Goat marked for death



Commentary on Eduardo Coutinho's film

In 2024, we will celebrate forty years since the launch of the second version of Goat marked for death, film by Eduardo Coutinho, the most important Brazilian filmmaker in the documentary segment. But it is also the moment to record the sixty years since the 1964 Coup that broke with democracy and established military dictatorship in Brazil for two decades.

the trajectory of Goat marked for death is expressive. In fact, this is not one film, but two. The first took shape in the early 1960s, as a result of Eduardo Coutinho's association with the Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC). The focus was the political action of the leader of the Paraíba Peasant League, João Pedro Teixeira, murdered on April 02, 1962. Filming took place in the first months of 1964 and was interrupted by the military coup, on the 1st. Of april.

In 1981, Eduardo Coutinho resumed the interrupted project, with the aim of recording not only João Pedro's life, but also understanding the changes that occurred in the lives of the actors/peasants, including his family.

On both occasions, evidently, the investigation was inserted in the context of the social and political history of Brazil in those years.

The first Goat

The project was born within the Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC), a political action arm of the National Union of Students (UNE), but which existed independently of it. CPCs multiplied across the country between 1961 and 1964. They were born from the proposal of intellectuals and artists, some of them linked to the São Paulo Arena Theater. What united them, ultimately, was thinking about the social function of art. Finally, think about a political pedagogy project that, through the production of works in different segments, would make art a vehicle for political awareness.

UNE also created its CPC, branched into Theater, Music and Cinema. In 1962, its members walked throughout Brazil promoting the University's platform, and also taking the CPC's cultural initiatives. Eduardo Coutinho was the filmmaker who toured the Northeast States with UNE Volante.

They arrived in Paraíba in April, when the political climate was particularly heated. On the 02nd, João Pedro Teixeira, leader of the Sapé Farmers and Workers Association, was murdered. The Association was one of the most active at the time, with a total of seven thousand members.

He and UNE Volante covered the popular protest. Before the march, Coutinho interviewed Elizabeth Teixeira, widow of João Pedro; He then began to consider the idea of ​​a film, based on this event, but in the broad context of the Peasant Leagues, which had been created in the Northeast since 1955.

Taking the context into account meant considering the confrontation of social actors: on the one hand, peasants who demanded new agreements in the exploitation of land and who even considered occupying them; on the other, the rural landowners, irreducible to any negotiation, and who tried to prevent, with weapons, with police support, the occupation.

Returning to Rio de Janeiro, the project had to wait two years to become viable. In January 1964, Coutinho and his team were back in Paraíba to start filming. In this first project, it was not a documentary as such, but a film, with a script designed based on information provided by Elizabeth Teixeira and the peasants gathered at the Association.

As an intellectual and filmmaker, Coutinho defined the script and aesthetic direction, based on the attitudes he experienced as a CPC participant. This means, for example, that the characterization of the characters was built from the outside in, more based on generalization and idealization of historical subjects, seen as heroes of political action, and free from internal, personal contradictions.

The actors would be Elizabeth Teixeira, playing herself, and the peasants. João Mariano was the only one of the actors who joined the community later, and who was hired to play the role of João Pedro, with his children.

The initially planned location was in the municipality of Sapé, where Elizabeth's father had leased part of his property to his son-in-law and his family. After selling the land in 1962, the new owner did not accept keeping them as tenants, nor compensating them for improvements. The conflict resulted in the murder of João Pedro. Obviously, the persecution also occurred because João Pedro was the one, that is, the leader of a peasant league with great membership and prestige.

The filming, however, had to be transferred due to a violent confrontation between peasants in the region and the Paraíba police forces. Eduardo Coutinho then took his team to Pernambuco, in the municipality of Vitória de Santo Antão. Here, at Engenho Galiléia, was located the Agricultural and Livestock Society of Planters of Pernambuco, known as the Galiléia Peasant League. It was the first to be founded in 1955, and Engenho was the first expropriation achieved by peasants, under the guidance of lawyer Francisco Julião, in 1959.

