Filmed and anticipated Bolsonarism

Image: Joan Miró


Commentary on films that anticipated the current Brazilian destructiveness

the naturalistic year

In the last class of a course on “Cinema and Naturalism” at UFRGS in 2020, a student vented: “I hope that in 2021 we will have a less naturalistic year”. She had diagnosed that the films assigned to the semester, all from the early 2000s, were surprisingly close to all of us. We talked about movies like mango yellow (Cláudio Assis, 2003), Against everyone (Roberto Moreira, 2004), the smell of the drain (Hector Dhalia, 2006), zero latitude (Toni Venturi, 2000), bass of the beasts (Cláudio Assis, 2006), chronically unfeasible (Sérgio Bianchi, 2000) and How much is it worth or is it per kilo? (Sérgio Bianchi, 2005), among others.

In addition to urban criminality and its violence, what the films showed was a deeper relationship between Brazilian bodies and destructiveness. In this sense, destructiveness is not explained by a given condition in recent history, but by an innate tendency or inscribed in the DNA of the community since ancient times, a kind of original sin. In bass of the beasts, sugarcane monoculture is the original sin that makes misogyny repeat itself indefinitely. In How much is it worth or is it per kilo? it is slavery that continues to determine our temporality, original sin that condemns our present and prevents our future.

A perplexity of the same order returns to Bolsonarism. How to explain it based on aspects given in history? Is it enough to say that Bolsonarism is the return of poorly prepared fascism after the years of civil-military dictatorship? What emerged due to the hatred built around the PT? Who hates minorities as a reaction to the spaces they have been conquering?

This order of explanations seems not to be sufficient for several analysts, who feel the need to seek an answer in a deeper environment of our body's forces. As Maria Rita Kehl states, “it is not just about adherence to extreme right-wing values, authoritarianism, indifference towards inequalities. It seems to me that the discourse that guides the actions of this government is blatantly destructive.”[1]

From João Moreira Salles to Marta Suplicy; from Christian Dunker to Fernando Gabeira; from Vera Magalhães to Tales Ab'Sáber; from Maria Rita Kehl to Renan Calheiros: all resort to the theses of the death drive in order to understand the unjustifiable, the love of detachment, the fascination with destruction that we see circulating from the low to the high strata of Bolsonarism in Brazil.[2]

Disengagement political manifesto

Em Death and Death, João Moreira Salles claims that the destruction of the Amazon is the “true political manifesto of the movement” Bolsonarist. It is there that it is destroyed in exchange for nothing, where the pure negativity that does not even constitute an ideology is manifested.[3]

We feel that this scene has already been filmed. In chronically unfeasible, the traveling narrator goes to the Amazon to see the place where you can “destroy things explicitly, like, without any sense”. The camera flies over the burned forest, we slowly observe the green in different states of degradation caused by fire, with very subtle transitions, accompanied by a funerary trail (it is Komm, Jesus, Komm!, by JS Bach, interpreted by the “Camerata Antiqua de Curitiba”). The scene has a ritualistic character, it is almost a homage to the mythical force so powerful that it goes by the name of death drive. In a voice over, the narrator enunciates his thesis about human beings: “He is so adapted to destruction that, if he destroyed without respecting any rules, he would end up self-annihilating”.

Pleasure and criticism

Em mango yellow, the character played by Jonas Bloch gets excited when he sees a dead body. He approaches fascinated, touches it with modesty, then licks his own finger and then draws his gun to shoot at the lifeless body, until he reaches an intense orgasm.

An almost ubiquitous aspect of criticism via the death drive is the pleasure that Bolsonarism feels with death. Bolsonarist violence is not “only” utilitarian or strategic for the seizure of power. Violence is the result of the “dating with death” that defines Bolsonarism, as Fernando Gabeira states in And? the death drive.

Films like the smell of the drain, bass of the beasts e mango yellow bring their denunciations: the objectification of bodies, misogyny, immaterial capitalism, the precariousness of housing, etc. However, in addition to a “reality study” guided by the recomposition of social conditions, we see characters circling around their fissures, desiring disconnection, deformation and destruction (as Bolsonarism is remarkable in so many characters!).

Some films also expose beautiful and “advertising” bodies being violated and filmed with some sophistication (bass of the beasts e the smell of the drain, for example, with different strategies and intensities). It is as if the image wanted to challenge the viewer to also have a mixed experience of satisfaction and discomfort with what is being shown. But using images in this way, that is, reproducing with sophistication and beauty the pleasure circuit of what we now call Bolsonarism tends to be problematic. It's trusting too much that the film's critical dimension can stand out against the fascination of destruction.

Obsolete movies?

