mango yellow



Commentary on the film directed by Cláudio Assis.


In the movie mango yellow, by Cláudio Assis, the figuration of power relations between the miserable is developed through two distinct processes. In the first part, relating to the first two thirds of the story, emphasis is given to the description and characterization of the characters. In this long sequence, interrupted with the death of Bianor (Cosme Soares) and with the change in the character of Kika (Dirá Paes), the static frames defining each of the characters follow a fragmentary and interspersed course, in such a way that they are gradually introduced. Such a procedure causes, at the reception, the effect of slowness, because until that death, the main action still did not appear, and the film still did not say what it came to. The second part tells the story itself, with the outbreak of the nuclear conflict, concerning the changes in the lives of Dunga (Matheus Nachtergaele) and Kika.

The short and interspersed life stories unfold in the collective space, at the Avenida bar, on the city streets and at the Hotel Texas. The collectivization of space lends itself, analogously to naturalist aesthetics, to the formulation of a thesis of its own on the poorest strata. If, for Émile Zola or Aluísio de Azevedo, the collective space refers, above all, to the lives of workers, viciously and fatally corrupted by historically insurmountable reasons, in mango yellow, public space is occupied by workers, builders, butchers, vendors, etc., but also by all sorts of marginalized people, homosexuals, housewives, street vendors, drug dealers, former prostitutes, etc. Prioritizing, alongside the workers, the sexual and social life of minorities placed on the margins of the margins, the film postulates that the political struggle is not fought only between bourgeois and proletarians, but also between these and the lumpenproletariat, as well as between genders, since the system swallows everyone. It is about thinking that sexual minorities and the lumpenproletariat are also sociological categories and subjects of history.


One can observe the conjugation of social analysis and reflection on sexual choices in the composition of the three patriarchs of the film, Bianor, Wellington (Chico Diaz) and Isaac (Jonas Bloch). After the death of the owner of the hotel, the priest, in a kind of obituary, states that he died as he was born, that is, as an anonymous person. Bearing in mind that anonymization is a resource that lends itself to expanding the micro to the macro level, the particular to the general, Bianor is what he is, an individual who has lost his sexuality, shifting it to accumulation. The image of money stored in the genitals configures the owner in general as an extremely stingy individual, sordidly attached to money.

Isaac and Wellington are, to a certain extent, complementary individuals. The contrast between one and the other is due to their different sexual perversions. The typical trait that defines Isaac is embodied in an accentuated way in the scene in which he practices corpse shooting. At that moment, the expression of enjoyment while targeting the dead person enacts the necrophiliac's own sexual activity. Taken together, the scene in the hotel in which he mercilessly hits Dunga on the shoulder, as well as the one in which he tries to take possession of Lígia, without her knowledge, show the violently cruel male's contempt for the homosexual condition, or for minorities in general.

Wellington is also a man who is exaggeratedly deformed in his masculinity, using women as an instrument to satisfy his needs. While talking to Dunga, he states that, despite being “weak in bed”, Kika, in addition to being very religious and virtuous, would have her great merit as an organized and helpful housewife. From the husband's perspective, religion works as an instrument to control female sexuality, necessary for him to keep her within the confines of domestic life, providing full-time services. Not by chance, one of the only moments when the couple shares the domestic space is lunch. Wellington thus performs a type of specialization of female tasks: if Kika is his table object, Dayse is his bed object.

At the end of the XNUMXth century, the metaphor of flesh and body was exhaustively explored to emphasize the dominant presence of physiology in the lives of individuals, but also to constitute, as in Aluísio de Azevedo's tenement, the collective space as an organism in which the mass of workers is born, grows and proliferates like worms that rot the flesh from within, that is, the social organism.[I] Em Yellow Mango, the image of the flesh predominantly refers to Wellington, always grappling with a piece and, in general, smeared with blood. At the same time, in the recurrent presence of the ax that he carries in his hand, the cutting of alien sexuality is inscribed by the cannibal who devours his women.

