It was this second feature of his that made Brazilian director Glauber Rocha a phenomenon in the fertile land of the "new world cinemas" of the 1960s. Fiery and voluble, torrential and poetic, revolutionary and radical, Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol is an exploration of Brazilian local narrative traditions as a framing device for a freeform look at the dialectic between oppression and freedom. Though this might seem to make it an activist picture, the end result is nothing of the sort, thanks to the sheer bravado of the filmmaking, invoking at the same time Sergei Eisenstein and the American western, and its anchoring in a well-known local reality.

     It's the tale of a long-suffering poor farmer in the Northern dry lands of Brazil, Manuel (Geraldo del Rey), who revolts against his status as almost slave labour by killing a land baron and fleeing into the sertão, choosing first to embrace radical religion then overt banditry, before realising neither holds the answer to his dreams of having his own parcel of land to live off of. Mr. Rocha's daring conflagration of stark, dramatic black-and-white expressionist visuals and post-modern freeform happening constructs a one-way trip into a blindingly bright heart of darkness that veers wildly from  entranced religious delirium into an opaque tension bubbling under the surface. The film is effectively bisected halfway through by Manuel's shifting between religion and banditry, as two halves of a same story or two sides of a same coin, since the farmer looks desperately for some sort of justice that neither path seems able to offer him.

     That bisection is part of Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol's risk-taking; it doesn't necessarily fully work in cinematic terms, since the first half's torrential action flow is abruptly broken by the second's more contemplative, passive structure. But that is by design rather than by accident, part and parcel of Mr. Rocha's daring aesthetics that predate by a few years the later Tropicália movement in its combination of high and low culture to mould an entirely idiossyncratic cultural identity for Brazil. (As an example, he uses both classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' symphonic work and traditional story-songs created for the film by composer Sérgio Ricardo in its soundtrack.) Seen 50 years later, it remains a passionate cinematic achievement that is like nothing else out there.

Cast: Yoná Magalhães, Othon Bastos, Maurício do Valle, Lídio Silva, Sônia dos Humildes, Geraldo del Rey

Director and writer: Glauber Rocha
Cinematography: Waldemar Lima  (b&w)
Music: Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sérgio Ricardo
Art director and costumes: Paulo Gil Soares
Editor: Rafael Valverde
Producer: Luiz Augusto Mendes (Copacabana Filmes)
Brazil, 1964, 114 minutes

Screened: Cinemateca Portuguesa, Lisbon, September 11th 2012


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