Helena Solberg’s name has been featured in histories of Brazilian cinema primarily as an exception to the rule: she was the only female director associated with Cinema Novo – the filmmaking movement that politicised the formal radicalism of the global New Waves. Featuring directors like Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Walter Lima Jr., Leon Hirszman, Carlos Diegues, among others, Cinema Novo was largely a boys’ club in its origin, and this demographic left marks in the treatment of female characters in many of the films associated with the movement. 

But such a historiographic narrative of exceptions ends up isolating Solberg’s work, instead of framing her two early films – A Entrevista (The Interview, 1966) and Meio-Dia (Noon, 1970) – as integral and potentially transformative parts in a reassessment of a key period in Brazilian art, and of global cinema. A fellow classmate of some of those yet-to-become directors at Pontíficia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro – which she joined in 1958 – and a peer in the weekly student newspaper O Metropolitano, Solberg started envisioning her films in a particular social context that can easily blur away in hindsight. As she told me in a 2021 interview: 

The emergence of Cinema Novo was a source of inspiration, cinephilia and the cine-clubs…also played an important role at that moment. The Nouvelle Vague, the Italian Neorealism, and the ISEB (Instituto Superior de Estudos Brasileiros) with its lectures by professors we admired, also brought an intellectual effervescence and contributed to that moment.1

The retrieval of this context reframes Solberg’s short films as essential contributions to a public debate that was happening in Brazil at the time not only in cinema, but also in journalism, university campuses, and the other arts. These debates meant to scrutinize the structures of Brazilian society around the violent interruption of the progressive social consciousness that accompanied the presidencies of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) and João Goulart (1961-1964) by the military coup that would install a two-decade-long dictatorship in the country. 

Preceded by the work of pioneering figures such as Carmen Santos, Lia Torá, Gilda de Abreu, Cleo de Verberena, and Carla Civelli – other Brazilian women who directed films between the 1930s and 1950s – The Interview marks the encounter of the inquisitive and critical gaze of modern cinema with what was then an underexplored social subject: young women of the upper-middle-class. Conceived from seventy interviews made by the director with women of ages between 19 and 27 recorded when Solberg was expecting her second child, this short 16mm film is an extremely valuable document of the mentality of this social group in a pivotal historical moment for the country. This document, however, cannot be separated from the director’s peculiar artistic approach, which plays an active role in revealing the latent subtext between the words of the characters. 

First envisioned as a collection of interviews with synchronic sound, the film was radically transformed by the characters’ near-unanimous refusal to appear on screen. Instead of giving up on the idea altogether, Solberg chose to record only sound – using the legendary Nagra audio recorder brought to Brazil by the Swedish filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff to teach a filmmaking workshop in Rio de Janeiro between November 1962 and March 1963 – and treat the image track independently from the interviews, building the visuals primarily around the daily life of a single young woman (Glória Solberg, the director’s sister-in-law) who plays a bride being prepared for her wedding. This seemingly simple choice, which echoes and distorts the cinema of Marguerite Duras, becomes the source of the film’s formal and political power.

Parallel, the image and audio tracks suggest a dialectics without synthesis. Instead of commenting on the other, they enact the seeming disconnection between the private and the public, the inside and the outside, the personal and the political that is present in the women’s narrative of their lives, allowing for multiple interpolations that invite the spectator to participate. Accounts about a conservative education in the soundtrack get juxtaposed in the editing (by filmmaker Rogério Sganzerla) with images of the young woman sitting in front of the mirror, picking from a large collection of cosmetics. Thoughts about intimacy and sex accompany shots of the same woman getting tanned at the beach – perhaps an editing operation motivated by her exposed skin… but perhaps, and just as likely, not at all. 

