Brazilian Cinema – three critical studies



Comments on the books by Jean-Claude Bernardet, BJ Duarte and Fernão Ramos


What strikes the eye in Brazilian Cinema: proposals for a history, by Jean-Claude Bernardet is the way in which the author makes use of temporal space to base his theses, proposals and suggestions for a deeper study of Brazilian cinema. Situations and facts that occurred at the beginning of the century are still repeated today with frightening intensity in the so colonized national cinema; crucial problems relating to industrialization and market occupation – almost 70% of which is taken by foreign products – have not yet been resolved; the role of the State – at first through protectionist measures and, later, through more direct intervention in the production of works – in the context of cinematographic production and commercialization: these and other controversial themes are carefully discussed in his stimulating work.

Structured in six chapters and written in a language stripped of academic jargon, Proposals… seeks to discuss issues that until then had been little explored by the available bibliography on Brazilian cinema. As it is impossible to highlight the set of issues addressed by Bernardet, I highlight the chapters “The digging” and “New actor: the State”. In the first, Jean-Claude draws attention to the following variable: in the early decades of the XNUMXth century, with the market dominated by the imported product, Brazilian film was not necessary for the functioning of the cinematographic trade.

Sometimes a fiction film appears, although it “is not regular and profitable enough to sustain a cadre of producers with a minimum of equipment, laboratories, know-how. However, the filmmakers are there and produce without interruption. It seems that a phenomenon occurs that could only occur in a dominated cinematography”. The productions addressed the daily life of cities, local interests, creating “a free area, out of competition from foreign producers (…). The production of documentaries – or “natural” as they were called at the time – and newsreels was developed”.

It is these films, and not fiction ones, that support Brazilian production, produced from the money obtained from rich people “who want to promote their name, undertakings, products, political and worldly acts. (…) The production is based on a documentary linked to a worldly, financial, political, military, ecclesiastical elite, on which the filmmakers are dependent”. If workers, peasants, soldiers appear, it is only as an actor's complement to the elites. For Bernardet, “the documentary chamber of the time was the chamber of power”.

In “New actor: the State”, Bernardet shows the way in which the presence of foreign films, combined with State action, contributes to determining the forms of cinematographic production in Brazil. Powerless to face the aggressiveness of foreign companies, national producers found in the State the only way capable of assuring them a minimum share of the market that would enable growth – albeit at non-industrial levels – in production.

It is possible to see that, historically, the struggle of patrician filmmakers has been developed not so much against foreign films – by limiting imports – but in favor of Brazilian films. Thus, they ask for compulsory exhibition, exemption from consumption tax, exemption or lowering of customs fees for the importation of machinery and raw materials, while industrialists from other areas forwarded requests in order to obtain from the government a strong taxation of imported products – when there was a similar national product – to inhibit imports.

In this way, in the face of conjunctural claims made by Brazilian filmmakers, state capital ends up penetrating directly into the sphere of production in 1969, through the creation of Embrafilme, with the aim of guaranteeing the survival of national cinema. And from 1975 onwards, it also entered the sphere of distribution – with the natural ideological consequences that this situation presents –, seeking to combat foreign films at the level of the market itself.

Far from being a finished work, Brazilian Cinema: proposals for a history it has the unquestionable merit of suggesting clues and opening up several trails for understanding the problems of this colonized native cinema.


Benedito Junqueira Duarte (1910-1995) is perhaps not a familiar name to generations that in the last 40 or 50 years have not followed national cinema more closely and, in particular, São Paulo cinema. However, Benedito did a bit of everything while he was active: he was a producer, director, set designer, lighting, camera operator, editor, editor, in addition to being a critic for two major newspapers, The State of S. Paul (1946-1950) and Folha de S. Paul (1956-1965), as well as in the defunct magazine of culture anhembi (1950-1962).

Living in France from 11 to 18 years old, he learned the photographer's trade with José Ferreira Guimarães, a renowned portraitist and his uncle, while at the same time he improved his skills in workshop Parisian by Reutlinger. Back in Brazil, from 1929 to 1933, he worked as a photographer-reporter for the National Gazette.

BJ Duarte's effective militancy in São Paulo cinema was already evident in the second half of the 1940s when – together with Caio Scheiby, Francisco Luiz de Almeida Salles, Lourival Gomes Machado, Múcio Porfírio Ferreira and others – he created, in 1946, the 2o São Paulo Film Club – the first was led by Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes in the early 1940s, closed shortly thereafter by the DIP (Department of Press and Propaganda) from Getulio Vargas, in the middle of the Estado Novo (1937-1945). Shortly after Ciccilo Matarazzo founded the Museum of Modern Art (1949), the MAM Film Library was inaugurated, which was nothing more than the former Clube de Cinema and the future Cinemateca Brasileira.

