Joaquim Pedro de Andradeb. 25 May 1932, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
d. 10 September 1988, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“I can only make films in Brazil and about Brazil. Only Brazil interests me.”

– Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (1)

Though likely a bit of a purposeful overstatement, such a provocative declaration makes quite clear both the nature and commitment of Brazilian filmmaker Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s cinematic project. True to his words, each of de Andrade’s films was made within the borders of his nation and tackles a distinctly Brazilian subject, from the national obsession with soccer, to Carnival, to political repression, to the modernist motif of creative cannibalism. All five of his feature-length fictions are based, at least partially, on an eclectic mix of Brazilian texts, including poems, manifestos, novels and short stories, even official court transcripts. He was also a leading figure of the Cinema Novo movement, scoring the group’s first truly popular success with Macunaíma (1969), the film for which he is best known. De Andrade and his Cinema Novo cohorts called for the development of a filmic style appropriate to the realities of modern Brazilian life, and he attempted to realize their ideas through filmmaking praxis.

Yet, from an æsthetic and formal standpoint, de Andrade’s filmography seems so defiantly eclectic that identifying any consistent and unifying style approaches the impossible. From an uninitiated glance, it’s difficult to imagine that the director of the vibrantly colourful and audaciously satirical Macunaíma could also be responsible for the sober social realism of Brasília, Contradições de uma Cidade (Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City,1968) or the sinister lyrical drama of O Padre e a Moça (The Priest and the Girl,1965). De Andrade himself best explains his penchant for stylistic diversity:

I make films about the problem of living in Brazil, and my understanding of this problem at different times generates very different kinds of films. (2)

Thus, the various works that comprise de Andrade’s quarter-century filmmaking career can be seen as part of an ongoing dialectical reaction to the circumstances of modern Brazil, adopting forms and styles best-suited for the specific moment of their making.

De Andrade’s bold heterogeneity reveals itself even more clearly within the individual texts, indicating his larger syncretic approach. A single film often incorporates elements of popular, indigenous, Afro-Brazilian, European and American cultures. Such fusion of varying, even international, cultures should not be misrecognized as a turn away from Brazilian concerns. Rather, Brazil’s is a society built upon creative misçegenation and multiculturalism, with a long history of the mixing together of discursive elements in everything from race to music. De Andrade’s artistic practice seems specifically heir to that described by modernist poet Oswald de Andrade (no relation), whose “Manifesto Antropófago” (“Cannibalist Manifesto”)celebrates Brazil’s history of ‘cannibalizing’ other cultures to appropriate their attributes. (3)

The foremost quality unifying de Andrade’s films, whether he’s working in the realm of direct-cinema documentary, social-realist entertainment, historical drama or satirical comedy, is his critical perspective on Brazilian social, cultural and economic life. He is undeniably a distinctly national artist, for, even as he celebrates the beauty and diversity of Brazil, he is always critically examining the ideologies and contradictions that dominate it.

Joaquim Pedro de Andrade was born in the then-capital city of Rio de Janeiro on 25 May 1932, son of Rodrigo Mello Franco de Andrade, a respected writer and intellectual, and founder of the city’s Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (Institute for National Artistic and Historical Heritage). A reverence for Brazilian culture was instilled in de Andrade from a young age, both through his father’s arts patronage, and by the impressive cast of modernist artists his parents called friends: his godfather, the poet Manuel Bandeira (about whom he would later make a film), architects Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa, author Pedro Nava, and national poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. His interest in the cinema seemingly developed while studying physics at the Faculdade Nacional de Filosofia under professor Plínio Sussekind Rocha, founder of the ‘Chaplin Club’ cine-club, film critic for O Fan, and long-time champion of the Brazilian avant-garde masterpiece, Limite (Mario Peixoto, 1931). (4) During this time, de Andrade was a regular member of the ciné-club, Centro de Estudos Cinematográficos, where he met other student cinéphiles and future Cinema Novo directors such as Paulo César Saraceni, Leon Hirszman, Marcos Farias and Miguel Borges. Alongside his fellow students, de Andrade began writing film criticism for the college paper and experimenting with 16mm production, completing the 3-minute short film, O Mendigo e a Pintura (The Beggar and the Painting), in 1953. (5)

By 1957, de Andrade had dropped out of university with the intention of pursuing a film career, but first consented to the wishes of his father and spent a year in Congonhas do Campo, a small mining town in the South-Eastern province of Minas Gerais. Here, he assisted in the restoration of Os Passos da Paixão, a baroque cathedral by 18th-century sculptor and architect Antonio Francisco Lisboa, known as Aleijadinho. The region clearly made a lasting impression upon the young de Andrade, for he would return here several times throughout his career to shoot films, including a documentary on Aleijadinho.

