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BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL (1964,BRA)

Glauber Rocha is still considered to be the most influential and important Brazilian filmmaker, the founder of the modernist Cinema Novo movement there, which, like in other parts of the world, was a certain response and reaction to classic and traditional cinematography. Although Rocha made only three important films, his influence on Brazilian and South American cinema in general is incredible, and the first of those three films made in the sixties was precisely “Black God, White Devil” or “Deus eo Diabo na Terra do Sol” in the original . Rocha is a man with an extremely interesting biography who had no formal film education, and after studying law for two years, he decided to devote himself to film.

As a 16-year-old in the mid-1950s, he wrote for a newspaper about films, and in the late 1950s he joined the radical left and was one of the founders of a party that advocated a revolution of the proletariat and the abandonment of the money system. That’s why it’s not surprising that he made films with practically no budget, in guerilla conditions, and he was in his early twenties when he made this film, an avant-garde black and white metaphorical adventure drama that is today considered one of the most important Brazilian films. All three of Rocha’s key films premiered in Cannes, and they are films in which he criticizes the political situation in the country and the world on a symbolic level and is extremely critical not only of the state, but also of the church, the second pillar of oppression of the average, poor man.

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Although the action of this film takes place in the 1940s, it seems as if it could be a hundred years earlier during the early republic of Brazil. During a great drought and famine, the herdsman Manuel (Geraldo Del Rey) kills the landowner who tries to deceive him and together with his wife Rosa (Yona Magalhaes) he flees to the hills. There he will join a mystical black preacher and a self-proclaimed saint who advocates for radical, violent solutions to the problem of poverty, and later their path will be joined by the notorious bandit and outlaw Carissa (Othon Bastos). It is a film in which Rocha tried to combine naturalism and authenticity with avant-garde, i.e. mysticism, surrealism and symbolism, and although it is clear that many years have passed since the filming of the film, I still expected something more from “Black God, White Devil”.

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Those were the years when film began to be used as a powerful tool in the political struggle, and numerous mostly left-wing filmmakers tried to speak directly or indirectly about the socio-political situation in the country in the mid-sixties. The year 1964 was also remembered in Brazil as the zero year of the military dictatorship, that is, the year in which the democratic left-wing president Joao Goulart was overthrown by a military coup. Although Rocha shot his film back in 1963, “Black God, White Devil” is a metaphorical drama with not at all hidden political messages and a subversive parable that strikes at the then leading social and religious dogmas. Already in the early seventies, Rocha ended up in exile, and although he continued to make films, he did not make a single important film, returning to Rio de Janeiro only a few days before his death in 1981 from a lung infection at the age of 42.

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