Filming began on February 26, 1964 and was stopped on the 1st. April, when the Coup of 64 took place. By then, 40% of the script had been completed. The police and army forces invaded Engenho and confiscated what they found: everything from equipment to scripts, magnetic tapes, scene notes.

Many peasants were arrested and also some members of the team, but the majority managed to escape and return to Rio de Janeiro. All that was left were a few photographs; a political prisoner rescued the script while she was detained at the Army Barracks in Paraíba; some scattered scenes from the negative that had been sent to the laboratory in Rio de Janeiro in March were also preserved.

Elizabeth Teixeira still tried, for a few months, to take the fight forward. After some arrests, she took refuge in hiding, in a village in Rio Grande do Norte, using the name Marta Maria da Costa, and with only one child of the eleven that the couple had had. The children ended up distributed among relatives, and over time, they spread to various locations in Brazil.

The second Goat

The decision to resume the interrupted film occurred in 1981, when Eduardo Coutinho returned to Engenho Galiléia, in an attempt to reunite the peasants from the first filming. Afterwards, he would go in search of Elizabeth's whereabouts.

This new onslaught is significantly more interesting than the first. This time, Coutinho no longer considered the idea of ​​making a fictional film, based on a real story, and adopted documentary as his path.

His brilliant career in this film segment began here, as Goat marked for death is notable in his filmography. Not only because of the history it records, because of the unique moment in national life, but because the approach it takes to conduct the script, in the approach to the interviewees, rehearses a stance that will be consolidated in the future.

Em Goat marked for death, Eduardo Coutinho's challenge goes further, in fact. Because there is a film within another film, and from different parties. It must also be considered that in the seventeen years between the two filming periods, Brazil changed, the actors/peasants changed and Coutinho changed. For now, let’s stick with these last two.

Eduardo Coutinho took off that tight suit, that rigid booklet of CPC ideology from the 1960s. He assumed that it is possible to give a voice to those interviewed, with all the contradictions, the most noble and the not so noble, of men and women, whatever they may be. their social strata. And opening space for this is, without a doubt, opening the most guaranteed path for the production of a work of art, capable of playing a role in raising political awareness or of any other nature.

It is curious that this new stance that the filmmaker embraces was not new to many, even at the time of the first filming of marked goat. Roberto Freire, director of the show Death and severe life, by João Cabral de Melo Neto, which debuted in 1965, at TUCA in São Paulo, already said: “There was a brutal difference between our proposal and that of the CPCs. I found the CPC shows obvious and even repellent: having, for example, the actors beating an Uncle Sam. This is a form of authoritarian awareness. Art is awareness-raising in itself. If you want awareness and artistic expression is not enough, you don't raise enough awareness; second, the public does not want to see themselves in the show in a caricatured, simplistic and synthetic way. The show needs to go beyond political content; within the plot, to have deeply human characters, and where the quality of the dialogues and the poetics were really strong. Where the aesthetic issue was highly considered. An Othello, where the appropriation of women by men is discussed, allows me to discuss the issue of authoritarianism. I preferred it to a text where the issue of imperialism is discussed without much care. The best instrument of awareness is Beauty.”[1]

 The fact is that only such a stance allows for some observations in the interviewees' speeches that, possibly, escape researchers and journalists; Furthermore, they gain more life with the flavor of the regional language. Let's look at some examples.

João Virgínio Silva says that the Galilee Society was born as a “charitable society for the deceased”. When one died, the coffin was taken, the popular Lolô, borrowed from the mayor; The deceased was taken to the grave and the coffin was returned. According to João, the idea was “to benefit the deceased, the people”. But Zezé da Galiléia, president of the League, adds: when the owner of Engenho realized that “the League didn't just care about the dead”, he wanted to expel everyone. The League, in fact, also fought against the increase in the forum, that is, the price paid for renting land.

Still Zezé da Galiléia, describing the discussion in the Legislative Chamber of Recife, when the expropriation of the Engenho was carried out: “My people, we are not going to do expropriation, because it is not expropriating one Galiléia, it is expropriating several Galileias, because from then on it will catch fire inside. of Brazil, from end to end. Because Brazil is addicted, they will organize themselves and ask public authorities to expropriate.”