His first professional film work came as assistant director for the Vera Cruz (Brazil’s short-lived, Hollywood-modelled studio) production, Rebelião em Vila Rica (Rebellion in Vila Rica, Geraldo and Renato Santos Pereira, 1957). In 1959, after a brief stint as a journalist for a Rio paper, highlighted by an interview with Roberto Rossellini during his visit to Brazil, de Andrade received funding from the Instituto Nacional do Livro (National Book Institute) to direct a short documentary about two of Brazil’s preeminent writers, though it was split into two separate works for exhibition. (6)

The Master of Apipucos

The first, the 9-minute O Mestre de Apipucos (The Master of Apipucos, 1959), documents the quotidian activities of renowned sociologist Gilberto Freyre at his lavish 18th-century plantation home in the North-Eastern town of Apipucos. De Andrade’s camera follows at a leisurely pace as Freyre navigates a typical day, wandering his estate, working in his study, enjoying a freshly prepared fish dinner. Though shot in a straightforward manner, the film demonstrates an innovative use of editing in the linking of physically separate spaces through Freyre’s glances: as he looks from his garden towards his home, the shot cuts softly to the exterior of his office. The soundtrack is a voice-over by Freyre himself, who speaks of the 20,000 books that fill his home, and the one that he’d like to write on student life in Brazil. Even in this early work, de Andrade’s interest in emphasizing the qualities that characterize Brazilian life is already very pronounced. The film bears resemblances to a travel brochure as it lingers on the lush tropical gardens, pristine beaches, inviting hammocks, and beverages of Brazil cherry, passion fruit and mint that Freyre prepares for guests. Though it’s unclear if it was de Andrade’s intention, O Mestre de Apipucos can also be read as a critical portrait of Freyre, and by extension the white Brazilian bourgeoisie. While Freyre’s seminal 1933 book, Casa grande e senzala (The Masters and the Slaves), examines the history of racial democracy in Brazil, emphasizing the contributions of slaves on national culture, Freyre’s life as depicted by de Andrade is surprisingly anachronistic and isolated from those about whom he writes. The only black figure in this film is the servant who prepares Freyre’s dinner.

The accompanying O Poeta do Castelo (The Poet of the Castle,1959), a 10-minute portrait of modernist poet and de Andrade’s godfather, Manuel Bandeira, is clear in its affection for it subject, though like many New-Waveish films of the time, depicts the modern urban landscape as an ominous and alienating force. In stark contrast to the previous short, de Andrade shoots Bandeira’s routine with visual flair, through the geometric grids of gates and fences as the aging man performs the banal chore of buying a carton of milk. Menacing, oblique-angle shots of imposing façades show the high-rises looming over the frail poet as he returns to his tiny apartment to work. The æsthetic demonstrates a sensibility similar to that shown by Michelangelo Antonioni in the coda to L’Eclisse (1962). Despite Bandeira’s stature as the greatest of Brazilian Modernist poets, here he seems a man neglected by society. Alone in his sparely furnished room, he spends the day in pyjamas, a typewriter across his lap as he sits in bed. By depicting Bandeira as isolated and frail, the film seems to implicate contemporary Brazilian society, focused solely on modernization and imported popular culture, for ignoring its rich cultural history. Though it would not fully take shape until nearly a decade later, this film’s critical perspective, as well as its connection to the Brazilian modernist movement, hints at de Andrade’s developing emphasis on creative work that synthesized the old and the new, the foreign and the local, to create something unique and distinctive.

In 1961, de Andrade shot the self-financed short, Couro de Gato (Cat Skin), in and around the Morro do Cantagalo favela of Rio. A sort of social-realist entertainment (7), the film combines elements of documentary and fiction in a look at the extreme economic and social divisions of Brazilian society and their relationship to the country’s musical traditions. Set against the backdrop of Rio’s carnival, the film begins with actual footage of samba schools performing in the annual festival. A brief montage shows young favelados shining shoes, hawking newspapers and selling roasted peanuts, filling any niche possible to eke out an existence. As carnival approaches, the narration explains, tambourines become a highly sought-after commodity, tambourines made from cat skins. After this general introductory sequence, the film focuses on several specific young protagonists as they attempt to capture one of Rio’s many felines. Shot without sound like his previous shorts, here the aural accompaniment is a gentle score by bossa nova and MBP (Música Popular Brasileira) composer Carlos Lyra. De Andrade cross-cuts between four separate attempts by the favelados at capturing cats: from an upscale outdoor restaurant, another from a public park, a third from inside a wealthy woman’s estate, and the last, oddly, within the favela. By including this last incident, de Andrade illustrates how the extreme class disparity in Brazil has forced the poor as far as preying upon one another in order to survive. Furthermore, the cats themselves are mirrors of the favelados who try to capture them. All but one seem to be stray; those hanging about the restaurant hope to grab a scrap of food, while those in the park rely on an old woman’s benevolence for feeding. Both groups live on the fringes of society, must resort to desperate survival measures, and are seen as a nuisance by the urban bourgeois. When all of the would-be cat thieves are discovered mid-attempt and forced to flee, their pursuers chase them only as far as the steps leading up to the favela. Here, their class division is literalized; even the policeman won’t continue, as the favelas are truly another world, out of his jurisdiction. This sort of social critique would pervade all of de Andrade’s future films, though he would rarely be able to do so as explicitly as he does here.

