Goat marked for death

Rubens Gerchman, Identity card (auto right thumb), 1965.


Commentary on Eduardo Coutinho's film.

Like everything remarkable, the interest of Goat marked for death it's hard to classify. The film is a victory for political loyalty, and for this reason it is very moving.

The initial project, prior to 1964, was to film the recent murder of a peasant leader from Paraíba, named João Pedro. The actors would be his companions in work and struggle, including his wife, and the location would be that of the crime itself. The military coup interrupted filming and dispersed the team, while the canisters with the already-made part of the film disappeared in the hustle and bustle of the escape.

The filmmaker, however, did not forget the project, nor did he give up on it. As soon as possible, that is, many years later, he sought out the missing material. With it in his possession, he sought out the actors that repression and almost two decades had scattered. He showed the old tapes, of which they were the figures, and filmed their current reactions to the matter, in which, in one way or another, the effects of the dictatorship and the continuity of popular life appear. The set, to which documentary material and explanations were added, and which includes a twenty-year hiatus, would form the work. The director, Eduardo Coutinho, resumed his work, as well as his class alliances, transforming the elapsed time into artistic strength and matter for reflection.

At this point, the filmmaker resembles his actress and main figure, the peasant militant who knew how to disappear, survive the repression, and reappear. The emotion is actually born of this parallel: the interrupted film, which is completed against winds and tides, in a way coincides with the fiber woman who, after eating the bread that the devil kneaded, finds her family, resumes her true name and reaffirms your conviction. Constancy triumphs over oppression and oblivion. Metaphorically, the heroine finally recognized and the film finally made reestablish continuity with the popular movement prior to 64, and belie the eternity of the dictatorship, which will not be the final chapter. Or yet, engaged cinema and popular struggle re-emerge together.

Well, nothing is more moving than tying up a broken thread, completing a truncated project, regaining a lost identity, resisting terror and surviving it. They are basic yearnings of the imagination, and also paradigms explored by sentimental fiction. if marked goat if it weren't more than that, it would be a drama. Without underestimating the political value of fidelity, which exists and to which the film owes extraordinary sympathy, beyond its very existence, let us recognize that its quality is more complex.

It so happens that the faithful, when they meet again after the ordeal, are not the same as at the beginning.. This change, which is rawly inscribed in the documentary material of the film, is its density and its historical testimony. Because of it, images ask to be seen many times, as inexhaustible as reality itself. Beneath the appearances of the reunion, what exists are the enigmas of the new situation, and those of the old one, which call for reconsideration.

The idea for the first film was born during a UNE road trip to the Northeast, in 1962, within the framework of the CPC and MPC, and brings the richness of that extraordinary moment. Under the sign of cultural renewal, the availability of students and the most dramatic forms of class struggle, which in Brazil, due to the slavery heritage, used to and usually do not reach public opinion. Given the characteristics of populism in Jango's time, the alliance had vague official sponsorship, and seemed to swim with the current.

Its tacit meaning, if I am not mistaken, would be more or less as follows: the justice and simplicity of the popular demand lent relevance to student life and culture, which in turn would guarantee national resonance, admiration and civilized recognition to the struggle of the poor. The complementarity of these aspirations is objective and produced great moments, which can be seen in the part of the film made in 62: the stupendous dignity of the peasants, the tragic simplicity in the presentation of class conflicts, the recognition of non-bourgeois types of beauty, etc. These are moments, by the way, that show how aesthetically silly the current anti-engagement doctrine is.

Today it seems obvious that that alliance had no political future, and that the revolution with encouragement from above could only end badly. However, she channeled real hopes, which the film conveys and in which other forms of society are present. The relationship between subject, actors, local situation and film people is obviously not of a mercantile nature, and points to new cultural forms. Nor can it be said that the director wanted to express himself individually: his art is about enhancing the beauty of collective meanings.

Does it make sense, in this case, to speak of an author? The film is not a documentary, as it has actors, but its subject is their destiny to such an extent that it cannot be said to be fiction either. For an intellectual audience, on the other hand, fiction is of documentary interest: it reveals, in the seriousness and intelligence of the actors, whose world is different, however, the hypothesis of an art with a social foundation different from ours. Finally, the film shows how much the oppressed can give to the intellectuals, and vice versa (I don't forget the objections that can be made to this point of view).

They are perspectives that existed and materialized culturally, without prejudice to the great part of the illusion that they contained. But if today they seem so remote to us, it's not just because of naivety. The commodification of labor relations in general, and of cultural production in particular, has advanced a lot in these twenty years. Other forms of sociability became almost unimaginable in our midst, which may not be a merit, and in any case it shows how much the reality of capitalism deepened and consolidated in the period.

Seventeen years later, in 1981, the filmmaker goes to the North in search of his companions and characters. Take the old film and a camera. Behind him now there is no student movement or government facilities, nor is there national enthusiasm. In place of social effervescence and its highly socialized forms of invention, there is an individual who is more or less alone, moved by his loyalty to people and to a project, relying only on his few resources.

It is evidently another subject. The result of his work will also have changed: without prejudice to the social intention, it will inevitably take on a mercantile form (which is not a criticism, on the contrary, since the importance of the film lies in accusing the transformation in the terms of Brazilian life). Not even the peasants, after all, are the same. The scenes in which they appreciate and comment on their own performance – an always privileged situation, which makes one intuit what Walter Benjamin called the worker's right to his image – are splendid. They do not, however, fail to show the changes brought about by fear and new conveniences, not to mention time. The reunion is warm, but the moment is different.

