Antonio das Mortes (Glauber Rocha / Brazil, 1969):
(O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro)

Glauber Rocha's fervid, crumbling-Brazil epic, one of the shake-up masterpieces of the Cinema Novo movement. First seen as pawn to the oppressive government's grinding machinery in Rocha's Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, the eponymous hired killer (Maurício do Valle), a burly mass of beard, scowl and shotgun, here gets elevated to Nordeste savior following a blood-soaked epiphany. Siding with the hunted cangaceiros and backwoods beatas he was initially hired to exterminate, Antonio das Mortes stalks across the battered Brazilian steppe that, as the film unspools toward its apocalyptic climax, comes to stand for a country boiling under military dictatorship. Like the rest of Rocha's work, the film straddles mythical narrative and political radicalism, and, though the plotline derives much of its skeleton from Western tropes, the movie's brute vigor is Brazilian to the core. Rejecting naturalism, Rocha shapes his characters as ideas on the move, with stylized movements and gestures always bursting the seams of realism and spilling over into history and folklore -- a bourgeois corpse is dragged through the arid plains to operatic trilling while a blind landowner meets his end at the tip of a Nubian St. George's lance. Its insurrective spirit is set ablaze by Rocha's fierce stylistics: a stunning sense of space, a frontal, Godard-style plastering of actors in unbroken medium-shots, a heated camera traveling through a sea of faces, an almost animalistic soundtrack. By the time the nihilistic dust has cleared and the bodies have piled up, only doubts and a renewed sense of outraged awareness keep the hero marching down the road. (The picture proved to be Rocha's own Weekend, an artistic culmination-detonation that christened a new period of self-exiled esoteria.) Cinematography by Affonso Beato. Also with Odete Lara, Othon Bastos, Hugo Carvana, Jofre Soares, Lorival Paris, and Rosa Maria Penna.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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