Except for two years in which he studied law (1959-61), Glauber Rocha devoted his life to cinema, starting at the age of 16 when he began organizing film clubs. In 1957, he founded a production company, Lemanja-Filmes, and directed several short films before making his feature debut with "Barravento" (1962).
As filmmaker, theoretician and critic, Rocha was the leader of Brazil's influential "cinema novo" movement. "The Brazilian public," Rocha noted, "is enslaved by the language of foreign films--particularly North American movies." Such cultural imperialism fostered an inferiority complex on the part of Brazilian cinema, which thus failed to confront the social realities of a country in which unemployment and illiteracy reached fifty percent.
Rocha's aim was to instill cultural nationalism through a polemical, noncommercial cinema. The message in his films was that violence could transform a social order whose "essence" was hunger. As he explained in his 1965 manifesto, "The Aesthetic of Hunger:" "The moment of violence is the moment when the coloniser becomes aware of the existence of the colonised."
Rocha developed his lyrical, allegorical and self-reflexive style in reaction to Euro-American cinematic realism. His films feature a highly baroque mise-en-scene, frenetic camera movement, and an Eisensteinian use of montage. His characters do not reflect moral absolutes but are instead complex and protean, while also representative of larger historical forces.
Rocha, however, was not above practical considerations in his desire for an authentic Brazilian film culture. He shot "Antonio das Mortes" (1969) in color to broaden its appeal and drew upon Brazilian popular culture and established artistic movements. Rocha also incorporated elements of an indigenous "culture of resistance," such as "candomble," African magic with an appropriated Christian guise. He also allowed his cast (which included non-actors) to improvise and determine scenes.
After the overthrow of the leftist regime of Joao Goulart in 1964, Rocha set out "to fight back," using the camera--"the only weapon I could master." In "Terra Em Transe/Land in Anguish" (1966), a masterpiece of political cinema, he examined the failure of both the populist left and fascist right, with their established solutions and false prophets. In 1968, Brazil's military regime suspended civil rights under its Fifth Institutional Act, and Rocha went abroad to direct two films: "Der Leon Have Sept Cabecas" (Zaire, 1970) and "Cabezas Cortadas" (Spain, 1971). While these films were part of a larger Third World project he envisioned from a Hispanic perspective, Rocha's influences were noticeably European: Brecht, Godard and Eisenstein. After a brief return to Brazil in 1969, Rocha went into exile, where he completed three films that went unnoticed.
In 1976, with Brazil's move toward democratic liberties, Rocha returned and directed his most ambitious and challenging film, "La Idade da Terra" (1980), an allegorical history of colonialism and liberation in Brazil. The "moment of violence"--conveyed in a chaotic blend of styles, histories, myths and ideologies--resurrects a Third World Christ, played in typical Rocha fashion by four characters (black, Indian, militant and peasant) to represent the people. In 1980, after unfavorable reception of the film and the death of his sister, Rocha again went into exile. He published a novel and a book on "cinema novo" but, on August 19, 1981, suffering from pulmonary disease, he returned to Brazil, where he died three days later.
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First feature, "Barravento"
Restored and newly subtitled (courtesy of Martin Scorsese) print of "Terre em Transe/Earth Entranced/Land in Anguish" shown at the American Cinematheque's Latino FIilm Festival