Original Title: Macunaíma
Country: Brazil
Director: Joaquim Pedro de Andrade
Release: 1969
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy
Language: Portuguese

IMDb | Rotten Tomatoes

A bizarre native family faces food shortages in the jungle and decide to try to live in an urban area.

Censorship

Macunaíma the film was based on a novel of the same name published in 1928 by the Brazilian writer Mário de Andrade’s.

I watched Macunaíma some months ago, then I read a little about the movie, selected some images and then finally, began writing this review. Just then I realized that I was wrong about the director.

All this time I thought the director was Glauber Rocha, a very important director of the Cinema Novo, but is Joaquim Pedro de Andrade who is also a big name in the movement.

According to Guedes (2011), Macunaíma is one of the maximum examples of Tropicália movement in the Cinema. Associated with the Anthropophagic Manifesto (cultural cannibalism), cannibalizing the Tropicália movement, using its style to criticize it.

A M41 Walker Bulldog tank in front of the National Congress of Brazil during the 1964 coup d’etat (Public Domain)

To understand a little more about the movie, we must point that Brazil was under a dictatorship that began four years earlier. During this period, there was heavy censorship of every artistic manifestation and even of the news media.

The most repressive period during the military dictatorship began in December 1968, when the Institutional Act Number Five (AI-5) was signed, which closed the National Congress and the State Legislative Assemblies. And it was also under the AI-5 that the censorship of the media began.

Dictator Ernesto Geisel signed in October 1978 a constitutional amendment to end the repressive Institutional Act, and in from 1979 on, the AI-5 was over.

With the worst repressive era behind, the first time the dictatorial regime was portrayed in the film was Go Ahead, Brazil! (1982), still during the dictatorial regime that only ended in 1985 (PEREIRA, 2014)*.

*Pereira, Wagner Pinheiro. “The political cinema in the Brazilian military dictatorship: the representations of the “years of lead” in the movie Go Ahead, Brazil!(1982)” Revista Maracanan, no. 11

April 4, 1968, Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian troops occupy Presidente Vargas Ave (Public Domain)

Because of the censorship during AI-5, Macunaíma and other films of the era had to be careful in how to portray everything, but especially anything related to the regime. Usually, the filmmakers used allegories and symbolism to dodge the censorship.

In an article by Reed Johnson and contribution by Cristiana Ferraz Coimbra for the Los Angeles Times, they mention how the directors avoided the censorship:

“[…] their critiques often came swaddled in black comedy or subversive symbolism, the better to slip past government censors. Filmmakers encoded their political subtexts in absurdist plots and ridiculous characters.”

Even with taking measures to avoid censorship, Macunaíma had 14 cuts due to a decision by the Censorship Division of the Military dictatorship.

I remember reading something about only being allowed to show one breast at the time on screen because of the censorship. After looking for this information again, I ultimately found that I had read it in an IMDb user review.

I wasn’t able to find any source confirming this information, but just because I could not find it, doesn’t mean is not true. I don’t think this information is accurate.

Just to be sure, I analyzed 26 Brazilian full-length non-pornographic movies from 1970 to 1975 containing female nudity. Of the 26 movies, only three don’t show both breasts at the same time, like is the case with Macunaíma.

Now with the foundation set, let’s began exploring the film itself.

Macunaíma

Macunaíma (Grande Otelo) lives in the Amazon rainforest with her mother (Paulo José), two brothers, Maanape (Rodolfo Arena), and Jiguê (Milton Gonçalves) and Jiguê’s girlfriend, Sofara (Joana Fomm).

Macunaíma [Blu-ray]

The mother is white, like Maanape, while Macunaíma and Jiguê are black, even though they are native from the Amazon.

The protagonist is kind of a scoundrel, thinks he is smarter than everyone and when the food becomes scarce, he hides some bananas from his family, so his mother kicks him out of the house, forcing him to live in the jungle.

Shortly after Macunaíma returns home, his mother dies and the whole family decides to go to Rio de Janeiro. In the way, they found a fountain that makes Macunaíma white (Paulo José, the same actor who played the mother).

Macunaíma (Grande Otelo) turning white

In Rio, they encounter a Guerrilla fighter, called Ci (Dina Sfat), killing agents of the Dictatorship. Macunaíma is impressed by the woman and goes after her.

In a fight with Ci, the brothers end up knocking her out, and Macunaíma rapes her while she is unconscious. When she wakes up, instead of feeling violated, she falls in love with Macunaíma.

Ci and Macunaíma move in together and have a son (Grande Otelo), until one day Ci dies with their son, in a failed bomb attack she was about to carry out. Macunaíma becomes deeply depressed without her muse.

Ci (Dina Sfat) and the baby (Grande Otelo)

The Guerrilla woman always had a magic jewel with her, and somehow, after her explosion, the jewel ended up in the hands of a rich entrepreneur Wenceslau Pietro Pietra (Jardel Filho), so Macunaíma sets aim in recovering the jewel at all coasts.

Described as an antihero, Macunaíma is a very unlikable character, an unpleasant person, different than most antiheroes we are used to, like Han Solo, Omar Little or lots of Clint Eastwood characters.

I think Macunaíma’s personality is on purpose, but I was a choice that didn’t help me enjoy the movie. I didn’t feel anything towards his character, I didn’t care if he would succeed in his task or not, because he was unpleasant as a whole.

Most of the other characters are just there, and I couldn’t care less about them either. The only character I liked was Ci, she was a strong character, fighting the repression with a lot of skills and courage.

Maanape (Rodolfo Arena), Macunaíma (Paulo José) and Jiguê (Milton Gonçalves)

The comedy is also lacking, I don’t remember laughing and can’t remember any funny moment at all. I don’t think this lack of comedy is not worst because the movie is primarily Fantasy, not a comedy.

The cast is great, everyone was probably among the greatest names of that time and every actor, even with their mediocre characters, they don’t disappoint. As an example of the caliber of the cast, Milton Gonçalves is one of the most respected actors in Brazilian history to this day.

Another thing I liked about Macunaíma, is the use of vivid and tropical-like colors, not only during the jungle phase but also in the urban area. That is something very characteristic of the Tropicália movement.

To be honest, I didn’t like much the movie as a whole at first, but the more I read about the context and the symbolism, the more I liked.

Human Feijoada

One of the interpretations I liked is from Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, who said that Macunaíma is a representation of the common Brazilian individual who was devoured by the system. I would love to explore more about this interpretation and talk about it here, but I couldn’t find her full book yet. Maybe I come back to it in the future.

After first impressions and interpretations, I can say that, like with Suspiria (1977), I was kind of disappointed with the movie, because of the high expectations, but I think it’s an important movie especially for today, when the Brazilian film industry is being attacked by the far-right, radical president who is trying to bring back the censorship.

My final decision is 6 Moons, but with a high probability of a re-watch after reading the book by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, and maybe a re-review.

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