Following the shooting of Couro de Gato, de Andrade was awarded a scholarship to study at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris. In addition to seven months of instruction at IDHEC, he spent five at the Théatre National Populaire learning to direct actors, as well as periods studying cinema at the Sorbonne and the Cinémathèque Française. (8) He also used this time and his newly acquired skills to edit Couro de Gato. After its prize-winning premiere at Italy’s Sestri Levanti film festival, the film was screened back home in Brazil, establishing de Andrade as a key filmmaker in the emerging Cinema Novo group. While still in Europe, he was awarded another grant, this time to study under documentarian Thorold Dickinson at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London. (9) Following that, he had the unique opportunity to study the techniques of ‘direct cinema’ under Albert and David Maysles in New York. Returning to Brazil in 1962, de Andrade was married to Sarah de Castro Barbosa on 2 July. (10)

Inspired by de Andrade’s Couro de Gato, the Centro Popular de Cultura (Centre for Popular Culture) of the União Nacional dos Estudantes (National Students’ Union) decided to produce an omnibus film about the social and economic realities of favela life. Entitled Cinco Vezes Favela (Favela Five Times,1962), it included de Andrade’s film as well as new shorts by Carlos Diegues, Leon Hirszman, Marcos Farias and Miguel Borges. Ignoring the problematic logic behind having five middle-class student intellectuals depict favela life instead of the favelados themselves, the film itself is largely excellent, in particular de Andrade’s contribution, and it stands as an important Cinema Novo work.

Garrincha – Joy of the PeopleIn 1963, de Andrade was invited by producer Luiz Carlos Barreto to direct the short feature, Garrincha – Alegria do povo (Garrincha – Joy of the People). Both a biographical documentary about eccentric Brazilian soccer star Manuel Francisco dos Santos, known as Garrincha (“little bird”), and an essay-film on the national obsession with soccer, de Andrade used the production as an opportunity to employ many of the direct cinema techniques he’d learned abroad. The film is a stylistic tour-de-force, certainly one of the most compelling films ever made about soccer, and totally unlike anything de Andrade had done before. As capturing the unique thrill of a live sporting event has proved largely illusory for the cinema, de Andrade opts instead for still black-and-white images of Garrincha, frozen in play, accompanied by the thunderous cheer of the crowd. As the camera slowly zooms out from each image, a compelling solo drumbeat builds the tension, creating lyrical sequences that miraculously convey the palpable excitement of an actual soccer match.

The film is structured in two parts, the first a portrait of Garrincha’s celebrity. Unable to walk the city streets without being mobbed by fans, shown through a hidden camera and telephoto lens, Garrincha is only truly at ease when he returns to his small hometown of Pau Grande. There he’s able to enjoy informal pickup games with his old friends, but he is still not free from exploitation. Political candidates come to take advantage of his celebrity, and his family home becomes a tourist attraction during World Cups. De Andrade draws subtle connections between Garrincha’s exploitation as a national symbol and the economic exploitation of his three best friends, who must work long hours for low wages at the local textile mill.

The latter part of the film abandons Garrincha as subject and opts for an even more allegorical mode to illustrate the consuming passion of Brazilians for soccer. “Football exerts a power over people’s emotions comparable to that of war; it can lead a whole country to sorrow or joy”, the film states. In both war and soccer, victory is an illusory object, a temporary state waiting to be undone by the next loss. For de Andrade, soccer, not religion, is the opiate of the Brazilian masses, distracting their attention from the pressing social, economic and political issues which plague the country. The film’s conclusion, in which a lively samba with celebratory nationalistic lyrics accompanies footage of fans returning to the stadium yet again, suggest that the Brazilian people are unlikely to change.

