Cinema in quarantine: They don't wear black tie

Image: Elyeser Szturm


Commentary on the film by Leon Hirszman, based on the play by Gianfrancesco Guarnieri

In 2001, on the 20th anniversary of the release of the film They don't wear black tie, directed by Leon Hirszman in 1981, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) produces a short video where the national classic is celebrated for the relevance of the strike themes and for the protagonism of its family of workers, Romana, Otávio, Maria and Tião, exposing how politics and repression permeate the private space.

The contours of the plot exist since 1958, in the original play written by Gianfrancesco Guarnieri at the age of 21, staged for the first time by Teatro de Arena, with the project of transforming the theater into an open space for marginalized stories based on the playwrights' own lives and experiences. and actors. In this first montage, Guarnieri plays Tião, a worker, who discovers that his girlfriend Maria is pregnant. When other factory workers begin to agitate for a strike for better wages, Tião clashes with his father Otávio, an influential leader among his fellow factory workers, while the family matriarch, Romana, struggles to keep the family together and her husband. out of jail.

Tião's decision to go against his father and, later, Maria, by refusing to participate in the strike is tied to youth issues. His motivation is the preservation of the future he wants for himself and his new family; however, his rejection of the identity of a worker and his association with the hill where he lives is the cause of his break with the other characters. The play places even greater emphasis on the displacement felt by the protagonist in relation to the life around him: his ultimate goal is social ascension. In the end, this is the tragic flaw that separates Tião from Maria and her parents.

The classic character of Black tie lies in the balance between the familiar, interpersonal field and that of the political message about the historical context in which it was produced. The maturation of their son, Tião, and his pregnant girlfriend, Maria; the difficulty of Otávio, his father, in reconciling his political role within the factory and his responsibilities with the family; the emotional work of his mother, Romana, the unshakable presence between the uncertainty of the strike, Tião's stubbornness and Otávio's volatility. The reason why this same text, with all the changes and reframing it has carried since 1958, continued to be relevant and complex decades later is also linked to the value of this family melodrama at the center of the plot.

The film

The firm political message of the 1981 film is reiterated by direct references to workers' uprisings in the ABC region of São Paulo between 1979 and 1980 and to important union figures such as Santo Dias (through the character Bráulio, played by Milton Gonçalves); Bete Mendes, member of the Vanguarda Armada Revolucionaria Palmares (VAR-Palmares) in the 1960s, founder of the Workers' Party and who, in the film, plays Maria, is part of the cast. In this way, Leon Hirszman inserts the film into the political debates of the time about the future of workers' organizations and the strategic role and function of the strike.

It is therefore not surprising that, in the commemorative video produced by CUT, scenes of Otávio talking to Bráulio about the impending strike are interspersed with archive footage of Lula's historic speech to the strikers in São Bernardo do Campo, setting up a political picture of the year in which the film. This picture, however, is more complex than it appears, and the evolution of the legacy of They don't wear black tie it can be understood through the maturation of labor movements in Brazil and in the different political and repressive situations of each period in which it reappears.

There is an essential difference between the outcome of the play and the film: while, in 1958, the strike organized by Tião and Otávio's companions is successful, the opposite occurs in the film. The protesters are brutally repressed, resulting in the arrest of Otávio (something that already happened in the play), the aggression of Maria, pregnant, and the death of Bráulio. In Hirszman's adaptation, state violence is much more present, a reflection of the 17 years of military dictatorship. The effect that this choice has, however, is to weaken what was the center of the play: the way in which Tião's individualism and displacement tragically separate him from Maria and his family. That the strike is not portrayed so directly and that it does not bring such drastic consequences to the lives of the characters serves to highlight the consequences of Tião's failures.

By prioritizing the meanings and results of the strike, Hirszman and Guarnieri fundamentally alter the balance between Tião's coming of age arc with his class betrayal, and adapt the plot from their own political experiences in the 1970s. Brazilian Communist Party (although Guarnieri left after the coup) since his youth. In 1981 they occupied the point of view of experienced militants, coming from a PCB tradition of the 40s and 50s. With the big strikes in the late 1970s, there was a new demand within the working class, which did not way embedded in the strategies and values ​​of the former leaderships.

Otávio is the voice of reason, he is sensible no matter how much he takes risky actions, portrayed as sacrifices for the good of his companions. However, in the film, he exists in opposition to the strike organizers, who are portrayed as agitators, impulsive and unprepared. The character of Sartini, created for the film, would represent the worker with less union experience and who would see the strike as a simple and objective way to win a salary increase. His motivations are individual, devoid of the same class consciousness expressed by other characters like Bráulio, Otávio and Maria.

Contrasting the pedagogical speeches of Otávio, interpreted with so much affection and delicacy by Guarnieri at the age of 47, to the disorganized strikers means that the experienced militant he represents is the tragic protagonist of this story, who separates from his son and loses his best friend for account of the imprudence of the companions he always defended. The strike appears, from the beginning, as a fundamentally disorganizing element.


For this reason, it is interesting how the film's legacy fits into the memory of the metallurgists' uprisings, as it was heavily criticized at the time by the figures who played a leading role in this historic moment, and who were important characters in Leon Hirszman's previous project, the documentary ABC of strike (released only after his death in 1990). There is an internal incongruity in the choice not to represent the meetings of trade unionists in the film, valuing the political discussion and experience of Otávio without portraying the collective spaces where the movements that defend these same values ​​on the front line and build this same experience are formed.

Discussed on the occasion of the launch of They don't wear black tie, the newspaper Movement brought together some of these figures to discuss the film, and Lula himself makes a comment that summarizes this confusing relationship: “Staying in the affirmation that you have to organize yourself before going on strike is forgetting that the strike itself can be an important moment for the organization of workers […]. At no time [the film] depicts the process of political maturation of the working mass during the strike”.

On the eve of the first presidential victory of the Workers' Party, the resumption of the themes of the Black tie by the CUT is marked by the attempt to moderate the most radicalized points in the history of this period of struggle. Based on the experience of the union, Otávio is a family man who honors his commitment to his colleagues, but does not get confused with the “Sartinis” at the factory, who abuse the right to strike in order to have one more day off. From the point of view of the narrative, the violence of the climax is a direct consequence of this disorganization and irresponsibility of the workers who defend the strike regardless of approval or not by the centralized union.

The way in which the video cuts Otávio and Bráulio's frustrated attempts to lead their companions to “common sense” is curious, with images of stadiums and squares full of workers listening to Lula's speeches. The defeat of the strike in the film, when used in the historical context of 2001, then has the effect of underlining why the 1979 uprisings were victorious, elevating the competence of their leaders to an audience that perhaps still saw them as undisciplined and radical.

*Gilda Walther de Almeida Prado* is a history major at USP.

Article originally published by GMARX Newsletter.

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