Director: Victor Lima Barreto
Production: Cia. Cinematográfica Vera Cruz; black and white; running time: 105 minutes. Released in 1953. Filmed in São Paulo.
Producer: Cid Leite da Silva; screenplay: Victor Lima Barreto; dialogues: Rachel de Queiróz, based on original by Lima Barreto; photography: H. E. Fowle; editor: Oswald Hafenrichter; art director, production design, and costume designer: Caribé; sound: Erik Rasmussen and Ernst Hack; music: Gabriel Migliori; songs: Zé do Norte, and others of public domain.
Cast: Milton Ribeiro (Captain Galdino Ferreira); Alberto Ruschel (Teodoro): Marisa Prado (Olívia); Vanja Orico (Maria Clodia); Adoniran Barbosa; Ricardo Campos; Neuza Veras; Zé do Norte; Lima Barreto; Galileu Garcia; Nieta Junqueira; Pedro Visgo; João Batista Gioto; Manoel Pinto.
Awards: Named Best Adventure Film and special mention for sound track, Cannes Film Festival, 1953.
Viany, Alex, Introdução ao Cinema Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1959.
Rocha, Glauber, Revisão Crìtica do Cinema Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1963.
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Salem, Helena, 90 Anos de Cinema—Uma Aventura Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, 1988.
Diário de Notícias (Rio de Janeiro), 19 April 1953.
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Viotti, S., Films and Filming (London), October 1954.
Vianna, Antônio Moniz, Cineclube Macunaima Edition (Rio de Janeiro), number 48, 1974.
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O Globo (Rio de Janeiro), 25 November 1982.
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Exhibited at Cannes in 1953, Victor Lima Barreto's O Cangaceiro has a place of honour on the Brazilian film scene for a number of reasons. At Cannes, it received two accolades: the prize for best adventure film and a special mention for the sound track; this recognition turned O Cangaceiro into the first Brazilian film to be successful overseas. (André Brazin said of the film at Cannes, "from its earliest scenes, the film sets an explosive tone of violence and strength.") O Cangaceiro became a box-office record breaker at the time of its launch, its director became a national hero, and its theme tune, Mulher Rendeira, became the unofficial Brazilian anthem of the 1950s.
Apart from its repercussion both at home and abroad, O Cangaceiro has also the merit of giving rise to the Cangaço genre of film. Cangaceiro is the name given to a particular type of bandit who used to roam the Northeast of the country in the early 20th Century, spreading terror and sacking small villages. Common to most Cangaço films are the scenario of the rustic backlands of northeastern Brazil, the disadvantaged as characters and a confrontation with police forces as the principal story line. O Cangaceiro was also the first in a series of "nordestern" or "northeastern" films, which ran a parallel line with the North American Western films; it was followed in this vein by a number of noteworthy films, the best known of which was Deus e O Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil), by Glauber Rocha.
O Cangaceiro was Victor Lima Barreto's first feature, produced after his innumerable documentaries of the 1940s. (In 1951, his documentary Santuário, won a prize at Venice in the "art film" category.) As the author of the story and the screenplay, Lima Barreto dared, at a time when Brazilian films dealt largely with urban themes, to turn the public's eyes to the poorest region of the country. Here he created images that were incontestably Brazilian, either through the exploitation of regional physiognomies or through the typically barren northeastern scenery (albeit O Cangaceiro was filmed in the countryside of the state of São Paulo). Notwithstanding the social concerns inherent in the plot—the right to land and the misery of the population—Lima Barreto does not address these political matters, as would later the Cinema Novo movement, which also used the Northeast of the Brazil for many of its locations.
The principal characters in the film are Captain Galdino Ferreira (Milton Ribeiro), a cruel and boorish leader of a band of cangaceiros, and Teodoro (Alberto Ruschel), his right hand man, who is from a good background, but has joined the gang of outlaws after killing a man. Teodoro's convictions are challenged when Galdino kidnaps a comely teacher, Olívia (Marisa Prado), provoking the jealousy of Maria (Vanja Orico)—every band of "cangaceiro" outlaws was, by tradition, accompanied by a woman. Teodoro falls in love with the teacher, and decides to break away with her, living a sort of "redeemed by love" syndrome. At the same time, the police stalk Galdino's gang whose leader is now blind with rage at the betrayal by his henchman.
During the chase, the former outlaw becomes the protector of the pretty teacher, with whom he enjoys a series of romantic love scenes. In a violent contest, Galdino's men thwart the efforts of the police to catch them. The next battle is between Galdino and Teodoro. Teodoro resists heroically, but eventually surrenders. True to his personal code of honour, Galdino allows Teodoro one last chance to survive: the band of outlaws will all shoot at Teodoro from a distance of 500 meters at the same time. If Teodoro is not hit, he is free to go. Teodoro accepts the deal, but he is shot and dies clutching a handful of "his" earth. Having said "a woman and land are the same thing—you need both to be happy," he dies not for an ideal, but for love. (Lima Barreto had been informed by Columbia Pictures that the authorities responsible for law and order in Europe and the United States demanded that the bad guy die at the end. Thus, a scene in which Galdino dies was also included, though not shown in Brazil.)
At the time of O Cangaceiro's launch, Lima Barreto stated: "When, years ago, I dreamed of making films in Brazil, I resolved to make films that were totally national, wholeheartedly Brazilian. The title, the story, the location, the characters and their personalities—the photography, the music, the editing—all should breathe Brazil." The dramatic and narrative tints of the Western and the influence of the epic Mexican school at its most grandiloquent in no way compromise the Brazilianness of O Cangaceiro, whose studied nationalism is emphasized by the exceptional sound track, peppered with regional songs. While Captain Galdino is almost a caricature of cruelty, Teodoro and Olívia's portrayals are altogether more reasonable and civilized. Notwithstanding the social questions inherent in the cangaço genre, Lima Barreto's plot is centred on a love story, complete with impassioned dialogues, supported by scenes of great visual impact— such as the torture of one of the men, who is dragged behind a galloping horse—and chase scenes through the countryside.
The film opens with the band of outlaws marching to the right and finishes with the same band marching off, to the sound of Mulher Rendeira, in the opposite direction, in a composition which is clearly reminiscent of John Ford. O Cangaceiro also represents one of the great disillusions of the Brazilian film industry. It was one of the final productions of the Vera Cruz Studios, an enterprise put together by a group of São Paulo businessmen to create a sort of Brazilian Hollywood, producing world class films for the first time in Brazil. To this end, foreign technicians were hired from abroad, such as H. E. Fowle, the English director of photography, the German editor, Oswald Hafenrichter or the Italian musician, Gabriel Magliori, who were all involved in O Cangaceiro. The artistic direction was by the famous painter Caribé, while the dialogues were written by the distinguished Rachel de Queiróz.
The Brazilian and world distribution rights were sold to Columbia Pictures; thus, Vera Cruz did not benefit from the success of O Cangaceiro, which was sold to 23 countries. In fact, the shutters went up on Vera Cruz not long after O Cangaceiro's production. For Lima Barreto—who appears in the film as the commander of a police force—the film represented not only the pinnacle but the beginning of the end of his career. After his second fictional feature, A Primeira Missa (1960), he went into a long and painful decline, only to die alone and in poverty in 1982 at the age of 76. His legacy was several untouched screenplays and O Cangaceiro, testimony to his defense of what he considered to be the unequivocally Brazilian cinema.