manuel by a blind man and a chorus: the earth belongs neither to God nor to the Devil.
Though it might the plot, Glauber Rocha does not tell this tale in the spirit of neo-realism. From ´Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol´ on, he puts his landscapes into a trance as an arena in which God and the Devil fight. His figures become emblems of the politics and history of Brazil: the bandits and the big land-owners of the Sertão, the countrified world with the shepherds and their mysticism, the city as a symbol of power, of fascism, demagogy, dictatorship and imperialism, but also of love and suicide. Finally there is the resurrection and reconciliation of contradictions in the poetic.
Rochas film ´Terra em transe´ (´Land in Trance´), directed in 1967, is about the coup d´état and the resultant pain. It is a baroque allegory, highlighting the white elite, with events taking place in a fictional state Eldorado. Felipe Viera, governor of the province Alecrim, is unwilling to resist the coup d´état led by Porfirio Diaz. The commentator-protagonist, the poet Paulo Martin, has a fiery talk with Viera then tries to flee from the governor´s palace with Viera´s secretary Sara. He is wounded mortally by the police, but this poet - through whom Rocha critically portrays a whole generation of white, radical intellectuals - is reluctant to die before reviewing the events which have led to his personal and political downfall.
In 1969 Rocha directed the Brazilian western ´O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro´, for which he won the award for the best director in Cannes, where already in 1964 his ´God and the Devil´ had won the critics´ award. The professional killer Antonio das Mortas comes to Jardim, to eliminate the Coirana band. In so doing, he gets to know Coirana´s megalomania, the police inspector´s political ambitions, a teacher´s disillusionment, Laura´s loneliness and the priest´s mystic circle. He tries to put his beliefs about justice and ethics into practice but is overwhelmed by reality.
In 1970, wth the money from his award in Cannes, Rocha produced ´Leone Have Sept Cabeças´, which was a French-Italian co-production filmed in Africa, as also ´Cabeças Cortadas´, which was filmed in Spain. But with these two films, Rochas was less successful than before. For his short film ´Di Cavalcanti´ about his friend, the painter Di Cavalcanti, he won in 1977 the short-film award at the Cannes film festival.
While winning international acclaim for Brazil, Glauber Rocha clashed with Brazil´s military government. Many critics suspect that the use of metaphor and surrealistic images by representatives of cinema novo was a ruse for evading censorship. The military had wrested power in Brazil in 1964. Rochas ´Cabeças Cortadas´ was filmed in 1970 but was not passed by the censors till 1978, and for two months ´Terra em Trance´ (1967) was censored as being subversive and disrespectful.
Rocha´s involvement in politics went beyond filmmaking. After having publicised the aims of cinema novo in 1963 in his book ´Revisã Critica de Cinema Brasiliero´, he wrote ´A Estética da Fome´ (´The Aesthetics of Hunger´) on the flight from Rio to Milan. In it he presented the principles of cinema novo and the Brazilian cinema. This and the publication of his script for ´God and Devil´ brought him international recognition.
In November 1965, Rocha was imprisoned for demonstrating with other intellectuals in front of a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, where OAS, the Organisation of American States, was meeting. In 1971 he left Brazil in protest at the military regime and did not return till 1976. He hoped that a liberal wing of the military might restrict his development less, but this hope remained unfulfilled. In 1978 he stepped forward as a candidate in the election for the region Bahia.
In his last years he was preoccupied with a monumental epic about the birth of Brazil, ´A idade da terra´ (´The Condition of the World´), which was shown in Venice in 1980. Being laden with metaphors, symbols and allegories, the film was little understood by the public or the critics, but Rocha stoutly defended the principles of his filmmaking: ´The feast of metaphors, allegories and symbols is no carnival of subjectivity; it is the refusal to analyse rationally a reality which has been stifled by European culture and American imperialism. I am making films which resist the classification of colonial anthropology...´ (NZZ, 27 08 81)
On the 22nd August, Rocha died at the early age of 43 in Rio de Janeiro of a lung ailment.
Glauber Pedro de Andrade Rocha was born on 14th March, 1938, in Vitoria-de-Conquista. Already at the age of 16, he began to write film reviews. In 1958 he became a police-reporter for the newspaper ´Jornal da Bahia´, for which he soon began to write film reviews too. Two years earlier in 1956 he had worked on the short film ´Um Dia na Rampa´ from Luiz Paulhino do Santos; in 1958 he directed his own first short film ´O Patio´; then a year later he directed ´Cruz na Praça´. In 1959-60 he began studying law but broke off to resume work as a director, film theorist and critic. His first full-length feature film in 1962 won a prize at the film festival in Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia.
In 1963 Rocha published ´Revisão Critica do cinema Brasiliero´, the standard work about the history of Brazilian filmmaking, in which the concept of cinema novo is discussed for the first time. ´Deus e o diabo na terra do sol´ (1964) with original music by Heitor Villa-Lobos was his first big international success. It won prizes in Mexico, Italy and Argentina and was chosen for the festival in Cannes. In his book ´A Estética da Fome´ (´The Aesthetics of Hunger´) Rocha summarises the principles of cinema novo and the Brazilian cinema.
Still more successful than ´God and the Devil´ was Rocha´s ´Terra em transe´ (´Land in Trance´). Filmed in 1967, it won not only the Buñuel award and the international film critics´ award in Cannes but also the main award and the film critics´ award in Locarno. In 1969 his ´O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro´ (´Antonio das Mortes´) won the award for directing in Cannes.
Due to his political views, Glauber Rocha often clashed with the military, which had wrested power in 1964. Showings of ´Terra em transe´ (1967) and ´Cabeças Cortadas´ (1970-78) were forbidden for a time. In November 1965, Rochas was emprisoned for having demonstrated with other intellectuals in front of a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, where OAS, the Organisation of American States´, was meeting. In 1971 he left Brazil in protest at the military regime. The films ´Leone Have Sept Cebeças´ (1970), ´ Cebeças cortadas´ (1970), ´O Câncer´ (1974) and ´Claro´ (1976) all evolved outside Brazil. Only in 1976 did he return to his homeland. In 1978 he stepped forward as a candidate in the election for the region Bahia.
In 1977 he received a further award in Cannes for a short film about his late friend, the painter Di Cavalcanti. His last full-length feature film was ´A idade da terra´ (´The Condition of the World´). After four years´ work it was screened in Venice but little understood. In August 1981, Rocha returned from Portugal to Rio de Janeiro, where he died on the 22nd of a lung ailment at the age of 43.