Films, when approaching reality, see raw bodies dominated by primitive drives. We might think that, by “listening” to the forces of their bodies, the characters would connect to some liberating force and engage in the production of new communities. However, this hypothesis is little explored in the films – we see some exception in the character Kika, from mango yellow, and in Lena, from zero latitude. As a rule, the drive of bodies is the visible and noisy face that “hides” the necessary path to destruction.

As in Against everyone: the wife is in love with the butcher's son; she satisfies his passion; but the family friend finds out, murders the lover and triggers a series of misunderstandings and murders. Or in zero latitude: the woman falls in love with the man; soon, she discovers her alcoholism, she is threatened, raped. In the end, she kills the man, burns down the restaurant-townhouse where she lived, and escapes in a truck.

If this universe of films approaches naturalism, it is not because of its neutrality or its transparency. Naturalism is the combination of an observation, a “study” of reality, with the subjective view of life as a great fall, sometimes a condemnatory fatalism, a somber view of existence in time. Therefore, the thought about death is constitutive of naturalism: the relationship with the death drive (Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Rancière), with entropy (David Baguley), with tragicity (Yves Chevrel).[4]

In no way will we forget problematic aspects that affect some films: the spectacularization of misogyny and violence, didacticism, fatalism, the opposition between body and culture. These and other factors contributed to the films referred to here being considered obsolete: in the 2000s, they participated and were awarded at numerous festivals (Brasília, Berlin, Rotterdam, Locarno, Sundance, etc.); today, they are often considered simplistic and appealing pieces. .

However, when the death instinct vocabulary returns to explain the emergence of Bolsonarism, we are urged to notice: we have seen these images before.

Today it is as if power were being exercised by the hypocritical ex-military policeman and rapist of zero latitude; operated by the militiamen of Against everyone; financed by the merchant who trades bodies in the full of the drain; sustained by the sick communities of happy desert, arid movie e bass of the beasts.

The Sovereignty of Death

The death drive thesis is triggered by political agents who would like to put themselves in a counterpoint position. For the rapporteur of the “CPI da Covid”, senator Renan Calheiros, demonstrations of Bolsonarism are summoned by the death drive of the president of the republic: to be silent in the face of this death drive is cowardice, the senator tells us.[5] Marta Suplicy, on the other hand, opposed the Bolsonarist death drive and the “Broad Front”, a “supra-party movement” for “building consensus” and “overcoming disagreements”.[6]

The death drive, therefore, is a force that can be opposed – and we note that the agents are ready. The CPI is not just an investigation to reveal misuse of funds in health, but an action to “stop” the death drive.

However, if we go back to the film series, we will see that there the lack of confidence in the force of the life instinct is dominant. “Is there a drive for life?”, the films seem to ask themselves. How to explain how laughable a CPI or an alliance between political parties would be from a vision endowed with such a sense of fatality? What a laughable thing this life drive is for people who find themselves in the sphere of death. Death is dominant, life is laughable and dominated. For this reason, in these films, the death drive is not located in this or that character. The death drive is inscribed in the DNA of the community: sometimes, this community can be the entire country (chronically unfeasible, How much is it worth or is it per kilo?); at other times, an entire community in the countryside or on the periphery (bass of the beasts, mango yellow, the smell of the drain); in other cases, a family (Against everyone, zero latitude). In the main films, there is no outside and the prospect of reencountering life is remote. Eventually, there are characters who “listen” to their body and do not find degradation (like Kika, in mango yellow). At most, there are characters who run away, but without greater prospects for life (like Lena, in zero latitude, and Soninha, in Against everyone).

When Glauber Rocha spoke of Eztetyka from hunger to explain the first phase of Cinema Novo, there was the confidence that getting closer to the body's impulses would be revolutionary.[7] then with earth in trance (Glauber Rocha, 1967), the revolutionary possibility is suspected, however, the possibility of standing up against a system, of “taking knowledge”, operating revelations and making diagnoses still prevails. In earth in trance, the intellectual Paulo Martins succumbs, but the gesture and the word are still vital and precious.

However, in films from the early 2000s, the word as a rule is a ridiculed instrument, empty chatter (chronically unfeasible, How much is it worth or is it per kilo?, mango yellow). Sometimes, it is a testimonial word, in the sense that it serves to witness the empire of the death drive acting in the community, but it does not serve to make life, to organize the community (even if it were to form a “Broad Front” or establish a CPI).

the production of death

Recently, Didi-Huberman held the exhibition and the book Levantes, with images based on desire. It is desire, the author tells us, that opposes the death drive.[8] Given the suffocating scenario we see in much of the world (and Didi-Huberman's project was developed before the pandemic and Bolsonaro's election), images based on desire would come to help us carry out uprisings on different levels.