The interviews with Elisabete, the missing militant whose whereabouts the filmmaker researches and discovers, are the center of the film. The peasant leader's companion had fled to another state, changed her name and severed old relations, "so as not to be exterminated", as she explains. The person is evidently exceptional, for energy, vivacity, prudence, and also for panache. The taste – somewhere between modest and conceited – with which she leaves obscurity and makes herself known in the town where she had lived for so long under a false identity, teaching children and washing clothes and dishes, is extraordinary, and as far as possible is the happy ending. of an authentic folk heroine.

The filmmaker's intervention in her life is therefore great. How to understand it? The first time, in 1962, it was about the encounter between the student and peasant movements, through cinema, in a moment of national political radicalization. What was at stake was the future of the country, and the people would only be mediately the problem. Now it is about the obstinacy and solidarity of an individual, armed with a camera, who in conditions of political thaw helps another person to return to legal existence, which also allows him to complete the old film.

What is at stake is the rescue of individual existences and projects, or rather, not so individual as well, since the rescue operates within the orbit of cinema, which introduces a new aspect of power, of great significance. Where in 62 there was a redefinition of cinema and, by extension, of cultural production within the framework of the realignment of class alliances in the country, now there is the social power of filming (“O Senhor é da Globo?”), entering into the private lives of women. people — in this case for good.

The issue appears more acutely in the interviews with Elisabete's children, spread across Brazil, with almost no news or memory of the mother, and which the filmmaker went to look for. After showing them photographs or playing a tape recorded with her voice, the questions come point-blank and the camera pays attention to emotions. It is known that the good doctor is not the one who pities, but the one who heals. This is true to some extent for left-wing cinema, which is interested in knowing and revealing what is real, especially in situations of confrontation.

What do the tears and confused explanations of a bar owner in Baixada Fluminense mean, in which the viewer recognizes the old girl, serious and firm, from a photo of Elisabete's family? Of course, the context is the misfortunes that rained down on the family (persecution, terror, children shot in the street, suicide, dispersion), as they rained on other, equally enlightened and courageous workers. However, if this view of things does not forcefully impose itself, to the point of becoming the tacit plot, which does not need explicitness (which for now is an open historical question), the shots of the poor woman's suffering can function as a simple exploration of the emotions of others.

Nothing remains unscathed, not even the simplicity and probity that first led the filmmaker not to give up and, later, to film his figures and scenes without any demagoguery. The attentive and documentary camera — Coutinho's homage to the clarity of the popular struggle, which needs no explanation — in front of inferior figures, from whom History has stolen the articulation, has the effect of voyeurism. Is it friendly coldness, a remedy against the loss of reality typical of sentimentality, or is it the interest of an indiscreet camera? Of course, there is no point in speculating about the subjective intentions of the filmmaker (rather questioning those of the critic), whose effective solidarity the film is the full proof. The ambiguity is not his, it is the situation. The dramatic thing, for those who want to situate themselves, is to perceive the shifts in reality and the redefinition of the problems they cause.

The visit to Elisabete's children forms the reverse side of the film and its historical truth. In the foreground is the extraordinary woman, who despite everything has the happiness of reconnecting the two ends of life, and there is also the filmmaker, who manages to complete his project. This is what the movie account, its element of narrative interest. The visit to the children and other members of the initial team, who emigrated, is what the film show, his verification element, counterbalancing the happy ending in the foreground.

They are thrown and squandered across Brazil, without knowing about each other, without work of any worth, giving a measure of the dismemberment and human retrogression that the evolution of capitalism meant for the workers of the region. Only one is fine, who went to study in Cuba, where he lives as a doctor. His few words about his father's martyrdom are naive and scholarly official, which, despite their brevity, adds an important reference. The picture is all the more bitter as the old photographs show a family that is evidently out of the ordinary, because of the intelligent, spirited and handsome figure of all without exception, which is impressive. They are fractions of the consistent popular life that was created in the North and that the general evolution of the country does not get tired of pulverizing.

When she talks about the violence of the latifundia, Elisabete turns the corners of her mouth downwards, a gesture so to speak admiring that personal misfortunes, fear and even hatred are absent. And as a kind of objectivity, of consideration for the amount of damage and evil that he is capable of. It's as if she were a colossal beast, or another enormous calamity, with which one has to reckon, and whose dimension it is better to recognize. A tacit knowledge, of someone who has seen the jaguar, without propaganda or doctrine, which gives a rare version of the class struggle, free of leftist officialdom. Many years ago, looking at a photograph of Neruda's funeral, shortly after Allende's fall, I thought I noticed something similar on the downcast faces of those present.

Despite what has been said, marked goat it gives an impression of vitality and hope. How to explain it? We have already explained some of the reasons: the continuity of popular life, the feeling that the dictatorial period is ending, the friendliness and intelligence of the Northeastern types, and finally the demonstration of fiber given by the making of the film. Perhaps the fact that the dominant classes are absent also contributes.

All well thought out and things being what they are, would a climate of such seriousness and dignity be imaginable in Brazil today if members of the ruling class were present? Far be it from me to assume the intrinsic moral superiority of people of one class over those of another, I am not crazy. However, if we meditate on the film's universe, in which only popular and intellectuals are present, I think we will recognize that this composition is the foundation of its very particular climate.

It is as if at the very moment when the best and most acceptable part of the Brazilian bourgeoisie takes over the country — a moment to be welcomed! — the best film of recent years would say, by its own aesthetic constitution and without any deliberation, that in a serious universe this class has no place. But of course, life does not always imitate art.

* Robert Schwarz is a retired professor of literary theory at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of whatever (Publisher 34).

Originally published under the title “The thread of the meada” in What time is it? (Companhia das Letras, 1987).


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).


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