On the eve of the military coup of 1 April 1964, de Andrade narrowly escaped death when the headquarters of the União Nacional dos Estudantes (National Students’ Union) was hailed with machine gun fire, a sign of the increasingly dangerous climate that would develop for artists and intellectuals like de Andrade under the new military regime. In November of the 1965, de Andrade, Glauber Rocha and six others were arrested and briefly gaoled after organizing a protest against the military dictatorship. (11)

The previous year de Andrade had written his first feature-length fiction script, based on the poem “O padre, a moça” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and it had been awarded by the Comissão de Auxílio à Indústria Cinematográfica (CAIC), guaranteeing funds for production.

O Padre e a Moça (The Priest and the Girl), shot throughout 1965, found de Andrade returning to a small village in the province of Minas Gerais. This South-Eastern setting put de Andrade’s film in stark contrast with other Cinema Novo films of this early period, which were largely set in the arid sertãos of the North-East. Like his previous two films, O Padre e a Moça was shot by Mário Carneiro, though this time his severe black-and-white photography is used to convey the desolation of the film’s rural village.

The story concerns a young priest who arrives to take the place of his dying predecessor, and discovers the incestuous relationship between Honorato, the exploitative diamond dealer who controls the town, and his adopted daughter, Mariana, the seemingly sole adolescent resident. After fleeing with her in the night, he finds himself struggling between his obligations to the faith and his attraction to the girl. Despite the titular priest character, de Andrade seems largely disinterested in exploring issues of religion. Here the papal stands for the political. The devotion of the priest, and by extension the townspeople, to the church’s repressive and antiquated moral code make them blind to their own realities. They ignore the abuse of this young girl, and are seemingly oblivious to their own exploitation at the hands of Honorato, who sells them necessities on credit and makes them pay off their debts by mining the diamonds that make him rich. Having migrated here during a long past mining boom, they still adhere to impossible dreams of wealth totally disconnected from their harsh realities. (12) Such apathetic faith, or simply resignation, de Andrade’s allegory implies, is what allowed the ascension of Brazil’s contemporary military dictatorship. The priest’s flight with the girl and his struggle to leave behind his faith can be read as a call for an awakening from the false consciousness that grips contemporary society, though the film’s decidedly downbeat ending suggests the impossibility of individual resistance in the face of such an oppressive environment.

Brasília, Contradictions of a New CityIn 1967, de Andrade was invited by the Italian company Olivetti to produce a documentary on the new Brazilian capital city of Brasília. Constructed during the latter half of the 1950s and founded in 1960, the city was part of an effort to populate Brazil’s vast interior region and was to be the embodiment of democratic urban planning, free from the class divisions and inequalities that characterize so many metropolises. Unsurprisingly, Brasília, Contradições de uma Cidade Nova (Brasília, Contradictions of a New City, 1968) revealed Brasília to be utopic only for the wealthy, replicating the same social problems present in every Brazilian city. While vibrantly coloured cinematography emphasizes the city’s æsthetic modernism and Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s visionary architecture, narration explains that the city’s vast apartment complexes were intended to integrate the classes, preventing the development of rich and poor neighbourhoods. De Andrade quickly reveals that in reality, the majority of the city’s workers, including those who built it, live in slums outside Brasília’s urban limits. Commuting via bus three hours in each direction, the workers are shuffled from one construction firm to another, all owned by the same corporations, in order to deny them wages and benefits. As the film ends, de Andrade juxtaposes footage of workers constructing a new building while on the soundtrack Maria Bethânia sings of transforming the world, ironically suggesting the impossibility of change for the lower classes.

That same year de Andrade also directed a short documentary for German television, Improvisiert und Zielbewust (Cinema Novo, 1967), about the national film movement of which he was a part. Observing directors Glauber Rocha, Carlos Diegues, Domingos Oliveira, Arnaldo Jabor and Leon Hirszman at work on their new projects, the film reveals the Cinema Novo process of transforming “a camera in your hand and an idea in your head” (13) to a film in the theatre. Though it is de Andrade’s most pedestrian film in terms of form and content, it is a valuable moving image counterpart to Cinema Novo’s many written manifestoes outlining their mission, as the narration says, of “discovering Brazilian reality”.

1968 brought the coup-within-the-coup and, on 13 December, the instatement of the Fifth Institutional Act, which suspended the constitution, gave the President dictatorial powers and dissolved Congress and the state legislature. With it came increased censorship, leading to the exile of many outspoken artists, including Glauber Rocha and musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. On 20 March 1969, de Andrade was imprisoned by the military dictatorship, the same day that French filmmaker Claude Lelouch had arrived in Brazil for the II Festival Internacional do Filme. He was only released when Lelouch refused to allow the screening of his film in de Andrade’s absence. (14)

Surprisingly, this increasingly repressive environment actually led to the production of some of the most vibrant, creative and politically charged films of the Cinema Novo movement.

