Cinema Novo

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Cinema Novo

Cinema Novo, a movement that marks the beginning of modern cinema in Brazil. Although Cinema Novo ceased to exist as a unified movement by the early 1970s, virtually every significant Brazilian film made since the late 1950s has been directly or indirectly influenced by the movement and its critical vision of Brazilian society.

Cinema Novo arose in the late 1950s and early 1960s as part of a broad, heterogeneous movement of cultural transformation that involved theater, popular music, and literature as well as the cinema. It evolved through a number of discernible phases, each corresponding to a specific sociopolitical conjuncture. Between 1960 and 1964, the year of the military coup d'état that overthrew the government of João Goulart, questions such as agrarian reform and social transformation were debated at almost every level of society. The films of this period attempted to contribute to the debate with films about the country's lower classes.

Initially, Cinema Novo sought to reveal the truth about the country's underdevelopment, in the hope that the Brazilian people would gain a critical consciousness and then participate in the struggle for national liberation. As Glauber Rocha wrote in his 1965 manifesto, "An Aesthetic of Hunger," "Cinema Novo is … an evolving complex of films that will ultimately make the public aware of its own misery."

In their attempt to raise the Brazilian people's level of consciousness, filmmakers initially set their stories in areas of Brazil where social contradictions were most apparent: poor fishing villages, urban slums, and the country's impoverished Northeast. Glauber Rocha's Barravento (1962; The Turning Wind) denounces Afro-Brazilian religion as a form of alienation while at the same time affirming its value as a means of preserving cultural identity and as a potential site of collective resistance. Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Vidas secas (1963; Barren Lives), based on the Graciliano Ramos novel, outlines the plight of a peasant family during a period of drought, including its conflict with an absentee landowner. Ruy Guerra's Os fuzis (1964; The Guns) concerns soldiers who guard a landowner's food warehouse to keep its contents from starving peasants. Rocha's Deus e o diablo na terra do sol (1964; Black God, White Devil) indirectly discusses the feudal structures that impede a more just distribution of land in the Northeast.

From 1964 until 1968, the year of the military government's Fifth Institutional Act, which inaugurated a period of extremely repressive military rule, political liberties were restricted and censorship increased, but there was still a degree of space for discussion and debate. During this period, the focus of Cinema Novo shifted from rural to urban Brazil as filmmakers turned their cameras on the urban middle class, and more specifically on intellectuals like themselves, in an attempt to understand the failure of the Left in 1964.

Paulo César Saraceni's O desafio (1966; The Challenge) deals with a young, anguished, and socially impotent journalist in the period immediately following the coup. Glauber Rocha's Terra em transe (1967; Land in Anguish) dissects the populist arrangements that have long dominated Brazilian politics by tracing the trajectory of a poet as he moves between Left and Right and his final, suicidal option for individual armed struggle. Gustavo Dahl's O bravo guerreiro (1968; The Brave Warrior) focuses on the futile struggle of an idealistic young congressman, and ends with a scene in which he looks into a mirror and points a gun into his mouth. In Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Fome de amor (1968; Hunger for Love), the revolutionary leader is deaf, dumb, and blind. These films express the pessimism, disillusion, and despair of many intellectuals after 1964.

The final phase of Cinema Novo ran from 1968 until around 1972. During this period of extremely harsh military rule, it was difficult for filmmakers to express opinions directly, so allegory became the preferred mode of cinematic discourse of what is known as tropicalismo in Brazilian cinema. Glauber Rocha's O dragão da maldade contra o santo guerreiro (also called Antônio das Mortes, 1968) uses a highly allegorical, quasi-operatic style to portray a metaphysical struggle between good and evil that shifts, at the end of the film, to a struggle against imperialism. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's adaptation of Mário de Andrade's modernist novel Macunaíma (1969) develops cannibalism as a metaphor for exploitative social relationships. Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Como era gostoso o meu francês (1972; How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman) uses the same metaphor for the often conflictive relationship between Brazilian and European cultures and the development of a national cultural identity in Brazil.

The period since 1972 has been characterized by stylistic and thematic diversity, and Cinema Novo's legacy has continued to be one of its major driving forces. Its practitioners have remained in the forefront of Brazilian cinema with films such as Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's O homem do pau-brasil (1982; The Brazilwood Man), Carlos Diegues's Bye bye Brasil (1980), Ruy Guerra's A queda (1978; The Fall), Leon Hirszman's Eles não usam black-tie (1981; They Don't Wear Black-Tie), Arnaldo Jabor's Tudo bem (1978; All's Well), Glauber Rocha's A idade da terra (1980; Age of the Earth), and Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Memórias do cárcere (1984; Prison Memoirs).

Following Cinema Novo's lead, the best of Brazilian cinema has continued to express certain historical moments as few other art forms have been able to do. The influence of the movement's critical vision of Brazilian society is evident in films such as Hector Babenco's courageous Lúcio Flávio (1977), the first film to depict police torture, and the same director's Pixote (1980), a brutal portrait of street kids. It is also clear in Roberto Farias's Pra frente Brasil (1982; Onward Brazil), which deals with the torture and murder of an innocent man by the military police on a day when the nation's attention was turned toward the 1970 World Soccer championship in Mexico, and in Tizuka Yamasaki's Patriamada (1984; Beloved Country), which is set during the 1984 campaign for direct elections. Patriamada combines fiction and documentary sequences with highly original effects. With its highly creative films and its continuing rich legacy, Cinema Novo is virtually synonymous with modern Brazilian cinema.

See alsoCinema: From the Silent Film to 1990xml .


Jean-Claude Bernardet, Brasil em tempo de cinema, 2d ed. (1977), and Cinema brasileiro: Propostas para uma história (1979).

Ismail Xavier, Sertão mar: Glauber Rocha e a estética da fome (1983).

Randal Johnson, Cinema Novo x 5: Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Film (1984) and The Film Industry in Brazil: Culture and the State (1987).

Randal Johnson and Robert Stam, eds., Brazilian Cinema (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Dennison, Stephanie, and Lisa Shaw. Popular Cinema in Brazil, 1930–2001. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

Oricchio, Luiz Zanin. Cinema de novo: Um balanço crítico da retomada. São Paulo: Estação Liberdade, 2003.

Stam, Robert. Tropical Multiculturalism: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

Tal, Tzvi. Pantallas y revolución: Una visión comparativa del cine de liberación y el cinema novo. Tel Aviv: Universidad de Tel Aviv, Instituto de Historia y Cultura de América Latina, 2005.

Viany, Alex, and José Carlos Avellar. O processo do cinema novo. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: Aeroplano Editora, 1999.

Xavier, Ismail. Allegories of Underdevelopment: Aesthetics and Politics in Modern Brazilian Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

                                         Randal Johnson