This peculiar approach generates a structural openness that adds a different meaning to the film’s title: in Portuguese, “entrevista” means both “interview” and something that is seen through a breach – a view that would be totally obscure if seen from a different position, but that allows itself to be “entrevista” from that specific vantage point. Made two years into the military coup, The Interview looks at these young women – women who had studied in the same school as the director, and who belonged to her own social class – from the vantage point of a country under a military coup that found ballast in the conservatism that had conditioned the lives of these characters (at some point, the cartoonish voice of a witch interrupts the interviews to cast a prophecy at photographs of young girls who look at the camera), but that had also been actively prolonged by them.

The Interview ends with sound and image falling into sync, reveling in the interdependency between fiction and documentary, to then segue into a seemingly disconnected epilogue on the participation of young middle-class women in conservative marches which helped create the conditions for the 1964 military coup. “In my interviews for the documentary, I made a point of asking women about their political beliefs, and most of them replied that they didn’t like or understand politics,” Solberg told Julianne Burton in 1983. “I was shocked and disgusted by the fact that women would capitalize on their image as pure and disinterested souls defending ‘eternal values’ when in fact what they were defending were the economic interests of their husbands”.2 This epilogue is a striking example of the intersectionality of gender and class in the social fabric, which gets potentialised by the very indeterminacy of the filmic register, implicating the viewer through its instability. 

By the time the director made Noon, only four years later, the social and political context was far more tragic: in 1968, the military junta decreed the Institutional Act Number Five (AI-5), which suspended the constitution, made torture a governmental practice, and instituted censorship of the press and the arts, sending many into exile. Seemingly fictional, the short film takes cue from Jean Vigo’s Zéro de Conduite (Zero for Conduct, 1933) to promote a school rebellion in the imagination of a young boy who starts the film choking himself with a plastic bag. 

While The Interview took an analytical distance – but not a dispassionate one – to determine causes and consequences of a political catastrophe, in Noon the present had deteriorated so much that rebellion had become the only option. But it also only seems achievable in imagination, in a frozen pantomime of direct gazes and raised fists. The apotheosis to the sound of Caetano Veloso’s “É Proibido Proibir” (Prohibiting is prohibited) that culminates with the assassination of the teacher and the destruction of the school (in the soundtrack) is followed by the dire realization that, despite the broken windows, the building is still there, and there is nowhere else to go. 

When Noon was first screened in Brazil later that year, Helena Solberg had already moved to the United States, where she would continue to explore the intersection between politics and gender in documentaries such as The Double Day (1975) and From the Ashes: Nicaragua Today (1982), before finally having her work acknowledged in Brazil with the award-winning Carmen Miranda: Bananas is my Business (1994), which marked her return to her home country, where she has been living and working ever since.  

Invested in social characters and subject matters that were of marginal interest to both Cinema Novo and other contemporaneous movements of political art of its time, The Interview and Noon address the present as loud and unclear provocations from a moment where political and formal radicalism were impossible to separate – an organic codependence through which one can see the past, but also envision other futures. “You forgot about me, huh?” says the disembodied cartoon witch in The Interview. “Here I am, all hidden. I will let the other fairies say their prophecies… and afterwards I will say mine.”

A Entrevista/The Interview (1966 Brazil 19 min) 

Dir: Helena Solberg Phot: Mário Carneiro Ed: Rogério Sganzerla

Meio-Dia/Noon (1969 Brazil 10 min)

Prod, Dir, Scr, Ed: Helena Solberg Phot: J. Marreco


  1. Fabio Andrade, “Helena Solberg on A Entrevista (1966) and Meio-Dia (1970),” Cinelimite (December 2021) https://www.cinelimite.com/interviews/helena-solberg-on-a-entrevista-1966-and-meio-dia-1970.
  2. Julianne Burton, Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), p. 83.

About The Author

Fabio Andrade is a film scholar, artist, and former editor-in-chief of Cinética. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Martin Scorsese Department of Cinema Studies at New York University, and has worked as an adjunct professor at NYU, Columbia University, Hunter College, and Pratt Institute.

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