Ushering in this third phase was Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s film version of Macunaíma, a radical reworking of Mario de Andrade’s (no relation) seminal modernist novel, itself an innovative precursor of ‘magical realist’ literature. The picaresque plot of the film resists summarization, as a simple recounting of the narrative trajectory omits the innumerably subtle references to indigenous folktales, Afro-Brazilian religion and both Brazilian and international popular culture which make the film such a rich critical text.

Employing a highly comedic and satirical tone, the film follows the adventures of the titular character as he travels from his jungle home to the city and back again. Along the way he undergoes racial and gender transformations, fathers a child with a female urban guerrilla, battles a wealthy industrialist and is ultimately devoured by a cannibalistic water nymph. The film is literally bursting at the seams with intertextual references, and its all-inclusive nature echoes the ethos behind the modernist movement that produced its source novel.

As outlined in Oswald de Andrade’s (also no relation) key text, “Manifesto Antropófago” (“Cannibal Manifesto”), the modernists called for the democratization of Brazilian art and culture through a process of creative cannibalization, syncretically sampling from seemingly disparate forms and cultures (low and high, indigenous and foreign) to create something new and distinctly Brazilian. The modernists were an important influence upon Joaquim Pedro de Andrade and with his film version of Macunaíma (1969) had produced the first film that embodied their creative philosophy. Not content with the major accomplishment of realizing a singularly Brazilian cinematic style, de Andrade uses it to serve up a scathing allegorical critique of Brazilian sexual dynamics, racial discrimination, neo-colonialism and the military dictatorship. Despite the critical highly critical nature of the film’s content, the dictatorship only demanded cuts to a few sequences involving nudity. (15)

Visually, the film is a feast of vibrant colour, reflecting its generous use throughout Brazilian life, from carnival costumes to the national flag. Upon its release, it was embraced both critically and commercially, finally realizing the long-time Cinema Novo goal of finding a popular audience. The film was distributed in numerous countries, including the U.S., where it was dubiously renamed Jungle Freaks, and it is the work for which Joaquim Pedro de Andrade is best known. In 1998, it came in at number 16 on a list of the best Brazilian films, published in Rio’s weekly magazine Manchete (16), quite a feat for a film that, though absolutely unique, shares a kindred spirit with other audaciously satirical but decidedly less popular films as Jean-Luc Godard’s Les Carabiniers (1963)and Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974).

De Andrade began the 1970s with a 9-minute documentary on advertising commissioned by the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizagem Comercial (SENAC). Predictably, A Linguagem da Persuasão (The Language of Persuasion)is critical in tone, a mini-essay film on the manipulative power that commercial media wields over contemporary consumers. Employing the same lively colour cinematography he had introduced in Macunaíma, the film is comprised of tracking shots and slow pans through supermarket aisles, a dizzying repetition of brightly coloured packaging, a montage of billboard close-ups and ornately decorated window displays. He visits trade schools in which specialists are trained in this new ‘persuasive and efficient language’ of advertising, pointing to the obviousness with which consumers are influenced and manœuvred towards purchases. In the film’s highly suggestive final shot, the camera looks down from one of Rio’s hilltop favelas, the view below dominated by an enormous Coke billboard covering an entire side of a half-completed high-rise. Here, de Andrade doubly conveys the extreme to which advertising dominates modern life: it is literally incorporated into the physical construction of urban space and even directed at those who have no money to spend.

During the most repressive years of the military régime (1971-72), many Cinema Novo filmmakers, such as Glauber Rocha and Ruy Guerra, had gone into exile abroad in order to continue making films. To continue working at home, de Andrade responded to the governmental push for the production of nationalistic films inspired by classic Brazilian literature or historical events. This push for cultural emphasis on the distant past was meant to deflect attention and criticism from the contemporary political climate. (17)

The Conspirators

When he was invited in 1972 by the Italian public television station RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) to direct one of six films for a series on Latin America as seen by its filmmakers, de Andrade took the opportunity to produce Os Inconfidentes (The Conspirators), a dramatic restaging of the Inconfidência Mineira, the unsuccessful first attempt at independence from Portugal in 1789. De Andrade based his film on a variety of historical materials, including Cecília Meireles’ poem, O Ramanceiro da Inconfidência, as well as poems composed by the conspirators themselves, with the dialogue taken directly from the court records of the conspirators’ trial. (18) Instead of a celebratory ode to Tiradentes (José Wilker) and the heroes of the Inconfidência, de Andrade’s film depicts the conspirators’ downfall as the result of their own arrogance, greed and betrayal. As the group of élite Brazilian intellectuals debates the most effective method for enacting their plans, they are discovered and imprisoned by the Portuguese crown. Under the pressures of interrogation, the conspirators quickly turn on Tiradentes, who is eventually coerced into confessing primary responsibility for the conspiracy.

