Director: Ruy Guerra
Production: Copacabana Films, Embracine, and Daga Filmes (Brazil); black and white, 35mm; running time: 110 minutes; length: 3300 meters. Released 1964. Filmed in Milagres.
Producer: Jarbas Barbosa; screenplay: Miguel Torres and Ruy Guerra, from an adaptation by Pierre Pelegri, Demosthenes Theokary, and Philippe Dumarçay from an original story by Ruy Guerra; photography: Ricardo Aronovich; editor: Ruy Guerra; music: Moacyr Santos.
Cast: Atila Lorio (Gaúcho, the truck driver); Nelson Xavier (Mario); Maria Gladys (Luisa); Leonides Bayer (Sergeant); Paulo Cesar (Soldier); Mauricio Loyola (Bearded prophet); Rui Polanah (Civilian); Hugo Carvana (Soldier); Joel Bacelos (Father of the dead baby); Ivan Candido.
Fieschi, J. A., and J. Narboni, Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1967.
Leduc, F., "Interview with Guerra," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April 1967.
Langlois, G., "Interview with Guerra," in Cinéma (Paris), June 1967.
Pelegri, P., in Positif (Paris), July 1967.
Zele, Van, in Image et Son (Paris), November 1969.
Ciment, Michel, "Ruy Guerra," in Second Wave (New York), 1970.
Tarratt, Margaret, in Films and Filming (London), December 1972.
Elsaesser, Thomas, "Interview with Ruy Guerra," in Monogram (London), April 1974.
Burns, Bradford E., and others, "History in the Brazilian Cinema," in Luso-Brazilian Review (Madison, Wisconsin), Summer 1977.
"The Fall: Formal Innovation and Radical Critique," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), May 1979.
Castillo, L., "Ruy Guerra: sonar con los pies sobre la tierra," in CineCubano (Habana), no. 134, 1992.
* * *
Os fuzis (The Guns) is, arguably, Ruy Guerra's greatest political film. This landmark work is unusual in that it relies primarily on a tradition of mainstream commercial cinema—the linear narrative— to convey profoundly political themes. Guerra imaginatively and effectively blends this tradition with features typical of documentary filmmaking.
The action is set in Brazil's semi-arid, underdeveloped Northeastern backlands (the sertão), and Guerra uses numerous devices, in addition to location shooting, to give his film the look of a documentary. Early in the film, a subtitle appears that specifies the time and place of the action. The sub-plot of the holy man and his bull is, according to Guerra, based on a historical incident. Local customs (a procession of people praying for rain) and types (the leather-clad vaqueiros) are observed. In interview-like sequences, elderly inhabitants recall past events and personages in the region's history, such as religious zealot Antônio Conselheiro and the government he established and defended at Canudos.
The film's plot and sub-plot weave together the political problems of the oppression of the villagers by the military and by the forces of fanatic religious mysticism. Gaúcho's solution, to battle the soldiers, fails because it springs from emotional impulses rather that from any revolutionary consciousness. Gaúcho—himself an outsider—is not a revolutionary leader; his response is personal, and it is not supported by the masses. The butchering of the sacred bull, however, is a collective revolutionary action reflecting a change of consciousness on the part of the villagers. The followers of the holy man had been seeking a fantastic solution (worshipping an animal) instead of a political and/or economic solution to the problem of hunger. The crowd's cry, "It's meat!," heralds the downfall of the holy man: his bull has been discarded as a religious symbol; it is now perceived as a source of food.
Unlike many Latin American political films, Os fuzis not only avoids facile political solutions, but it also features complex characters and interpersonal relations. Gaúcho initially acts like a typically exploitative truck driver, but his moral behavior evolves when he sinks as low as the starving villagers. The tortuous mise-en-scène of the love scene between Mario and his girlfriend brilliantly reflects the complex approach-avoidance conflict the girl faces; she loves Mario, but she is restrained in expressing this love by her identification with the villagers and by her revulsion over Mario's complicity in the cover-up. At the end of the film, the villagers have derived no political profit from Gaúcho's suicidal act, and they will continue to be subject to military oppression. The soldiers themselves remain the corrupt victims of the system.
Many Brazilians see Os fuzis as a forceful condemnation of the needless killing, the corruption, and the ties to powerful landowning and entrepreneurial interests that have characterized their country's military. The references in the film to Antônio Conselheiro's rebellion (1896–97) remind viewers that the Brazilian military in the 1960s still operated much as it did during the infamous Canudos campaign—a totalitarian crime perpetrated against a backlands community.
When first shown in Brazil in 1963, Os fuzis did poorly because many viewers considered the film's narrative needlessly obscure and complex. Today, however, critics recognize the film as a great, typical work of the first phase of Brazil's highly regarded Cinema Novo. Guerra, like other filmmakers of this period, opposed the ideology and aesthetics of Hollywood and Brazilian commercial cinema by favoring low-budget, independently produced films shot on location. For Guerra and his colleagues, filmmaking was a key political-cultural activity in the battle against Brazil's neo-colonialism.