Di Glauber – a marginal film?

Image: Vera Nilsson


Considerations on the short film by Glauber Rocha

On March 11, 1977 the short film Di-Glauber, by filmmaker Glauber Rocha about the death of the painter Di Cavalcanti, premiered at the Cinematheque of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, provoking laughter and applause from the audience of 500 moviegoers.

But it was only two years after its premiere, when shown on the commercial circuit, that the film was seized through a writ of mandamus filed by the painter’s daughter, Elizabeth Di Cavalcanti, on the grounds that the film “denigrates the image of the painter Di Cavalcanti”. Cavalcanti physically and morally”,[1] that it is an “image usurpation”, and that it makes an “apology of death”. In the sentence banning the film, the allegation was that it “causes a clear injury to Di Cavalcanti's personality”; “it hurts the intimate feeling of the heirs”; “daughter feels shocked when confronted with the pathetic face of her father”. An expert goes so far as to state in a newspaper article The Globe, of June 02, 1981: “It is a whole demonic montage having the painter's body as its center, including his face deformed by the disease”.

In this article, we will try to analyze some aesthetic characteristics of Di-Glauber – stylization, allegory, carnivalization, aggression procedures, and the filmmaker's aggressive and provocative attitude towards the spectator – which demonstrate a shift in Glauber's work, where the signs of a path that leads to Marginal Cinema are visible.

With regard to marginal aesthetics, we used as a basis for our reflections the book by Fernão Ramos Cinema Marginal (1968/1973): representation at its limit on the theme, which delimits the period of the movement as understood between the years 1968 and 1973. The author himself states that the delimitation of this historical period should not be treated in an exclusive way.[2] Therefore, we feel very comfortable dealing with Di-Glauber, a 1977 production, as possessing aesthetic elements characteristic of marginal cinema.

It is also important to comment that the Marginal Cinema movement was basically represented by fiction films. By stating that the documentary in question has elements of marginal aesthetics, it demonstrates the diversity of this cinematographic field, in addition to reinforcing the uniqueness of the work in question.

Another point we would like to raise concerns the statements made by filmmaker Glauber Rocha about the marginal cinema movement he called udigrudi. In an interview with the magazine debate and criticism, in April 1975 the filmmaker states: “Films udigrudi they are ideologically reactionary because they are psychologists and because they incorporate social chaos without assuming the critique of history and formally, for that very reason, regressive. They are a mixture of pre-67 anarchist Godard and Warhol's phenomenological and descriptive formalism, and neither has achieved what it set out to do: to unleash the undeveloped collective unconscious in a totalizing audiovisual spectacle.” (quoted in Sidney Rezende (organizer) Glauber Rocha's ideals. Philobiblion, Rio de Janeiro, 1986, p. 80).

The filmmaker's statement above is the result of a controversy between marginal filmmakers and Cinema Novo filmmakers. In the years 1969 and 1970, filmmakers Rogério Sganzerla, Júlio Bressane and actress Helena Inêz gave interviews to the press, criticizing and mocking Cinema Novo. Glauber Rocha did not leave it for less and also made his criticisms of marginal cinema. He went so far as to claim that the only truly underground film is Cancer (1969) directed by the filmmaker himself. (in Ramos, cited work, p. 388). In fact, Cancer is, without a doubt, the film by Glauber Rocha considered “marginal”.[3]

For Ismail Xavier: “The controversies of the time formed what is perceived today as a plural movement of styles and ideas that, like other cinematographies, produced here the convergence between “the politics of authors”, low-budget films and the renewal of language, traits that mark modern cinema, as opposed to classic and more fully industrial cinema.” (“Brazilian modern cinema” in cinemas, Rio de Janeiro, n.o. 4, March/April 1997, p. 43).