Wellington and Isaac distance themselves, however, due to their different types of occupation. While the latter performs an activity outside the so-called economically productive life, the other is formally inserted in the labor market. Together, these two characters condense the film's thesis about economic modernization. Whether workers in the formal labor market or those who rise up against them, incurring illegality, the proletariat and the lupeproletariat reproduce the system's control mechanisms, embodying the patriarch's mentality and assuming the task of repressing minorities.

It is not, therefore, a regionalist film limited to the representation, in a realistic key, of the life of the outcasts of Recife, nor the patriarch of the Northeast, as part of the critics wanted to frame it at the time of the film's release. As in any peripheral country in the West, the awareness of drug dealers and workers was integrated and began to reproduce the values ​​and culture of the modern system of accumulation of goods.

By morally equating the conscience of one and the other, the film points to the loss of its revolutionary strength, replaced by action rationally directed towards ends. Analogously to the emblematic figure of the owner Bianor, who instrumentalizes the worker's labor in favor of satisfying his economic interests, Wellington and Isaac rationalize women's sexuality in favor of satisfying their own interests and desires, maintaining domination and reproducing the exploit. With this, the patriarch, be he the owner, the worker or the dealer, becomes a universal figure, an active link in the modern economic system.

One of the film's most positive figures, Dunga is a dedicated worker responsible for all the hotel's tasks: cooking, serving and clearing the table, sweeping and attending to guests' requests. This personality trait of his weakens, however, in the face of his sexual preferences. In the tenement, by Aluísio de Azevedo, Botelho, the associate of Comendador Miranda, is configured as a vicious type, among other factors due to his homosexual condition.

Repairing the prejudices of the Brazilian XNUMXth century, Dunga's perversion is of a different order. In the scene where he prepares meat for lunch, his monologue expresses the misunderstanding of his sexual choice. At that moment, he devises strategies to win Wellington and separate him from his two women. Disdaining his rivals, he claims that while Kika is nothing more than a dumb girl who pretends to be a saint to get along in life, Dayse would be addicted to “married males”. That done, she ends up analyzing her own interiority. In Dunga's balance, the “addiction” or his attraction to males of the Wellington lineage apparently turns into neurosis, since this type of love object is paradoxical to say the least.

Bearing in mind that, at least theoretically, the male tends to reject the homosexual and to establish a merely utilitarian relationship with the woman, Dunga is at least looking for scabies to scratch. Thus, his addiction is not an addiction, properly speaking, but an error in strategy. In the history of the struggle for power between genders and for freedom of sexual choice, he lets himself be attracted by someone who, in theory, constitutes himself as one of his antagonists, choosing as his opponent the woman who, also in theory, would be his greatest ally. On the other hand, in the opposition between, on the one hand, the two males, and on the other, the homosexual and the woman, another thesis emerges. mango yellow according to which, in contemporary life, male heterosexuality is a form of domination.

Unlike the analogy that presides over the construction of Isaac and Wellington, Kika and Lígia (Leona Cavalli) are also composed as symmetrically opposed figures. Unlike Lígia, the sexual abstinence of the first of them is unconsciously produced, which configures her as a hysteric whose religion is a strong and ambiguous instrument of self-repression. It protects its own sexuality from the advances of the other, but also from itself, that is, against the free impulse of its own desires, in the formula issued by an anonymous citizen (Cláudio Assis) from Recife, saying that “decency is the form smarter than perversion.”

In the exaggerated scene in which Kika begins to vomit in front of the meat she prepares, the disgust is indicative of violent sexual repression. In dialogue with her husband, she formulates an irrational hierarchy of values, revealing indulgence with murder, but intransigence with adultery. In the disproportionate comparison, sex emerges as the central criterion of moral judgment, which reaffirms his repulsion for sexual life.

Alongside Dunga, Lígia is one of the most positive and unique figures in the film. The portrait motivating criteria are both functional, referring to the significance of the story, and technical. On the one hand, her positivity springs from the contrast between her and the other owner of the film. Unlike the latter, Lígia, along with her employees, also attends to customers, breaking with the figure of the merchant who bends uninterruptedly over the cashier. On the other hand, she connects to the other characters also by the sexual factor, constituting herself in view of her condition as a woman oppressed by the harassment of clients.