The Engenho was finally expropriated in 1959, the owner was compensated as per the Constitution, but the peasants did not have the deeds to their land, even in 1981. And lest you forget: this is not the discussion, that is, the form compensation, which is still at the center of conflicts today when talking about agrarian reform?

There is a general structure of this Goat marked for death which revisited the protagonists and locations of the first version, but expanded it with new interviewees, in other Brazilian cities. Starting from the community that welcomed Marta, the relieved Elizabeth who recovered her true identity, and who could, from then on, see her children and relatives again.

The trace of the connection between the marked goat of the present and the marked goat of the past, is that, both in Galiléia and in the community of Marta/Elizabeth, Coutinho made the first approach with the groups, showing them the scenes recorded in 1964. Evidently, the immediate manifestation was affective, of the type “oh, how it was us.” But this is how the doors to each person's memories are opened, during individual interviews.

Elizabeth Teixeira recalled, step by step, her marriage, João Pedro's work and struggles, his role in the Association, the expectation that he was at risk of death at all times, and, finally, the description of the day of his murder . She also remembers her own political action that would remain active, from her husband's death until a few months after the Coup.

Both Elizabeth Teixeira's reports and the peasants' interviews, on several occasions, have images collected in 1964 as their imagery substrate. And, as it is necessary, from time to time, to give a little push, and correct memories with objective data, the script includes some newspaper texts. Or it is Coutinho himself who questions them to redirect the memories, the speeches, depending on the project that is not spontaneous, but does have a narrative direction. What a beautiful intervention, his, when asking Elizabeth to “sing a coconut”, and what is shown, in fact, is the scene from the original film.

Here is a brief consideration of the role of memory, as a category of investigation, among historians. Without dwelling on this complex issue, it is worth remembering, in addition to the division between individual memory x collective memory, memory of the losers x memory of the winners, the central issue of the fragmentary nature of memory, which is always partial, selective and subjective. Hence the need for researchers to seek support from other sources, especially written documents, to provide an objective account of a given historical process.

Em marked goat, the issue of fragmentation is explicit and reinforced, not only by the very nature of documentaries, which work with the selection of intertwined memories from several interlocutors, and at different levels (see the blunt example of João Mariano who denied the truths embraced by the group, in the past, and the counterpoint of his adherence to the new “winners”, dominant in Brazil since then, the evangelicals). But also because Coutinho, in addition to working with two naturally different films, also worked with fragmented material from the first film. In other words, it is a fragmentation within another.

And for the truth (even if it is not complete, and it never will be, reliable historians know this) to find its way, as a final product, knowledge is needed about all these issues, which are familiar to History professionals. Eduardo Coutinho navigated this tangle of situations well, and that is certainly why Goat Marked for Death has made history since its launch in 1984.

To illustrate these issues above, it is worth recording two magnificent passages from the documentary. The speech of João José, son of Zé Daniel, who recalls the invasion of Engenho Galiléia by police and military, disbanding the group, seizing the materials; and that of João Virgínio, who was imprisoned for six years.

In relation to João José, the expressive speech focuses on the theme “communists and Cubans” which, since the 1950s, has haunted the Brazilian nation, whenever the subject at hand is social injustice, inequalities, agrarian reform. It yielded one of the most hilarious moments in the documentary, due to the form of the speech, and the wisdom of Eduardo Coutinho echoing it, with the insertion of newspaper articles.

 João José had kept two of the team's books, all these years, and shows that he read them. In 1964, when the military came, they wanted to take them, and this was the dialogue: “JJ: No, these are my books!

M: No! These books are from Cubans.

JJ: No sir, there are no Cubans here, there are no communists!

M: Will you show me where the weapons were here, where were the Cubans? Those Cuban wanted to make the revolution here!

JJ: No sir, nothing about revolution, nothing about Cuba they were talking about here!