In the scarce literature found on the Di-Glauber, we found some affirmations that helped us to start developing our thinking. Some authors quote the film in question as being characteristic of marginal cinema. But none of them develop their ideas. Haroldo de Campos in the preface to Jean-Claude Bernardet's book, The Flight of Angels: Bressane, Sganzerla - filmmaking study (Brasiliense) states: “In the previous paragraph, I used the adverbial caveat formula “apparently” (apparently) in the previous paragraph. It's just that, for some years now, I've been harboring a hypothesis – today a conviction – that Glauber Rocha, the father of Cinema Novo and the pater “putative” in the semiotic process of critical devouring studied here, was on his side, with his very sensitive creative antennas much more in tune (in the deep structure of events) with the udigrudi, the so-called marginal cinema, from Belair, than with cinenovismo already entering an epigonal phase. Proof of this “elective affinity” are, from the outset, Cancer (1969) and, from the last Glauber, the disconcerting the age of the earth and the eerie documentary about the death-wake of Di Cavalcanti, filmed not in an atmosphere of mournful plangence, but at a vertiginously carnivalized pace (funferall, would say Joyce of Finnegans Wake), a rhythm that has the power to restore life to the remarkable painter and consummate bohemian whose memory it celebrates.” (Haroldo de Campos, “The low flight of cinema” in The Flight of Angels: Bressane, Sganzerla, P. 16 and 17).

The characterization of Glauber's documentary by Haroldo de Campos also coincides with Regina Motta's position: “Di-Glauber it incorporates the low-definition elements of graphic arts and chained shots, without respecting the laws of contiguity of the art of video, already quite developed at that time. In this respect, it conceptually and formally approaches the cinematographic manifestos of the marginal cinema of Bressane and Sganzerla, among others.” (Di-Glauber: The nuclear assembly. Paper presented at the COM-PÓS Meeting, Salvador, in 1999, mimeo).

But at what point did the documentary Di-Glauber dialogue with marginal cinema? If we think, in the first place, of the historical context in which the marginal movement appears, a context of impossibility of action, of instituted repression, of tightening censorship, where films are presented as a response to a cultural process, we can see that they are quite similar. The lack of production condition is very similar. If films from marginal cinema are very cheap films, Glauber films his documentary with almost no resources: with borrowed equipment and negative leftovers. The finalization of the film was made by Embrafilme.

In declarations in the media, on the occasion of the Di-Glauber in Cannes, we saw the filmmaker’s outburst in an interview with journalist Maria Lucia Rangel: “Deep down, I thought it was funny that I hadn’t filmed in Brazil for eight years (the last film he made here was The dragon of evil against the holy warrior, winner of the Best Director award at Cannes in 1969), and reappeared at the festival much later, competing in the short film category. This is good, because I present myself as a young filmmaker from the Third World, restarting a cinema that disappeared in the failures of the 1960s, and without any commitment to cinematographic culture and also to the official culture that circulates here in Brazil. When I say official culture, I don't mean state culture. It is the culture of an intelligentsia that really officializes and censors artistic expression in Brazil. O Say Cavalcanti it is a marginal film, despite having been, after filming by me, bought by Embrafilme, which is no big deal, because several terrible films are currently financed by Embrafilme. So, as Brazilian TV would not acquire my film, as it does not obey the laws of editing, sound and text that today dominate the mediocrity of Brazilian documentaries…”. (newspaper from Brazil, May 28, 1977).

We believe that when the filmmaker refers to “a marginal film” this attitude is related to the difficulties of the production conditions and mainly because the filmmaker feels discriminated against. The idea of ​​“starting over” with a short film is associated with the idea of ​​this format being seen as an “internship” for the feature film. We disagree with this thought, prevalent until today, believing that many of the aesthetic invocations of cinematographic language occur precisely in this format. The Cinema Novo movement itself was marked by two short films: aruanda (1959), by Linduarte Noronha and Cable camp (1960), by Paulo César Saraceni.

Perhaps in this attitude of the filmmaker of being on the sidelines is where we can better understand this approximation with Marginal Cinema. One question to ask is why are fringe films so provocative? This provocation takes place in relation to the aggressive attitude towards the spectator. If the Cinema Novo movement sought a more “active” spectator[4], the filmmakers of Cinema Marginal, in turn, made films aimed at an effect of “discomfort” in the spectator, questioning their social position and through mockery and aggressiveness.

Both went against the passive attitude of the audience, but in Cinema Novo, by questioning reality, an awareness of the spectator was sought that would result in a transforming practical action. the provocation in Di-Glauber is more identified with the style of Cinema Marginal than with the style of Cinema Novo films: it is denial, it is mockery, it is aggressiveness that, in a certain way, is doomed to an impossibility of action.