Using contemporary music, the film’s historical setting is linked to Brazil’s present-day situation of repression, imprisonment and torture. The film’s allegorical critique is twofold. Most obviously, de Andrade’s portrayal of the brutal crushing of the potential revolt by the Portuguese is meant to rhyme with the authoritarian suppression of Leftist groups in the present day. Through its characterization of the conspirators, the film also boldly challenges the actions of bourgeois intellectuals in the face of repression. They are too slow to take action, mired in debates and jockeying for power, often unable to see beyond their own arrogance and ultimately they prove unable to effect positive change. Except for Tiradentes, they are all shown to be slaveholders with élitist and dismissive attitudes towards the Brazilian ‘people’ they intend to liberate. They envision a revolution being conceived and carried out from the top down, rather than via the proletariat. Tiradentes, with his working-class origins, is the film’s only noble character. He argues for the enlistment of the masses in their would-be revolution, and he is the only one who does not implicate his fellow conspirators during imprisonment. As de Andrade himself can be considered part of the contemporary intellectual class he is confronting with the film, it can also be seen as a brave self-critique. In the film’s finale, Tiradentes is executed atop a cliff and the camera pans down to reveal a contemporary audience below, watching a re-enactment of the event as part of the annual April 21national celebration of the Inconfidência Mineira, literalizing the connection between the film’s historical setting and the present day.

In another attempt to work within a popular and acceptable model under the military régime, de Andrade next made Guerra Conjugal (Conjugal Warfare, 1975) his own satirical take on the pornochanchada, the popular Brazilian sex comedies of the 1970s. Financed by the state film institution Embrafilme, the script culled from 16 different works by short story author Dalton Trevisan to create three intercut storylines: the mutual animosity of an elderly couple simmering to a boil, a lascivious lawyer’s increasingly risky extramarital affairs and a young man’s excursion through the diversity of female pleasures. Full of garish colour and tacky décor, the film’s æsthetic is both a product of its era and a reflection of its largely despicable characters. Though set in the fictional city of Curitiba, the film’s Buñuelian emphasis on the grotesque is clearly intended as commentary on the vapid consumerism and pleasure-seeking that characterize life in the Brazilian metropolis of the 1970s.

Though issues of gender and masculinity were touched upon in Macunaíma, this is de Andrade’s first film to take a decidedly feminist stance. Here the female characters are repeatedly objectified, manipulated and degraded. Ungrateful for the lifetime she has devoted to his care, João taunts and berates his ageing wife until he provokes her violent revenge. Instead of helping the desperate young woman who’s come to his office, sleazy lawyer Osíris (Lima Durante) subjects her to an aggressive seduction. In the film’s most outlandish scene, the sadistic Nelsinho (Carlos Gregório) forces his teenage girlfriend to change a light bulb in the nude with her half-blind grandmother just inches away. By depicting such cruelties, though perhaps adding to the film’s enjoyment for the misogynistic and uncritical viewer, de Andrade is harshly criticizing the oppressive machismo that pervades Brazilian culture, reducing women to sexual objects and limiting their social mobility. The film’s sophistication did not go unnoticed upon its release: it received a Prêmio Qualidade (Quality Prize) from Embrafilme, and was featured in the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.

A sort of companion piece to Guerra Conjugal, de Andrade’s 18-minute Vereda Tropical (Tropical Way) was made as a contribution to the episodic Contos Erótics (Erotic Tales, 1977). Also employing a blend of comedy and sexuality, it’s more extreme in its parody, but less ruthless in its social critique. The film focuses on the peculiar sexual predilection of a male grad student: he prefers sex with watermelons. In the extended opening sequence, he brings home a fresh melon and subjects it to his lengthy ‘seduction’ process, tenderly bathing it, applying baby powder, and finally gently cutting out a penetrable orifice. Unlike Guerra Conjugal’s sadistic sense of humour, Vereda Tropical is comically light-hearted and offers amusing alternatives to the archetypes that dominate popular depictions of sexuality. Instead of rugged masculinity, the protagonist is a bit effeminate and intellectual; he even suffers from premature ejaculation, not something you’d see in a typical pornochanchada. When he reveals his eccentric behaviour to a female friend, instead of laughter or derision, she expresses her eagerness to partake alongside him, coupling with an appropriately male fruit or vegetable. With this unconventional coupling, de Andrade suggests that there can be equality between men and women in sexual relationships. When the government censorship bureau demanded the removal of de Andrade’s segment from Contos Eróticos, the other contributing directors refused to allow the film to be shown in truncated form. De Andrade was invited to show his segment at the New York Film Society’s New Directors/New Films series in 1979, but, in a show of solidarity with his colleagues, he sent them the full 100-minute print of Contos Eróticos instead. (19) Vereda Tropical went on to receive a great deal of critical acclaim at the Cannes and Venice film festivals, and Contos Eróticos was finally released in Brazil in 1980. (20)