Reacting to the prior determination of her sexuality by her womanhood, she imperatively resists becoming an instrument of male satisfaction, stoically appealing to his natural, physical, and inner strength. Unlike Kika, Lígia's sexual abstinence stems from a choice, the result of an adverse reaction to subjection, motivated by the idea that sex life should be practiced as an exchange of love. In the scene where she fights Isaac, the latter, analyzing her determination, accuses her of having “ideas”, drunkenly juxtaposing the expression “clay” to the term. Alleging the common origin of clay, Isaac intends to disqualify the reason that governs the motivations of Lígia's action. On the other hand, in the internal economy of the film, it is up to her to close the story as it opened, also contributing to complete the meaning of the film.

Analogously to Dunga and Lígia, another curious figure in the film, halfway between typification and singularization, is the Priest (Jones Melo). On the one hand, it is composed according to the anarchic religious types of the XNUMXth century, metaphorizing the decay of Catholic values ​​and institutions. Indeed, the option for idleness and the closing of the church indicates that it has already lost its meaning in the lives of the poor. Discursively analyzing the institution's loss of function among the poor, the priest also believes that the church is constituted as a space dedicated to ostentation. Obviously, in life where everything is lacking, ostentatious social practice has little place. But this analysis, formulated by an individual of his condition, ends up transforming him into a cynically pragmatic religious who takes the faithful for clients, limiting them, at least, to members of the middle class.

Nor does it agree with the humanist belief in the power of reason to overcome barbarism, essentially conforming the human being through selfishness, pride and arrogance. In this sense, there is no mission, nor any utopia of salvation for those who de-eroicize reason and fall into nihilism. Its uniqueness thus resides in its constitution as a transmission agent for most of the film's philosophical motivations, responsible for indicating here and there the elements for understanding the story's metaphors. It is worth mentioning that Padre goes beyond the type by constituting himself as the reflective conscience of the film.

One of his monologues expresses the criteria adopted to define the character of the characters: “The human being, hem! The human being is stomach and sex. And he has before him a condemnation. He must be free. But he kills and kills himself in fear of living.” Schopenhauerian par excellence, the phrase negatively constitutes desire, understanding that its free realization, without any obstacle, leads to an equivalence between man and beast.[ii]

If this is so on the physical plane, in the moral sphere this implies that there is not, as Kant wanted, a moral disposition, nor an imperative ethics that can govern human actions: “Egoism, according to its nature, is without limits: man wants to preserve his existence unconditionally, he wants it unconditionally free from the pain to which all penury and deprivation also belong, he wants the greatest possible sum of well-being, he wants all the enjoyment of which he is capable and seeks, still, to develop in other aptitudes of enjoyment. Everything that opposes the effort of his selfishness excites his ill will, anger and hatred: he will seek to annihilate him as his enemy. He wants, as much as possible, to enjoy everything, he wants everything ”.[iii]

Condemned to have his actions essentially motivated by the Will, as a “thing in itself”, the human being organizes life as a permanent war, whether between his own desires or those of his fellow man.

Thus, the principle according to which human actions are essentially governed by the impulse to preserve life and sexuality determines, in the first part of the film, the recurrent images of sex and food, mostly casual, disconnected from the main action.[iv] In this segment of the film, the presentation of the routine at the Hotel Texas emphasizes the preparation and eating of the two main meals. In the interval between one and the other, the characters come to life. To this end, the film also resorts to a procedure common to the realism-naturalism of the XNUMXth century, in which its characteristic traits do not spring from the interior of the figures, but are characterized by means of ideas and theories external to the story.