Take, for example, the sequence in which the filmmaker shows the cadaverous face of Di Cavalcanti. This 40-second shot (quite long for the film's average shot) shows a panoramic view, in the foreground, that goes from the flowers on the painter's coffin to his cadaverous face, with a rather mocking tone of narration. The text narrated by Glauber Rocha to the sound of a radio broadcast is a total provocation, mockery, irony: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Cut! Now close up his face. Stubble beard, navy blue jeans, light blue coat. Cut! [ ] Filming causes astonishment and irritates a friend's daughter. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Cut! Now close up his face. Stubble beard, navy blue jeans, light blue coat, checkered sport shirt, brown shoes. Filmmaker Glauber Rocha is standing next to Di Cavalcanti's coffin at the wake at the Museum of Modern Art”.

The repetition of the text in the narration is typical of marginal aesthetics. The radio tone in a parody tone is very close to the narration of The Red Light Bandit, destabilizing[5] the displayed image. The proximity of the camera to Di Cavalcanti's face, which according to Glauber Rocha is smiling – is one of the most provocative scenes in the film. The cadaverous face and the radio narration convey chaos. It is precisely this image that makes up the poster for the film.

The provocation of Glauber Rocha's film is precisely due to the way the filmmaker deals with death. Death, a condition inaccessible to human intelligence, is the passage from one social form to another, that is, it is a transformation, in the sense of disappearance. The ritual of a burial or wake is the space for separating the dead from this world and transporting them to another world. It is a place of respect, as the “disappearance” of the dead provokes emotions that are expressed through sadness, crying, silence. The horror that a dead body provokes in our society is indescribable. Even the professions of “gravedigger”, “deceaser”, “funeral directors” are repugnant in societies.

Now, returning to the cadaverous image of the painter Di Cavalcanti, we can see that the filmmaker, by bringing the camera closer to the painter's face, revealing his nostrils full of cotton pads, invades/exceeds a space allowed for the funerary rituals of our society. If the image were displayed in silence, we believe that by itself it would already contain the filmmaker's daring. But Glauber goes further: the approximation of the image takes place with a chaotic radio narration, full of irony and mockery. In this way, provocation Di-Glauber can be attributed to the contempt, disrespect, dishonor and humiliation of how the filmmaker treats the ritual of death.

A constant of marginal films is the inversion of the social order, observed in the attraction for the eccentric and the excessive. Family murders can be observed in Killed the family and went to the movies and Meteorango Kid. By subverting the values ​​of a funerary ritual in our society, we believe that Di-Glauber also demonstrates this feature.

The marginal narrative sacrifices the linear development of the action, with the lengthening of the shots to their limit, to dwell for a long time on a face, a landscape, a scream, or vomiting (Ramos, cited work, p. 140). The shot sequence of Di Cavalcanti's cadaverous face is quite long compared to the rest of the short. The montage principle used by Glauber Rocha in Di-Glauber it is called “nuclear montage” which means “quality is in quantity”, that is, the film is composed of an excessive 174 shots, many of them lasting seconds or fractions of seconds. Just the opposite of the 40 seconds of this controversial sequence.

Regarding the narrative, we can say that in Di-Glauber; like fringe films, it is fragmented. We will use as an example the sequence in which actor Antônio Pitanga dances in front of Di Cavalcanti's paintings (shots 3 to 20). Just 14 seconds long, the filmmaker shows us 18 shots, interspersing the image of Pitanga with images of paintings by the painter. The amount of information in this short section makes the spectator work hard, with extreme attention in gathering data to establish the relationship between the shots. Another example of this fragmentation can be found, in the last block of the film, when the filmmaker reads Frederico Morais' critique of the painter and his importance in contemporary plastic arts:

“Di Cavalcanti, lyrical, romantic, sensual, mainly from Rio de Janeiro, Frederico de Moraes. The Globe, Wednesday. Di was never a realist. Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, who died yesterday, at the age of 79, after a long illness, it wasn't enough that it was according to his own… recently, moreover, it was said ah! Maybe Picasso, ah maybe movement, Di didn't let go maybe Gauguin the directors of the Modern Art Week at the Municipal Theater… in São Paulo…”

The narration is chaotic. The sentences have no end, they are incomprehensible; the filmmaker inserts loose sentences, without connection and without coherence, preventing the spectator's understanding, that is, making it difficult to “contemplate” the film. We can also draw a parallel between Glauber Rocha's attitude as a narrator and some characters from Cinema Marginal with regard to depravity. Rogério Sganzerla's protagonist in The Red Light Bandit its motto is “when we can't do anything, we screw up…, screw up and make a mess of ourselves”; Lula, in turn, a character from Meteorango Kid in the final sequence of the film by André Luiz de Oliveira he states: “what will become of me, of my life… what does it matter!”.

