Mao's faces



Comment about the movie by Dellani Lima & Lucas Barbi

He's the punkest guy I've ever met. I often joke with Mao that this will be the title of his biography that I will write. The film by Dellani Lima and Lucas Barbi shown at the 45th São Paulo International Film Festival reveals the different fronts of José Rodrigues Mao Junior's work: the punk from ABC Paulista, the lead singer of rotten boys, the public school teacher, the trade unionist, the historian, the militant and much more.

It is difficult to find the essence of the character beneath his public faces. The critic of The Globe, Mauro Ferreira, defined him very well as “the eternal punk boy from the periphery of ABC Paulista”. However, the film goes further and lets his face gradually form before our eyes, almost like a pointillist painting, made up of excerpts from classes and debates, rallies and protests, meetings and political splits, frames faded by time and the irruption of a new punk scene, with girls taking to the stage and young people dancing samba to rock music. A merit of Dellani Lima's montage.

The directors recalled the band's visual force, the sound's impact on the audience, the abuse of backing vocals and Mao's humorous performance. But they also exposed updating of punk rock in the speeches of the new members of the band, former fans who definitely entered the history of rotten boys: Deedy (guitarist), Uel (bassist) and Tony Karpa (drummer). The camera's fixation on the plucking of the strings and the drummer's final speech are highlights of the film.

Mao's faces they are mixed as much as the culture and region where it emerged. ABC has a communist, labor and PT tradition; its working class is a meeting of Italians and Northeasterners. Shows never had a complete separation between audience and stage; classroom teacher Mao never failed to give history lessons on the lyrics he would next sing at concerts; and the vocalist's solitary option for left-wing militancy is not an outlier in his musical culture, whether here in Brazil or in Europe with the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (Sharp).

What gives unity to the film is the anti-fascist militancy that begins in the dictatorship, questioning censorship, playing for the strike fund and supporting PT and CUT campaigns, something that the rest of the band's old lineup never shared. And this is why they were forgotten.

The film also exposes the network of political relationships and the scientific dialogue of a character who combines the classroom, militant activism and academic research. Mao defended a thesis at the University of São Paulo entitled The Cuban Revolution and the National Question. A pioneering work that is certainly the best exposition of the theme published in Brazil. He exposes the historical process taking revolutionary nationalism as a long-lasting element, in such a way that the revolution does not start in 1956, but in the XNUMXth century. And continues to this day.

Mao has a solid knowledge of military history, which makes him unique among scholars of revolutions. It is difficult to hold a debate with him about the Napoleonic Wars or the role of the Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War.

We wrote together in the 1990s The Chinese Revolution: How Far Does the Dragon Go? It should be noted that the subtitle question was asked at a time when the Brazilian economy could be a rival to the Chinese one. China was still taking off. The book showed that the Chinese Communist Party was never monolithic, and this was revealed in its military strategy and the variety of its economic policies; he inherited an age-old tradition of peasant revolts.

There are many faces that design a single face: that of a personality that particularizes in his life trajectory the general processes of our recent history. In him, the universal is expressed through music and books, in fights and classes, but above all in the intransigence of principles. At any given juncture, he is a socialist through and through. In the face of fascism, he does not compromise or negotiate. Don't bend or back down. This is the Mao I saw in the confrontations with the police, in the assemblies, in solidarity with imprisoned colleagues, in so many debates, fights, runs and in the teachers' strikes. There were too many conversations, with too much wine. But always with hope. This is the character you can watch in this indispensable biographical film.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Editorial Studio).


Mao's faces
Brazil, 2021, documentary, 77 minutes.
Direction, script and photography: Dellani Lima & Lucas Barbi.
Editing: Dellani Lima.

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