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

IMDb | Rotten Tomatoes

Hello, there! I’m dos Santos, welcome to Ulven Reviews. Where you’ll find reviews of movies and series from all over the world and from all eras.

Today’s movie is an icon of the Brazilian Cinema Novo, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Macunaíma. A bizarre native family faces food shortages in the jungle and decides to try their luck in an urban area.

Macunaíma

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

The matriarch and one of the brothers, Maanape, are white, while Macunaíma and Jiguê are black. Despite their being natives from the Amazon, which means all of them would probably be indigenous, weren’t for the psychedelic nature of the film.

Macunaíma is a scoundrel, who thinks he is smarter than everyone. So when the food becomes scarce, he hides some bananas from his family, driving his own mother to kick him out of the house, forcing him to live in the jungle.

When 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 (played by Paulo José, the same actor who played the mother).

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

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

The three brothers fight the woman, managing to knock her out. While she is unconscious, Macunaíma rapes her. I know it’s disgusting but bare with me here. When Ci wakes up, she falls in love with her rapist.

Ci and Macunaíma move in together and have a son (played by Grande Otelo). Their life seems good until Ci and the son die in a failed bomb attack she was about to carry out. Macunaíma becomes deeply depressed without his muse.

After the explosion, a magic jewel that belonged to Ci ended up in the hands of a wealthy entrepreneur, Wenceslau Pietro Pietra (played by Jardel Filho). So Macunaíma sets aim in recovering the jewel at all coasts.


Macunaíma, the film, was based on a novel of the same name published in 1928 by the Brazilian writer Mário de Andrade. However, the movie is set in the late sixties and had changes related to this turbulent moment of the country’s history.

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

Tropicália was one of the most prominent cultural movements in Brazil’s history. It also had its foundation in the Anthropophagic Manifesto, devouring international Pop-culture and mixing it with the traditional Brazilian culture to make their style. Summarizing it, a colorful and psychedelic aesthetic and sound with Brazilian roots.

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

Another crucial fact, Brazil was under a dictatorship that began in 1964, after a Coup backed by the USA. I’ll not dig deeper into this regime right now, I have another review in mind dedicated to this.

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. It was also under the AI-5 that the censorship of the media was strengthened.

During this era, there was also torture and murder, not only of the opposition but also innocents, such as babies, journalists, and indigenous peoples. Dictator Ernesto Geisel signed in October 1978 a constitutional amendment to end the repressive Institutional Act, and from 1979 on, the AI-5 was over.

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

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

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.


The story didn’t please me as much by itself. There are some isolated scenes and sequences enjoyable, the metaphorical dimension of the movie is also compelling, but it didn’t please me as a consistent narrative.

I really enjoyed the theme of the movie. A critique of this scoundrel figure personified in Macunaíma, so absorbed by his own greed and crookedness, that his lifestyle and personality becomes his own demise. Unfortunately, all this dimension was only clearer to me, upon reading the paper by Guedes.

Maybe I’m too stupid or was distracted while watching the movie, so I didn’t catch the details this time around. But I think we shouldn’t have to read an Academic Paper to understand a film.

One of the interpretations I liked is from Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, who said that Macunaíma is a representation of the regular 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.

Macunaíma (Grande Otelo) turning white

The comedy is also lacking, I can’t remember any funny moment at all. This lack of comical instances in the film is not worst because the movie is primarily fantasy, not solely a comedy. Still, it should have something comedic to appreciate besides the surrealism from the psychedelia.

Described as an antihero, Macunaíma is an unpleasant person, he cheats everyone he can, even his family. His cheerful demeanor should be the thing to like about him, but that alone didn’t captivate me at all.

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.

The cast is outstanding, everyone was probably among the largest names of that time, and every actor doesn’t disappoint, even with their mediocre characters. As an example of the caliber of the cast, Milton Gonçalves is one of the most respected actors in Brazilian history to this day, still alive and well, working as an actor.

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

Another positive thing about Macunaíma is the use of vivid, tropical-like colors. Does tropical-like makes sense?! To me, it does. These colors are used not only during the jungle phase but also in the urban area, adding a dimension of amusement to the mix.

To finish it in a positive note, I liked some of the special effects. My favorite one is the human Feijoada…

Pause

“What is Feijoada?” you might ask.

Human Feijoada

It’s Brazil’s national dish. According to SimplyRecipes: it’s a Brazilian black bean stew.
But I know for a fact that you can make it with pinto beans and cranberry beans, possibly others as well. In it, there are several types of meat, like pork’s ears and skin, chorizo, sausages, the list goes on. I’m vegan, so I avoid this meat thing.

Feijoada is usually served with white rice, sometimes with braised kale and bizarrely enough, even chunks of orange. But I’m just giving some context, for a proper recipe you can go to Food Wishes.

Resume

…full of body parts in a pool of black water. Considering it’s a movie from the sixties, the body parts and organs are quite well-made.


Macunaíma is more enjoyable after reading a little about it and knowing about the context in which the movie was set. I was slightly disappointed because I had high expectations because of its notoriety as a crucial Cinema Novo icon, so it’s 6 Moons.

That’s it for now. Don’t forget that there was never a Communist threat in Brazil, it only ever existed in the minds of the stupid right-wingers. Bye.

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