Late Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha's fourth feature, also his first in colour and his first with foreign financing, pretty much ended up his early run of forceful, vital cinema; known by two different titles, with the later Brazilian O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro the director's preferred, it goes back to his 1964 breakthrough Black God, White Devil by setting up a quasi-sequel spotlight to one of that film's supporting roles, bounty hunter Antônio das Mortes, played again by Maurício do Valle. By doing so, Mr. Rocha revved up the western elements of that film into another heady mash-up of wildly different cinema styles, equally indebted to Sergio Leone, John Ford and Sergei Eisenstein but also calling on passion plays, folk pageants and medieval pantomime, borrowing as well from his other two films: from Barravento comes the use of local traditions as narrative elements to push the story forward, from Entranced Earth the clash of art and politics, idealism and compromise.

     The intoxicating result makes Antônio das Mortes into a grandiosely berserk summing-up of recurring directorial motifs, where past and (then-)present Brazil meld in an overwhelmingly riotous affirmation of a unique melting-pot identity at once naïf and sophisticated, ancient and post-modern. More focussed but also less traditionally narrative than earlier work, the tale of the bounty hunter brought out of retirement who changes sides when he realises the lack of scruples of his ambitious backwoods employers involves all the hallmarks of the American land-baron western translated into mid-1960s Latin American regime corruption, rising to a fever-pitch finale of hysterical, almost overdosed excess, halfway between blood-thirsty folk myth (and red is a recurring colour in Alfonso Beato's gloriously saturated cinematography) and out-there, transgressive midnight movie. Its ragged hero may be as morally unflinching as those of traditional westerns, but he moves in a much different world, slyly underlining Mr. Rocha's suggestion that a "new", developing country such as Brazil cannot settle for borrowed myths or tales others have made their own.

     The end result is as gloriously overblown as it is fascinating: an expertly choreographed car crash you can't avert your eyes from, a film that takes its director's work to an almost frazzled point of no return.

Cast: Maurício do Valle, Odete Lara, Othon Bastos, Hugo Carvana, Jofre Soares

Director and writer: Glauber Rocha
Cinematography: Alfonso Beato (colour, processing by GTC and Rex Laboratórios)
Art directors and costumes: Paulo Lima, Paulo Gil Soares, Hélio Eichbauer
Editor: Eduardo Escorel
Music: Marlos Nobre, with additional material by Walter Queirós and Sérgio Ricardo
Production: Claude Antoine, Mapa Filmes
Brazil/France, 1969, 99 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, December 10th 2012


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