The 1970s also saw several unfinished de Andrade projects. In 1975, he wrote a script based on the 19th-century romantic fiction, As Minas de Prata by José de Alencar, but the project was abandoned. The following year he made a short film about the priesthood, Vocações Sacerdotais (1976), for TV Globo, but disaster struck the project on the eve of its première when several bombs were directed at those who produced the film, and one priest was kidnapped. The film was never broadcast and the negative was either lost or destroyed. (21) In 1978, he successfully completed the short documentary, O Aleijadinho, a study of the work of Antonio Francisco Lisboa, the architect whose cathedral he had assisted in the restoration of more than 20 years earlier. He dedicated the film to his father, who had sent him on the expedition.

The Brazilwood Man

De Andrade’s next and final film would rival Macunaíma in its stylistic and formal complexity, and prove to be the culmination of his lifelong creative project. O Homem do Pau-Brasil (The Brazilwood Man, 1981) was inspired by writings and the life of Oswald de Andrade, the driving force behind the Brazilian modernist movement of the 1920s, whose “Manifesto Antropófago” had been a key influence on Joaquim Pedro. In the film, Joaquim Pedro provides almost no cultural context for the viewer not already fluently versed in the details of Brazilian history and the modernist movement. Even an astute and educated Brazilian viewer is likely to miss many of the references, as characters are simply introduced without being established and clear narrative trajectory is difficult to discern. The film employs an untraditional collage-like approach similar to that of Todd Haynes’ film about Bob Dylan, I’m Not There. (2007). Reality is abstracted to the extreme and the diegetic world of the film becomes a fantastical one characterized by symbolism and allegory.

To portray the complexities of a cultural figure as significant as Oswald de Andrade, Joaquim Pedro opts to have both a male and female actor portray him simultaneously. Rather than recount his life chronologically, the film depicts and intermingles various key moments from his work, his creative life, and the women with whom he was involved. In one of the film’s most frenetic scenes, the dual Oswalds unveil their Manifesto Antropófago at a banquet aboard a cruise ship, releasing live frogs among the tables while shouting his/their famous Indian and Shakespeare referencing pun, “Tupi or not Tupi […] that is the question.”

De Andrade retains his critical perspective, though here he’s at his most playful as he mocks poets, painters, writers, actors, reporters, intellectuals, politicians, aristocrats, bankers, revolutionaries, missionaries, Brazilians, the French and the bourgeoisie, just to name a few. Such irreverence would have made Oswald proud, and serves as fitting tribute from the filmmaker who’s truly his creative heir.

Throughout the 1980s, de Andrade tried unsuccessfully to get several projects off the ground. He was unable to secure the rights for a stage adaptation of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In 1984, he received funds from Embrafilme to write his first completely original screenplay, O Imponderavel Bento Contra a Crioulo Voador, but, when they discovered upon its completion the large budget and extensive special effects it would require, he was denied funding for production. (22) Discouraged, he accepted an invitation to write and direct an adaptation of Gilberto Freyre’s defining work, Casa Grande e Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves). His script indicates it would have been a critical rethinking of Brazil’s cultural history in line with his previous work, but unfortunately the film was never made. (23) Despite his ongoing struggles to bring a film to the production stage, and his deteriorating health due to lung cancer, de Andrade continued working until the last days of his life in September of 1988.

Such unceasing artistic commitment was standard practice for a man who had devoted his entire adult life to Brazilian national culture, critically evaluating it, reworking its creative language and producing some its landmark works. Refusing reductive models that limited artistic practice to certain acceptable spheres of influence, de Andrade progressively developed an approach that brought together elements from every strata of Brazilian culture. Even as an increasingly repressive state must have made it seem as if his nation was turning against him, de Andrade’s creativity and dedication were only invigorated. Perhaps the fact that his work is so distinctly Brazilian, from a continent so often ignored and underappreciated by those to the north, has kept it from gaining more international prominence. Hopefully, the recent restoration of his work, and its increased distribution via international retrospectives and DVD releases, will remedy this situation.


