About Leon Hirszman

Alberto da Veiga Guignard, Still Life, 1933. Photographic reproduction Vicente de Mello.


Commentary on the work of the filmmaker

I have just received and read, with much profit, For a popular cinema - Leon Hirszman, politics and resistance, by Reinaldo Cardenuto, published by Ateliê. A beautiful piece of work, giving due importance to this front-line filmmaker of Cinema Novo and the Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC), whose early death came to reap an aesthetic and political project of scale.

In the films he made, 5 features and 11 shorts, it is clear that he was always looking for something – which the title of the book already implies. And this from the first, among them images of the unconscious, in which he went to register the work of Dr. Nise da Silveira in a hospice in Rio that sheltered the most destitute. The psychiatrist abolished brutal practices such as electroshock and lobotomy, treating the mentally ill through art, creating the Museum and revealing Artur Bispo do Rosário.

Or else Nelson Cavaquinho, where the filmmaker points the camera at an exemplary samba dancer. or even the ABC of strike, in which he took care to meet the new working class that was emerging at the time, the metallurgists of the ABC region. As a great fiction film, it would St Bernard, based on the novel by Graciliano Ramos. National and international success would come with They don't wear black tie (1981), about a workers' strike, ultimately defeated. Awards everywhere, including the Golden Lion in Venice. This film, and the controversy it aroused among the left, including party quarrels, the book devotes its largest portion. Leon's never-denied attachment to the people comes through clearly in let me speak2007), a documentary that Eduardo Escorel, who edited three of his films, dedicated to him.

The reader is also offered a reconstituted literary script by What country is this?, documentary commissioned by RAI – RádioTV Italiana, now disappeared. It is worth explaining the circumstances in which Leon came from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo to interview me. I don't remember everything, but it seems that he came in the wake of Ruy Guerra, with whom I collaborated, when he asked for the materials for in the heat of the hour for the script of a film about Euclides da Cunha and the Canudos War.

Vargas Llosa was in agreement with Ruy Guerra, but he would end up removing a novel from these materials and would give up writing the screenplay. And the collective project never came to fruition. Leopoldo M. Bernucci, in History of a misunderstanding, traces every step of the novel back to the source materials. The bombastic declarations of Vargas Llosa about the years he had spent in the Library of Congress in Washington, researching… Those involved in the sweep were laughing their heads off. Ruy Guerra finds it even more comical when the writer, who had never heard of either Euclides or Canudos, declares how much he had been a fan since his youth. Who tells the story of this failure is the hearty biography of Ruy Guerra, written by Vavy Pacheco Borges.

Averse to interviews, she told Leon that, on the contrary, she wanted to propose other people, when until then, from a very Carioca perspective, he had only invited Maria da Conceição Tavares and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. He listened to my arguments, argued a little and ended up agreeing. Of course, I carefully selected who would testify about the horrendous Brazil we were living in in 1976. Since Antonio Candido was unavailable, I personally asked these three USP colleagues, from the opposition to the dictatorship, to give interviews: Alfredo Bosi, Fernando Novais and Sergio Buarque de Netherlands.

I served as a driver taking Leon and the crew to filming at each of their homes. The impact of the interviewees on him was visible. Leon's surprise was mainly because he came across serious people and not media intellectuals, willing to endorse the owners of power and TV stations. The film boiled down to these five interviewees

The documentary no longer exists, not even in the RAI archives, but the book contains good summaries. Leon comments that RAI never showed the film claiming it wasn't touristic… In fact, I can assure you it wasn't. None of Leon's work was.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).

Originally published on GGN Journal.

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