Em Di-Glauber this mess occurs in the sequence in which the actor Joel Barcellos, together with Di Cavalcanti's relatives, carries the coffin towards the hearse. In the locution Glauber Rocha in total debauchery: “Di por Di, the voices of the tomb, it sounds like a genius, I'm an old man, a national guard; don't piss me off!!!”

It is a posture quite similar to the posture of marginal characters. In the plan described above, we would also like to comment on the irony and mockery of the presence of actor Joel Barcellos who carries the handle of Di Cavalcanti's coffin, in a prominent position, as if he were a close friend of the family. A funerary ritual, in our society, has codes and norms of conduct.

Anthropologist José Carlos Rodrigues states that in the XNUMXth century, there was a transformation in societies, whose objective is the neutralization of funerary rites and the concealment of everything related to death: “The bereaved individual is expected to be able to display always a serene face, and not showing pain becomes a sign of emotional balance. Similarly, mourning is increasingly the subject of a limited number of people: it is privatized, affecting only very close relatives (when it does not disappear completely). (...) The funeral processions are digested by the city. (...) Cars are lost among all the others and the van is identified less and less as such. Everything happens as if on purpose to hide it, as if to disturb the survivors and their urban transits as little as possible.” (Jose Carlos Rodrigues, Death Taboo. P. 186-187).

Actor Joel Barcellos behaves exactly as Rodrigues describes: his air is one of serenity, his clothes are discreet, his posture is one of neutrality. It is, and it is not! If Barcellos was a friend of Di Cavalcanti, he would indeed be behaving with the expected neutrality of a burial ritual. It turns out that the actor was only there at the request of the filmmaker. His role, then, changes completely: from serenity he turns to debauchery, from discretion he turns to irony, from neutrality he turns to debauchery. From documentary it passes to fiction.

Regarding the filmmaker's posture, we see nothing in common with Rodrigues' description. Glauber, according to press reports and statements in the film by the filmmaker himself, made a tremendous fuss in the footage during the wake, mockingly subverting the moral standards of this ritual. An example of the filmmaker's behavior can be observed in shot 36 of Di-Glauber which shows images of the wake with the following text: “Now give an overview. Frame the coffin in the center. Then it starts filming from left to right. Here, slowly. Let's go. One two three. When the count reached ten, he stopped. (radio narration)… the dead artist would only finish an hour and 23 minutes later, next to the tomb in São João Batista Cemetery. When, at the request of the painter's adopted daughter, Elizabeth, a friend of the family asked Glauber to “stop this morbid spectacle”, he explained: “don't worry, this is my tribute to a friend who died. I'm here filming my tribute to my friend Di Cavalcanti. Now excuse me, I need to work”.

Once again, Glauber Rocha's provocation: the fuss during the filming and the commentary on this fuss in the film itself. It is indeed a provocation!

Rodrigues in the excerpt above states that there is an attempt to neutralize the rituals of death, especially with regard to mourning. However, this does not mean that there is no concern with clothing, but rather that there is no longer a rigidity in wearing black at funerals, or rather, black is restricted to the closest relatives of the deceased. In relation to this, we can highlight the descriptions made in the film in relation to clothing.

First, Glauber Rocha reads an article by Edson Brenner in which he mentions (shot 2) the clothes worn by the filmmaker: “Unshaven, navy blue jeans, light blue coat, checkered sports shirt, brown shoes. Filmmaker Glauber Rocha is standing next to Di Cavalcanti's coffin at the wake at the Museum of Modern Art.”