From another point of view, however, we cannot forget that death is also a desire. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari insisted on this point: sick desire desires death.[9] In this sense, death is not the destruction that opposes desire, it is the production of a desire, which can lead to the desire for extermination, for genocide. (For this reason, the authors reject the “drive paradigm”, claiming that it misses the productive aspect of death.)

I ask myself, now, why would we watch films that stage what today can be called the Bolsonarist death drive, since we are saturated with this behavior and live daily with the risks that his politics imply? Why would we watch films that associate death with elements that are so deep, so immutable, so sovereign?

Shouldn't we just focus on health imagery? Images of life that infect us to exist?

The answer to this question, on the one hand, is easy. Yes, we should see images that give us vitality. However, to some extent, it is also possible to learn something from these films full of negativity. This learning, for me, has to do with death. If we can watch them, beyond the obvious motivation that they are an important part of our country's cinematography and culture, it is to face them and dismantle a certain submission to the fatalism in which they seem to believe.

A discomfort that I feel with regard to some of the films is the attempt to associate degradation and detachment with innate or distant factors, inscribed in the community's DNA, almost like its original sin (chronically unfeasible, Lower of the Beasts, How much is it worth or is it per kilo?). There is a disillusioned view of the human animal, with the understanding that, freed from the experience of its drives, it would degrade and destroy itself (Against everyone, zero latitude, Yellow Mango).

In any explanation about the impulses, desires and politics of death in Bolsonarism, we cannot understand it only as a denial, at the risk of making its productive aspects invisible: say, Bolsonarism is a project, destined for death of so many, but to the survival of a few. Bolsonarism is a production that has been desired and announced for some time and whose emergence had the collaboration of many people and institutions that are currently (or say they are) shocked by the death policies of the government and its supporters.

*Bruno Leites He is a professor at the Graduate Program in Communication at UFRGS. Author of Cinema, Naturalism, Degradation: Essays based on Brazilian films from the 2000s (Ed. Sulina, 2021).


[1]"The perverse does not accept restrictions on their jouissance”: Maria Rita Kehl analyzes denialism (CartaCapital, 5/3/21).

[2] I deliberately cite very different approaches to show the extent of recurrence of the concept, including specialists, journalists and politicians. The analyses, of course, have varying degrees of depth and sophistication. Death and Death (João Moreira Salles, Piauí Magazine). Death instinct: how good it would be to have a leader who fights for life (Marta Suplicy, Folha de S. Paulo). Freud explains Bolsonaro in the pandemic with the concept of death drive (Christian Dunker, Folha de S. Paulo). And? the death drive (Fernando Gabeira, author's website). Thanatos (Vera Magalhães, Estadão). Death is a party in Bolsonaro's Brazil (Tales Ab'Sáber, Cult Magazine). The perverse does not accept restrictions on their jouissance: Maria Rita Kehl analyzes denialism (Interview by Maria Rita Kehl, Carta Capital). Protests will grow if Bolsonaro does not stop “death drive”, says Renan (Report on statements by Renan Calheiros, UOL).

[3]VIEW Death and Death (João Moreira Salles, Piauí Magazine, issue 166, Jul/2020).

[4] VIEW logic of sense, appendix Zola and the Fissure, by Gilles Deleuze (ed. Perspectiva, 2007).the motion-image, chapter The drive-image, by the same author (ed. 34, 2018).the aesthetic unconscious, by Jacques Rancière (ed. 34, 2009).Naturalist fiction: The entropic vision, by David Baguley (ed. Cambridge University Press, 1990).The naturalism, by Yves Chevrel (ed. PUF, 1993).

[5]Protests will grow if Bolsonaro does not stop “death drive”, says Renan (Report on statements by Renan Calheiros, UOL).

[6]Death instinct: how good it would be to have a leader who fights for life (Marta Suplicy, Folha de S. Paulo).

[7] VIEW Eztetyka from hungerOn New Cinema Revolution, by Glauber Rocha (ed. Cosac Naify, 2004).

[8] “Where limitless obscurity reigns, there is nothing left to hope for. This is called submission to the obscure (or, if you prefer, obedience to obscurantism). This is called the death drive: the death of desire.” However, in the sequence, the author affirms the indestructibility of desire, “something that would make us, in full darkness, seek a light despite everything”. To see Levantes, by Didi-Huberman (Edições Sesc São Paulo, 2017, p. 14 and 15).

[9] VIEWThe anti-Oedipus – capitalism and schizophrenia 1, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (ed. 34, 2010), and  A thousand plateaus – capitalism and schizophrenia 2, vol. 3, by the same authors (ed. 34, 2012).


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