By embodying some authorial thesis, the character ends up becoming a puppet. Zola, for example, in Thérèse Raquin, sought to analyze its two protagonists based on a study of temperaments, understanding that their constitution as nervous or sanguine would largely result from heredity. However, tempers and perversions can also be socially triggered, activated by bourgeois culture and the individual's great inner fissure in a socially and economically problematic world.[v]

Another factor that favors the automation of the human figure is found in the greater objective of this aesthetic, aimed at objectively describing the social world taking into account supposed scientific categories. In this procedure, the social environment hypertrophies, to the point that the character becomes the result of social and natural factors that prevail there. In another consequence of this exaggerated emphasis on the objective world, the exploration of the relationships between individual and social conflicts tends to be put in the background.

mango yellow, in turn, replaces psychophysiology with psychoanalysis, assuming that the recondite of sexual neuroses is a striking feature of individuals, shaping the world of customs and the prosaic rhythm of their lives. But besides that, there is also a hierarchy in the film of human figures. Analogously to the realism-naturalism of the XNUMXth century, Isaac, Wellington and Kika are negatively composed in types, defined by sociological categories and by sexual neuroses. Alongside Padre, who also has a meta-cinematographic function, Dunga and Lígia are positively grouped, gaining some autonomy from theoretical principles and achieving greater individualization.

In these last two cases, the sociological perspective sympathetic to the condition of poor minorities ends up favoring their humanization, which leads their inner conflicts to stand out with greater evidence. With this, the film corrects that distortion of realism-naturalism, in which the supposed neutrality ends up weakening the questioning of social contradictions. By politically handling the depersonalization of certain human beings, the film also avoids equating essentially antagonistic individuals.


In the opening scene of the film, Lígia gets out of bed and prepares for another day at work. Attached to the bar, the bedroom is viewed from above, with the bed taking up the entire width of the space. The plan of the narrow room creates a claustrophobic ambience, analogous to the character's inner state. At that moment, his monologue testifies to boredom with the daily routine of work, in addition to anticipating the narrative model that the film uses: “Sometimes I keep imagining how things happen. First comes the day. Everything happens on that day. Until nightfall, which is the best part. But then the day comes again, and it goes, and it goes, and it goes… And it goes on and on. The only thing that hasn't changed is Santa Cruz, who never got anything again, not even a title of honor. And I haven't found someone who deserves me. You only love wrong”.

The monologue condenses a double reflection, aimed both at a search for understanding the meaning of daily life, and at the way in which the day-to-day events of the miserable can be cut, combined and organized in a coherent sequence. The phrase “Everything happens on that day” refers, on the one hand, to the mishaps to which a bar owner is subject in dealing with her customers. But it also refers to the plot model that has the emergence of the unexpected, like tragedies, its greatest feature.

Paradoxically, however, the image of the intermittent succession of the work routine presupposes the realistic document, projecting the idea of ​​a narrative that intends only to register this daily life. Indeed, after this initial monologue, the sequence of images relating to the world of work – focusing on moving machines, porters at street markets, bricklayers, etc. – ends with Dunga sweeping the hotel. Marking the beginning of the daily journey, the sequence that goes from Lígia's room to the Hotel confirms the realistic notation.

However, from the second part of the film and after Bianor's death, Lígia's paradox, according to which the daily work routine is also characterized by the emergence of the unpredictable, is clarified, when the realistic notation loses its strength. Indeed, the death of Seu Bianor and the cannibalism practiced by Kika abruptly alter the routine of life and customs, bringing about profound changes in the lives of women, males and homosexuals. There, the substitution of the trivial for the unexpected is decisive for creating the expectation of reversing the roles between the active and the passive, on the one hand, and the exploiter and the exploited, on the other.

At that moment, the analysis of the characters' social and sexual life is replaced by the search for understanding of their inability to react to the shackles of customs and work routine on their daily actions. That done, the utopia of a social revolution is followed by the record of its frustration. Thus, if, in the first part, the presentation of the characters works as a motive for the narrative, the progress of the sequences in the second part is provided by the adventure, which forges the political reading of the blunders in the way of action of the marginalized. With this purpose in mind, the film performs, in its entirety, a fusion between realistic document and tragicomedy, building itself, in the manner of naturalist narratives, as a mixture of document and fiction, as well as by the predominance of reflection on fiction. .