M: But what is their speech like, what is their good morning like?

JJ: Good morning, normal like us.

M: But don't they speak with a strong accent?

JJ: Of course, Rio people speak differently.

M: And now are you going to show me where the weapons are?

JJ: Ah, those are the farmers who have them!

M: But I want to see those twenty thousand that Julião said he had, so you can make the revolution! And the communists were making films here, to make the revolution here!

JJ: Colonel, there are no communists or Cubans here. There are people dying of hunger, sick, suffering, like myself, in need of medicine, food, freedom and land to work.”

Some photos in local newspapers show the simplicity of the seized filming equipment. However, the Diario de Pernambuco, who supported the Coup, recorded: “It was perhaps in Galilee that the Army seized the most valuable materials from the largest focus of communist subversion in the interior of Pernambuco, abandoned by the red leaders alongside women and children. In a characteristic peasant hut, an abundance of material was found that triggered the subversion device set up there by international leftists under the protection of the recently deposed state government (referring to governor Miguel Arraes). In this hut, a powerful generator was installed to run the expensive cinema projection machine. The film, among the countless found, that was being taken during the week of the Coup was Marked to die. The film taught how peasants should act in cold blood, without remorse or feelings of guilt, when it was necessary to decimate, by shooting, beheading or other forms of elimination, the “reactionaries” arrested in campaign, or taken to Galilee, to the interior of the State . Meanwhile, a sociologist from Pernambuco, who asked that his name be withheld, began drawing up a plan to be applied to the aforementioned Engenho, in order to help in the fastest possible moral and social recovery of the sub-race to which the communists wanted to reduce the peasants of Galilee.”

The bluntness of the assessment and the clarity of the description mark João Virgínio’s speech about his period in prison: “I produced half a truck of goods a week on this farm. The Army took me away, put me in jail, blinded me in one eye, gave me a blow and I lost an ear, another blow and I lost my heart. I spent six years in prison. What did I build in the prison grid for the nation? They took a watch, a belt, 50 contos in cash, a jeep. Is this kind of a revolution? Taking it from a chipped man like me? My children are left there, everything is dying. What good is it for the Army to do such a disgrace to me? It would be better to have me shot. I was more angry than I was.

My children dying, and me in jail. I spent twenty-four hours in a tank of shit, that broth, I spent an hour like that (leaning against a wall so I wouldn't sit down), another like that (changing walls). I spent twenty-four hours on my feet. Only the devil can handle it. I can't believe I'm alive, because I've never seen a spirit of my quality survive (laughs). But there is nothing better than one day after another and a night in between, and the help of Our Lord Jesus Christ is what will protect us. God's grace is falling there, hour by hour, I trust in God because of this unhappiness, one day people will have to think about who they are. It’s not possible for us to live our whole lives under this bull’s foot.”

Between the two Marked goats, it was seventeen years. Observing the changing lives of these actors/peasants that Eduardo Coutinho's film proposal made possible, the question arises: can art, or not, among many other attributions, be a vehicle for raising awareness?

The fact is that Goat marked for death it was so strong, even as a denomination, that it ended up becoming a classificatory category for everyone who faces borderline situations in disputes during their lives. Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, Brazilian lawyer and politician, when remembering João Goulart, known as Jango, between March 13th, the day of the Central do Brasil Rally, and March 31st, the day of the Coup of 64, classified him as such. He had everything to be a marked goat.

*Solange Peirão, historian, is director of Solar Pesquisas de História.


Goat marked for death
Brazil 1964-1984, Documentary, 119 minutes.
Direction and script: Eduardo Coutinho.
Cast: Eduardo Coutinho, Ferreira Gullar (narrator), Tite de Lemos (narrator).


Alcides Freire Ramos, “The historicity of Goat marked for death (1964-1984, Eduardo Coutinho)”, New World New World, Débats, 2006.


[1] RODRIGUES, Marly; SUNDFELD, Roberta; PEIRÃO, Solange. TUCA 20 years. São Paulo: Official State Press – IMESP, 1986, p.38.

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