Quotes but does not show. The images are of the coffin and the cadaverous face of the painter. In a second moment (shot 36) Glauber reads in a low tone: “Dressed in white, black turban in her hair…” referring to the clothing of model Marina Montini, Di Cavalcanti's inspiring muse. Montini dresses in white at the request of the filmmaker. We can conclude that despite the “neutralization of mourning”, the outfit is still important, so much so that the fact that the model is wearing white caused some embarrassment in the family members. Once again we saw Glauber Rocha's provocation.

It is also in the film's soundtrack that we observe a mocking and ironic attitude, characteristic of marginal aesthetics, in Di-Glauber. Marina Montini's entry to the tune of “Your hair doesn't deny it, mulata” ironizes our own condition of underdevelopment, the cynicism of society that feels ashamed of the black population and racial prejudice and slavery as a national shame. In Hector's wake Glauber Rocha's irony comes from comparing the dead man to a criminal. Not to mention the rhythms of the songs: carnival and chorinho do not combine with wakes and burials.

Em Di-Glauber carnivalization is present all the time. The various images of Antonio Pitanga dancing can be considered examples of this carnivalization (shots 3 to 20; 22 to 33 and 52). For Celso Favaretto: “Carnival is characterized, above all, by the inversion of hierarchies, through the grotesque exaggeration of characters, facts and clichés. It abolishes the distance between the sacred and the profane, between the sublime and the insignificant, between the comic and the serious, between high and low, etc., relativizing all values. (...) The carnival rite is ambivalent: it is the celebration of destructive and regenerating time. It introduces another time into everyday time, that of mixing values, reversing social roles – a time of disguise and confusion between reality and appearance. It provokes actions in which intimacy is dramatically externalized, contrary to “normalized” life. (Celso Favaretto, Tropicália: allegory, joy. Kairos, p. 92).

Well, we find the above characteristics all the time in Glauber Rocha's film: the confusion between reality and appearance in the presence of actor Joel Barcellos, the grotesque exaggeration of Di Cavalcanti's cadaverous face, the dead man's intimacy revealed in Glauber's testimonies, the profanity of Joel Barcellos's flirtation in the sacred burial space, just to name a few examples.

One of the scenes that we find interesting to comment on in more detail refers to Plan 91 of Di-Glauber. The playfulness in the documentary appears in the change of names of filmmakers Roberto Rosselini and Alberto Cavalcanti. Roberto rhymes with Alberto; Rosselini and Cavalcanti, words with four syllables and both paroxytones. Still in this plan, we would like to comment on the images that show newspaper articles with the following words: “Glauber Rocha filmed everything: the wake and the burial. But there were few friends to say goodbye to Di Cavalcanti, who was buried yesterday in the São João Batista Cemetery. Now, Catete’s painter is just one street away in Barra.”

A bit pejorative for a documentary that intends to pay homage to the dead painter. Another provocation from the filmmaker?

The allegory, a characteristic present in marginal films, can also be found in Di-Glauber. For Ismail Xavier, the allegory can be seen as a reference notion of Brazilian films of the late 60s (Allegories of underdevelopment: Cinema Novo, Tropicalismo and Marginal Cinema. Brasiliense, p. 11) although these possess enormous diversity. And he goes further: “Cinema, given its synthetic character, requires, in the interpretation of films, an articulation that cannot disregard either of the two dimensions of allegory – that of narrative and that of visual composition. In the field of visuality, the modern allegorical style is generally associated with discontinuity, plurality of focuses, collage, fragmentation or other effects created by montage “that makes itself seen”. However, we will see that the allegorical here can be manifested through traditional schemes such as the emblem, the caricature, the collection of objects that surrounds the character, in order to constitute a “cosmic” order where he is inserted.” (p. 14).

The allegory can be exemplified mainly in the sequence entitled “The kingdom of mirrors”, where the filmmaker, together with Roberto Pires, Miguel Farias and Cacá Diegues, holds a series of objects, cutouts, dolls, props and collages in a mirror. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice or Saint George and the Dragon are also part of this allegory. Glauber, in the text distributed on the occasion of the film's premiere, seeks to explain the metaphors in Di-Glauber:

“(…) In the transpsychoanalytic metaphorical field, I materialize the victory of Saint George over the Dragon. And, in the case of an independent production, due to lack of time and money, and given the “urgency” of the “work”, I play São Jorge (divided into Joel Barcelos and Antonio Pitanga) and Di – the dragon. But curiously, I am Black Orpheus (Pitanga) and Marina Montini, doubly Eurydice (Di's muse), is Death (…)”.[6]

