Cinema in quarantine: Anselmo Duarte

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By José Geraldo Couto*

Commentary on the Filmmaker The Promise Payer

When you think of Anselmo Duarte (1920-2009), who would be 21 years old on the XNUMXst, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the Palme d'Or he won at Cannes with The Promise Payer ( in 1962. But its importance for national cinema goes further, and its singular trajectory helped to illuminate a good part of the Brazilian culture of the XNUMXth century.

There are romantic, almost mythical moments in this journey. Starting from his first contact with cinema, in his hometown, Salto, in the interior of São Paulo. His brother was a projectionist and Anselmo, aged ten, stayed behind the screen wetting it from time to time so that it would not catch fire – a real risk in projections at that time. The procedure is recreated in the penultimate film he directed, The crime of Zé BigornaOf 1977.

Another legendary move is his participation as an extra in the unfinished filming of It's all true, by Orson Welles, in Rio in 1942. After a visit to São Paulo, where he worked as a typist and studied economics, Anselmo had gone to try his luck in the then capital of the country. Hardworking, ambitious and handsome, he made his acting debut in the romantic comedy Dear Susana (1947), by Alberto Pieralisi, opposite Tônia Carrero.

Soon he would become the main heartthrob of the chanchadas of Atlântida and, later, of the melodramas of Vera Cruz. It was in these studios that he learned a classic narrative cinema, tending towards the academic one, which would find its best moment in Payer.

Anchored in an exciting theatrical text by Dias Gomes, an experienced technical team from Vera Cruz (such as director of photography Chick Fowle) and a privileged cast that included, in addition to newcomers Leonardo Vilar and Glória Menezes, the young Othon Bastos, Norma Bengell, Geraldo del Rey and Antonio Pitanga, in addition to veteran Dionísio Azevedo, Anselmo enchanted the world with a film that spoke of popular faith, intolerance and social prejudice, watered down with capoeira, candomblé, malemolente sensuality and the beauty of Bahian baroque.

It was not for lack of strong opponents that the film won the Palme d'Or. That year works by Buñuel (the exterminating angel), Antonioni (the eclipse), Robert Bresson (The Trial of Joan of Arc), Cacoyannis (Electra), Agnès Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7), Sidney Lumet (Long journey into the night) and Jack Clayton (the innocent), among others.

Feud with Cinema Novo

the payer won dozens of awards around the world and was nominated for an Oscar for foreign film (lost to always on sundays, by Serge Bourguignon). But it was really the Palme d'Or that aroused the resentment, anger and malediction of the members of the then flourishing Brazilian New Cinema. Anselmo represented, in the eyes of the Cinemanovistas, everything they wanted to overcome in order to create a revolutionary cinema. Coming from chanchada and Vera Cruz, he was seen, at best, as a simpleton, and at worst, as an opportunist. He made, they said, an academic cinema that sold “local color” for gringo to see.

Although he always said that he was not interested in the critics' laurels and that his objective was to entertain and move the public, the fact is that this rejection by the intelligentsia Brazilian music, especially the path of cinema novo, was a grief that Anselmo carried to his death. In interview he gave me in 1997, before leaving for Cannes, where he would participate in the celebrations of the 50th edition of the festival, the actor and director spoke a little about his feeling, and told some tasty details of his participation as a jury of the event, in 1971.

An episode that was left out of the interview due to lack of space was the disastrous attempt by the producer of the Payer, Oswaldo Massaini, to please François Truffaut, then president of the jury. Anselmo and Massaini were having dinner in a restaurant in Cannes when they saw Truffaut, a few tables away. Massaini had an idea that he thought was brilliant. He had an LP of Brazilian music with him and decided to present it to the French director. “I stayed at the table, watching from afar”, recalled Anselmo. “Upon being approached, Truffaut got up indignantly, threw the disc on the ground, and lectured Massaini, saying that as a competitor he should not even approach a judge.”

The fact is that, despite the embarrassment at the restaurant, the film won. But the negative or dismissive reaction of the new establishment Brazilian cinematography was so profound in Anselmo that he decided to change course and show that he also knew how to make authorial cinema, subverting classical and academic norms.

Sidewalk, author adventure

He then made what is perhaps his most interesting and disturbing film, path of salvation (1965). Once again based on a theatrical work (by Jorge Andrade) and centered on an episode of religious fanaticism – a rural community commanded by a messianic leader gone mad –, however, the film broke a series of previous aesthetic ties. In place of the well-composed shots and the perforated montage of the Payer, came into play the long shots, the oblique framing and the depth of field of the restless and delirious camera of the Argentine Ricardo Aronovich, who had worked on the rifles (1964), by Ruy Guerra, and partnered with directors such as Louis Malle, Alain Resnais, Raoul Ruiz and Andrzej Zulawski.

Not only the visual setup, but also the hallucinatory acting of the cast corresponded to the increasing madness of the characters, which culminated in terrible scenes of exorcism and murder of children. Like this the payer had launched Leonardo Vilar in the cinema, Sidewalk featured for the first time as a protagonist an enlightened Raul Cortez, in the role of the messianic leader.

But it was no use. The film was received as an unsuccessful attempt to “look like Cinema Novo”. This is a historic injustice. Seen today, path of salvation preserves intact its vitality and relevance. Too bad, unless I'm mistaken, there is no decent copy available, on DVD or streaming. It is complete on Youtube (, but in a precarious copy, recorded from TV. Still, it's worth a look.

After this foray, Anselmo Duarte gave up pursuing an authorial path and returned, whether as an actor or director, to the safe path of a more conventional and, supposedly, popular cinema. He directed, among others, the gaucho epic A certain Captain Rodrigo (1971), segments of collective pornochanchadas, a policeman starring Pelé (the pickpockets, 1980) and the aforementioned The crime of Zé Bigorna, erotic-police drama starring Lima Duarte. As an actor, his role as a truculent police lieutenant in the excellent The Case of the Naves Brothers (Luiz Sérgio Person, 1967).

The impression I have is that, despite being a popular star for decades, a handsome and seductive man who went to bed with the most desirable women of his time (and who always boasted about it), a filmmaker who won international awards and enchanted audiences all over the world, Anselmo Duarte never stopped being the simple-minded and ambitious boy from the countryside, who couldn't quite understand everything he had experienced and, mainly, why not everyone liked him.

*Jose Geraldo Couto is a film critic

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG

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