The climax of this cultural agitation occurred at the end of 1949, when Cinematográfica Vera Cruz was formed, financed by the São Paulo bourgeoisie with the aim of providing national cinema with industrial production on “rational” bases and in technical conditions to compete on an equal footing. with foreign films. In the wake of Vera Cruz, other studios and independent producers emerged, with the formation of an (unstable) labor market in this field. Vera Cruz's financial crisis broke out in 1954, causing great discouragement among young people who thought of a promising career in fiction cinema. But in the second half of the 50s, advertising agencies appeared and most technicians turned to advertising films.

Benedito joins body and soul in this true cultural agitation: he writes programs, manifestos and participates in the countless debates about cinema, and he is a regular member of the commissions (state and municipal) of cinema that are formed. All these issues and a series of other themes (for example, the systematic fight against cinema novo, the Saci awards instituted by the newspaper The State of S. Paul, the scientific documentary made in the country) are exhaustively debated in the three press organizations in which he acted - and the volumes of these Chronicles of Memory are excellent testimony to this. And it must not be forgotten that the author has already made more than 600 scientific documentaries, of which around 60 were awarded here and abroad. Furthermore, it was Benedito who filmed the surgery for the first heart transplant in Brazil, performed by cardiologist and surgeon Eurycledes de Jesus Zerbini in May 1968 – it was the fifth transplant in the world and the first in the country.

BJ Duarte's books are indispensable for understanding various aspects of São Paulo cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. However, I understand that the role of class associations and cinema congresses that took place in the 50s, as well as the effective contribution of cinema novo.


With Marginal Cinema (1968-1973), by Fernão Ramos, those interested in the history of Brazilian cinema have the opportunity to get in touch with a systematic reflection on this movement, whose apex occurred between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the following decade. Until then, on the same theme, there was only the book by Jairo Ferreira, Cinema of Invention, which was characterized mainly by being a testimony of those who were engaged from the beginning in several São Paulo productions carried out at the time.

The first version of Fernão's book was written in 1984 and published three years later through an agreement involving Editora Brasiliense, the extinct Embrafilme and the Research Division of the Centro Cultural São Paulo (CCSP). Together with the Cinema area of ​​this Center, Fernão developed the project about marginal cinema, carrying out a survey of the articles available in the press (large and small), in other publications of ephemeral life and, in particular, using the Multimeios Archive of CCSP – in addition to producing the most complete filmography of the period, with 56 films.

Marginal cinema broke out in Brazil (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Belo Horizonte) in the late 1960s, with directors, among others, being Rogério Sganzerla, Júlio Bressane, Andrea Tonacci, Ozualdo Candeias, João Silvério Trevisan, José Mojica Marins, Neville d'Almeida, Sylvio Lanna, Geraldo Veloso, Elyseu Visconti, as well as some “close independents”, such as Luiz Rosemberg, Carlos Frederico, Sérgio Bernardes, Haroldo Marinho Barbosa, Ivan Cardoso, José Setti and Paulo Bastos Martins. movies like The Red Light Bandit (1968) Everyone's Woman (1969) and without that spider (1970), by Sganzerla; The margin (1967), by Candeias; Killed the family and went to the movies (1969) the angel was born (1969) Be careful ma'am (1970) and the King of the deck (1974), by Bressane; Blah blah blah (1967-1968) and Bang Bang (1970), by Tonacci; war garden (1968) and Asphalt Piranhas (1970), by Neville, are representative of marginal cinema.

Through concepts such as horror, enjoyment, abjection, it is possible to understand the screams and howls, sex, vomiting, drooling, the tearing of the body and mind, the excrements and the blood that flows from the mouths of the characters. Analyzing the marginal aesthetics, Fernão dedicates himself in particular to three structural elements that run through the set of works, namely, aggression, stylization (grass – tanning) and narrative fragmentation (the opposite of the classical tradition, present in the cinematographic industry America in the first half of the century). In addition, he establishes the relationships between marginal cinema and new cinema and situates marginal cinema in the face of the complex production – distribution – film exhibition.

Fernão Ramos concludes by stating that marginal cinema ended up leaving deep roots in Brazilian cinema, which continue to bear fruit. And using the words of Walter Benjamin, he understands that the specificity of this cinema was in seeking “a violent style that was at the height of the violence of historical events” (it does not take much effort to remember the unbreathable environment – ​​mainly in political terms). and cultural – existing in Brazil in the early 70s).

*Afranio Catani, retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF, he is the author, among others, of The Shadow of the Other: Cinematográfica Maristela and Cinema Industrial Paulista in the 50s (Panorama, 2002).

The original versions of the three essays were published, respectively, in read books, no. 22, March 1980; read books, no. 52, November 1982; Jornal da Tarde, November 19, 1987.


Jean-Claude Bernardet. Brazilian Cinema: proposals for a history. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2009.

  1. J Duarte. Chronicles of Memory. São Paulo: Massao Ohno / Roswitha Kempf, 3 vols, 1982.

Fernando Ramos. Marginal Cinema (1968-1973): representation at its limit. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987.



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