The question of the stylization of marginal films – as opposed to a realistic aesthetic – we can say that even Di-Glauber being a documentary, it distances itself, in a certain way, from the realistic parameter. The irreverent, mocking, playful, carnival-like, exaggerated, sometimes grotesque attitude subverts the aesthetics of the documentary, getting very close to the aesthetics of Marginal Cinema. The belief in the myth of the veristic image of documentary cinema in Di-Glauber presents itself at another level of discussion: the disrespect with which the filmmaker treats the death of the famous painter.

It remains for us to comment on the end credits of the film. They are dirty, scribbled, improvised on purpose, sculpted, or even messed up. The camera is nervous, frantic, it doesn't stop still. Reading is hampered by the incessant movement of the camera. It is the only moment in the film that we hear a voice other than that of Glauber Rocha, who plays the painter Di Cavalcanti. It is the true aesthetics of garbage!

Same Di-Glauber being a work of documentary cinema, even the filmmaker's declarations against the Marginal Cinema movement, even the year of production (1977) being later than that of marginal films, we would like to insist on our hypothesis that the documentary in question is the repository of an aesthetic marginal, for having the following characteristic elements: stylization, allegory, carnivalization; the narrative fragmentation perceived in the “nuclear montage”; aggressive procedures, seen in mockery, irony, parody, the grotesque; the aggressive and provocative attitude of the filmmaker towards the spectator.

Although our work does not have as a proposal the discussion of the prohibition of the work, considered by the family as a profane work, we also hope to be contributing to the rethinking of discussions about the theme “image rights”. Certain that freedom of expression constitutes a primordial element of every democratic society, and certain of the originality of Di-Glauber  not only in relation to documentary cinema, but also in Glauber Rocha's own work, and in the history of Brazilian cinema, we hope to be contributing to the growth of this discussion.

*Tetê Mattos is a professor at the Department of Arts at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

Originally published in the magazine cinemas n. 30, July-August 2001.



[1] The Globe, June 02, 1981 (Tempo Glauber Archive).

[2] When Fernão Ramos states that this delimitation should not be treated in an exclusive way, he is referring to films whose dates are very close to the period he suggested. It is clear that throughout the history of cinema we will find films with aesthetic characteristics of past movements. the short films Controversy (1998) by André Luiz Sampaio about the meeting of musicians Noel Rosa and Wilson Batista and the lazy hour (1998) by Rafael Conde, which portrays a day in the life of a young man in conflict with his art, dialogue a lot with marginal aesthetics.

[3] Fernão Ramos analyzes the film in his book Marginal Cinema (1968/1973): representation at its limit. Brasiliense, Sao Paulo, 1987.

[4] Tomás Gutierrez Alea discusses the concept of “contemplative spectator”, as being the one who does not overcome the passive-contemplative level of a show, and “active spectator”, as being the one who, taking the moment of living contemplation as a starting point, ends up generating a process of critical understanding of reality and a transforming practical action. (Tomás Gutierrez Alea, The spectator's dialectic: six essays by the most awarded Cuban filmmaker. Summus, São Paulo, 1984, “The contemplative spectator and the active spectator”, page 48). The critic José Carlos Avellar, on the other hand, works with the concepts of “spectator cinema” and, based on the Cinema Novo films, “director cinema”. (“Cinema and spectator” in Ismail Xavier [Organiser] Cinema in the Century. Imago editor, Rio de Janeiro, 1996, pages 217 to 243).

[5] Em The Red Light Bandit radio narration destabilizes voice commentary over of the bandit: advertisements, announcements of invasion of flying saucers decentralize and minimize the crimes of the Bandit of the Red Light.

[6] We couldn't help but mention the movie At midnight I'll take your soul (1964) by José Mojica Marins, where the character Zé do Caixão, cruel gravedigger and undertaker, provokes terror in a country town. One of the film's famous sequences refers to the disrespect for society's traditions and rituals when Zé do Caixão eats mutton on Good Friday, when a procession passes under his window. By the way, José Mojica Marins is considered a marginal filmmaker.

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