Among the factors that limit the political consciousness of the poor, mango yellow highlights Dunga's misreading of power relations, whether political or sexual. Throughout the story, the only moment in which he suspends his prompt capacity for action and decision-making occurs when he discovers his dead Bianor. In this scene, his paralysis is not due to affective factors, but, above all, to his lack of money.

Like him, Dona Aurora's impotence to make the necessary arrangements for the burial is also due to her lack of financial resources. In possession of the hotel owner's money, Dunga recovers his previous behavior, making all the decisions that the moment demands. An allegory of the absolute uselessness of the owner in the process of performing the services, the scene reverses the dependence of the worker on the owner. With the ownership, by the worker, of the means of production, the figure of the boss becomes dispensable.

At a certain point, Dunga asks the priest to help him resolve his joblessness caused by his recent death. Faced with this, the reflection of the Father is apparently based on commonplaces of religion, carrying, however, an intense political connotation: “Because everything in life has its time. Look, God made life with these mysteries, which are for us to decipher. If you look closely, Bianor's death is a sign, a sign of the changes we want. Hmm! Or else it means nothing, which is more likely.”

Confirming the priest's omens, Dunga misses the opportunity to recognize that the death of the hotel owner and the possession of his money generated the unique opportunity for him to make profound changes in work relations, which could even result in the appropriation of assets. During the wake, his blindness is reiterated, once again, when Wellington, frightened by Kika's violence, goes to the hotel. The conflict that then arises between the two workers, the result of sexual differences, becomes emblematic of the division between potential allies in a probable struggle for reciprocal interests and against the common enemy. In this sense, Dunga's ability to work is inversely symmetrical to his impotence to reflect and carry out adequate political readings, whether of a sexual or social nature. Bearing in mind his final frustration with Wellington, Dunga will continue directing his love drive towards the wrong object, in addition to continuing to determine the direction of his life exclusively in the sexual sphere.

Analogously, Kika's transformation and the break with her religious behavior manage to put out of combat, at the same time, the two males in the film. The scene of Wellington crying like a baby replaces his active posture in the family's life with that of an affectively dependent woman. From then on, she also becomes capable of subjugating Isaac and creating the conditions for the two to freely exercise their own repressed sexual fantasies, beyond any convention about “masculine” and “feminine”. With this, the film deconstructs the male, confirming the popular wisdom according to which the exaggerated affirmation of masculinity works as a protection against the emergence of latent femininity.

But as in the metaphor of the yellow color with which she intends to dye her hair, Kika will also have to base her life solely on sexual motivations, without consciously tracing, like Lígia, her own course. The metaphor also proposes that she will not reach her full sexual freedom, as she goes from one extreme to the other, performing a movement of only 360o. Occupying the space previously reserved for the male, she will only change the role of dominated by that of dominator and will thus reproduce the relationships of domination. If the life of the representative elements of this social layer is subject to an inevitable fatalism, capable of preventing their prompt reaction against oppression, this is because everything depends on their own choices.

Thus, from the perspective of the film, the human conflicts originating from the struggle for power could be resolved through the double sexual and social revolution. But, in the end, the image of the circle emerges as a figure of its return. With that, from a mere naturalistic film that configures the lives of workers by the fatalism of physiology or even by alienation as emblems of the impossibility of changing the order of things, mango yellow presents a lucid reading of the reactive incapacity of the marginalized.

In addition to love and sexual misconceptions, another factor that nullifies the resistance of the marginalized can be seen in the scene of extras who watch TV, permanently, also characterized as Northeastern types, former heroes of regionalism. As, however, the gesture of watching TV does not only characterize the behavior of people from the Northeast, the seemingly insignificant scene supports the thesis that, for the time being, the power of reaction of local types is under the control of the cultural industry. Thus, instead of portraying it in an idyllic and picturesque way, the scene pulls the exotic down, dumbfounded as it is by media control.