  1. Olaf Möller, “Cannibal Aesthetics: The Zigzagging Career of Brazil’s Joaquim Pedro de Andrade”, Film Comment, Vol. 43, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 2007, pp. 21-2.
  2. “Joaquim Pedro Está Procurando um Herói Nacional”, Diário de São Paulo (24 April 1970), quoted in translation in Randal Johnson, Cinema Novo x 5: Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Film (Austin: University of Texas Press), p. 14.
  3. Oswald De Andrade, “Manifesto Antropófago”, Revista de Antropófagio 1.1 (May 1928).
  4. Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1950”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  5. Enciclopédia do Cinema Brasileiro, Fernão Ramos e Luiz Felipe Miranda (orgs.) (São Paulo: Editora Senacs, 2000), p. 23.
  6. Enciclopédia do Cinema Brasileiro, p. 23-4.
  7. Phrase borrowed from Robert Stam, who used it to describe O Pagador de Promessas (The Given Word, Anselmo Duarte, 1962), the Palme d’Or-winning film often mistakenly identified as a Cinema Novo work.
  8. Filmes do Serro, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1961”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  9. For his final project, he is said to have made a colour documentary about a dancer, though no copy of it can be found.
  10. Filmes do Serro, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1961”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  11. Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1964”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  12. Johnson, p. 14
  13. A famous phrase attributed to Glauber Rocha.
  14. Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1969”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  15. Ibid
  16. Alessandra Dalevi, “Best of the Century”, Brazzil Magazine, October 1998, http://www.brazzil.com/p12oct98.htm.
  17. Randal Johnson and Robert Stam, Brazilian Cinema (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 76.
  18. Johnson, Cinema Novo x 5, p. 34.
  19. Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1977”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid
  22. Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia, 1984”, http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).
  23. Robert Stam, Tropical Multiculturalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 13.


O Mendigo e a Pintura (The Beggar and the Painting, 1953), short film

O Mestre de Apipucos (The Master of Apipucos, 1959), short film

O Poeta do Castelo (The Poet of the Castle, 1959), short film

Couro de Gato (Cat Skin, 1961), short film

Cinco Vezes Favela (Favela Five Times, 1962), omnibus film that includes de Andrade’s Couro de Gato,as well as new shorts by Carlos Diegues, Leon Hirszman, Marcos Farias and Miguel Borges.

Garrincha – Alegria do povo (Garrincha, Joy of the People, 1962), short feature

O Padre e a Moça (The Priest and the Girl, 1965), feature

Improvisiert und Zielbewust (Cinema Novo, 1967), television documentary

Brasília, Contradições de uma Cidade (Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, 1968), documentary

Macunaíma (1969)feature

A Linguagem da Persuasão (The Language of Persuasion, 1970), short doc

Os Inconfidentes (The Conspirators, 1972), tele-feature

Vocações Sacerdotais (1976), short film

Vereda Tropical (Tropical Way), 18-minute segment made as a contribution to the episodic film, Contos Erótics (Erotic Tales, 1977)

O Aleijadinho (1978), short documentary

O Homem do Pau-Brasil (The Brazilwood Man, 1981) feature

Selected Bibliography

Alessandra Dalevi, “Best of the Century”, Brazzil Magazine, October 1998, http://www.brazzil.com/p12oct98.htm.

Oswald De Andrade, “Manifesto Antropófago”, Revista de Antropófagio 1.1 (May 1928).

Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento, “Joaquim Pedro de Andrade Biografia”, Filmes do Serro: Cinema é Vida em Movimento. http://www.filmesdoserro.com.br/jpa_bio.asp (accessed December 2007).

Randal Johnson, Cinema Novo x 5: Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Film (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984).

Randal Johnson and Robert Stam, Brazilian Cinema (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

Olaf Möller, “Cannibal Aesthetics: The Zigzagging Career of Brazil’s Joaquim Pedro de Andrade”, Film Comment, Vol. 43, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 2007.

Fernão Ramos e Luiz Felipe Miranda (orgs.), Enciclopédia do Cinema Brasileiro (São Paulo: Editora Senacs, 2000).

Robert Stam, Tropical Multiculturalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997).

Web Resources

Joaquim Pedro de Andrade – Filmes do Serro
Official Brazilian website including biography, filmography, interviews,
bibliography and information on the digital restoration of de Andrade’s

About The Author

Michael Talbott is a Cinema Studies Ph.D. Candidate, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

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