But the main element responsible for the blunting of the conscience of the marginalized and, therefore, for their inability to react appears as an abstract force, opening and closing the narrative. Between the penultimate scene, in which Lígia repeats the monologue, and the final sequence, in which Kika dyes her hair, the initial images of the world of work and the daily life of workers are reproduced. Thus, the significant link between the first and last part of the story, which sheds light on the precariousness of life for each of the marginalized beings, is the suffocating presence of work.

In the image of the circular return of hard work, sex ends up working as the only refuge. Thus, the central thesis of the film-essay by Cláudio Assis is configured. Articulating individual conflicts with social contradictions, mango yellow postulates that work sexually bestifies individuals, reducing them to solitude and animal life. Circularly, they tend to reproduce, in personal relationships, the same model of work relationships, guided by a game of asymmetrical forces, based on the domination of the exploited by the exploiter.

Avoiding, however, composing this picture as an unavoidable state, the metaphor of the “yellow mango” not only performs an inversion of the sweetened gold with which official art has always characterized the country; nor does it result solely from a critique of the glamorous aesthetics of a certain trend in national cinema that emerged in the late 1990s and turned poverty into cosmetics for the eyes of the North American film market. It is, above all, the yellow “of the handles of the fishmongers, the hoe and the strovenga. The ox cart, the cangas, the aged hats, the beef jerky.

The yellow of diseases, the blemishes in children's eyes, festering wounds, sputum, worms, hepatitis, diarrhoea, rotten teeth. Irony yellow interior time, faded, sick”. In the excerpt from the chronicle, “Tempo Amarelo”, by Renato Carneiro Campos, the instruments of the work condense images of war and, simultaneously, of the suffering generated by the world of poverty. Like beasts brutalized by work, the underprivileged layer becomes a ferocious and latent force, endowing itself, as in minefields, with an imminent potential for explosion, which marks a critical stance of the film against the sentimental reading of the action of these figures.

*Cilaine Alves Cunha is a professor of Brazilian literature at FFLCH-USP. She is the author, among other books, of The beautiful and the misshapen: Álvares de Azevedo and romantic irony (Edusp).


mango yellow
Brazil, 2003, 101 minutes
Directed by: Claudio Assis
Cast: Dira Paes, Leona Cavalli, Jonas Bloch, Matheus Nachtergaele, Chico Díaz, Everaldo Pontes.


[I] BRAYNER, Sonia. The metaphor of the body in the naturalist novel. Rio de Janeiro: São José Bookstore, 1973.

[ii] Having written a large part of his work between the end of the 1850th century and the beginning of the XNUMXth, Schopenhauer's prestige in culture only occurred after XNUMX, at a time when, with the consolidation of the bourgeoisie as the dominant class, the disappointment with the ideals of liberation comes to reign in the culture. In the work of Émile Zola and in realism-naturalism, in general, his pessimism, as well as his denial that human faculties, according to the German idealists, could give access to absolute knowledge, beyond experience, leads to a lowered view of the human being that brings him closer to the animal sphere. Cf. ROGER, Alan. “Schopenhauer's actuality” in SCHOPENHAUER. On the foundation of morals. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1995, p. vii-lxvii.

[iii] SCHOPENHAUER. pains of the world. São Paulo: Editions and Publications Brasil Editora, s/d, p. 114-115.

[iv] The same casual principle, devoid of function within the fable, governs the construction of Dona Aurora, a merely indexical figure, only contributing to illustrate and reaffirm the dominant presence of primitive drives in human life. Of a mythological nature, associated with the origin of the world in which sexuality reigns, she becomes an archetypal representative of the prostitute who, mother of us all, oxygenates life through slutty. On its construction, cf. the interview with Cláudio Assis, “A look that blinds”. cinemas. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, n. 35, Jul/September 20032003-114, p. XNUMX.

[v] DELEUZE, Gilles. “Zola and the Fissure”, in: the logic of sense. São Paulo, Perspectiva, 1974, p. 331.

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