I'm saving myself for when carnival arrives

Image: Antonio Lizarraga


Commentary on the film by Marcelo Gomes

In a 1999 statement, Francisco de Oliveira stated that “in certain situations you have the capacity to advance in the utopian description. In others, it doesn't." And then: “I perceive a gap between a virtuality that opens up and a new force that has not been formed”. Between an aborted force and a still possible virtuality, he pondered that, insisting on “radical criticism of what bourgeois rationality could not achieve”, perhaps a possibility could open up for the construction of a “political project”, arising from the conflicts themselves. (OLIVEIRA, 2018, p. 162).[1]

Forty years earlier, in the late 1950s, the situation was different among São Paulo intellectuals who gathered at the University of São Paulo to read The capital: an intense progressive spirit in years of developmentalism and discussion about the “impasses of Brazilian industrialization”. Roberto Schwarz returns to the subject in “A seminar by Marx” (1995), recognizing the deficit of an “in-depth critique of the society that capitalism created and of which those impasses form part” (SCHWARZ, 2014, p. 126).

Thus, it was “unwillingly” that the positive spirit that bet on capitalist normality, developmentalism and the industrialization of the periphery found the “absurd and antisocial margin of freedom” of the ruling class, “strengthened by its channel with the progress of the external world” . And the group bypassed themes such as commodity fetishism and the commodification of culture, leaving aside the “dark marxism” of the Frankfurtians regarding Nazism, Stalinism, American life and modern art itself, “whose negative view and questioning of the current world was not given importance” (SCHWARZ, 2014, p. 125-128).[2]

Returning to these suggestions, Paulo Arantes recalls that, as early as the 1930s, Frankfurtians glimpsed the new cycle of domination that was opening up: with no illusions regarding the promises of the welfare state, “Soviet primitive accumulation” (i.e. “internal colonization and slave labor”) and the “future of the labor movement that could melt like snow in the sun without compromising the theory of value and the scabrous reality of exploitation” (ARANTES, 1996 , pp. 176-185).

The journey of the carriage forces us to remember that the first crisis of overproduction in the mid-1970s, with a world recession strangling productive sectors and combining social hardship and abundant goods, surprised bourgeois and petty bourgeois circles and the labor movement itself, who believed in the control and management of capital. If “in the case of capital, the 'subsumption' of work is an inclusion based on an exclusion, leading to a conflict called by Marx a 'contradiction'” (GRESPAN, 2019, p. 172), this figure was being replaced, from the post-war to the 1970s, as a “demonic symbiosis between the development of productive forces and social relations of production” (ARANTES, 1996, p.180). That is, a new modality of subsumption of work to capital. In the process, we are run over by a future that is installed in the present, in a “provisional indistinction between utopia and dystopia”, which is “precisely the place where, in an era of diminishing expectations, the raw experience of history is made” (ARANTES, 2014 , pp. 319-320 and 344-350).

In the 1980s, with the crisis of the production and accumulation regime that had sustained the post-World War II “golden years” (between 1945 and 1968), the directions of capitalist economic policies would be redefined, as is known: the role of the State in the business of the global financial market and the practices that, with the hegemony of financial capital decisions, also reached the subjective and behavioral dimensions of the subjects: “each subject was led to conceive of himself and to behave in all dimensions of his life as a bearer of capital to be valued” (DARDOT E LAVAL, 2010, p. 285). The spectacularization of the sovereign power of capital/money/market was a consensus that confirmed the social detachment that had always been natural in the periphery.

Under these conditions, the State and the Brazilian ruling classes, taking advantage of the interposed mythification of economic plans, figures and political parties finally find, with a prominent role, the modern destiny in the enthronement of piracy and trafficking, of armed militias and cartels, as immediate agents of consented barbarism, as a slave colony is already well aware: harassed and co-opted populations and, all over the planet, refugees and migrants. In the post-work and post-social world, the logic of capital (“subject” dedicated to ratifying its own practice) instrumentalizes fear, suffering, anger, resentments and hostilities… in the name of a supposed individual freedom or even of a vague idea of ​​“popular sovereignty”, which has its blind spot in the historical-social vacuum of a country “modern from birth” (an expression that springs from the torn and ambivalent duality of a Sílvio Romero).

The energies in action bring together the incompatible (as, by the way, we already know): in this case, public/private interests, “good men” and the police state ratifying summary executions, precarious, disqualified and informal workers who replicate the laws and rules so as not to be submerged in the squeeze, also swallowing up those who, unable to dismantle the machine of cruelty, less or more adherent, less or more confident, still bet on the future that needs to start.

If it's not too much to see, the cliché motto “the future has already begun”, sung on a TV channel to celebrate the New Year's Eve, may function as an involuntary parody that naturalizes, with media enthusiasm, a peculiar national singularity: our penchant for balancing between positions “against” and “in favor”, recognized by Antonio Candido, in 1978, in an amusing speech (it is necessary to emphasize the role of humor in serious moments).

In those years of 1979, in an “unequal situation of predominance of economic and social inequality, based on the most aggressive and most unpleasant forms that capitalism has ever assumed” (he would see worse times), Antonio Candido asked, with measured skepticism, “if at this point of the century, at this point in the evolution of Brazilian culture, we are already capable, we are already mature enough to create a culture of opposition, really. Not an alternative culture of contra mixed with pro”[3] (CANDIDO, 2002, p. 372-373).

The fact is that adherence to promises, with varied inflections, socially widened the scope of this balance (or mixture) of positions. Matter of Folha de S. Paul (August 2019), which could only pass as curious, shows how the practice of this mixture is naturalized in new terms. In other words: asserting the identity issue (in this specific case, it was the black population) and "recognizing" the difficulties of investments, contacts and "testing environment" of this population, companies propose to "democratize knowledge" and business, empowering those interested in participating in the world of informal and precarious work with “social impact technologies” in the model of new platforms — uberization —, namely, a market of formally constituted illegalities.

“Inclusion based on exclusion”, in an ideological and practical twilight, promises interested parties their own business, “freeing them” from the condition of salaried workers, which, it is good to remember, having been an organic element of the capitalist production system, is now under threat (the situation resembles that of the petty bourgeois in 18 Brumaire). Optimistic adherence springing from alienation itself? So, returning to Francisco de Oliveira's testimony, it is worth asking about the terms of a "radical critique" (denial of the real as utopia), when the "gap between a virtuality that opens up and a new force that has not been formed" counts with the subject's own adherence, exposed in everyday practices, and within the scope of a valuation of capital that degrades work without, however, eliminating it from the production process.

In a text published in July 2019, “The fascist decision and the myth of regression: Brazil in the light of the world and vice versa”, which deserves to be read in full, Felipe Catalani shows that, by denying a process that is not today and “at the apex of capitalist development”, we are not going backwards but advancing in sophisticated forms of barbarism. In a reversal of roles, the “right-wing populists” are “friends of the apocalypse” and firmly enshrine their intentions to “accelerate the catastrophe”, annihilate the enemies and install yet another “new era”; those on the left become “restorationists” and hope to “return to normal” in order to “avoid the 'decline' of democratic values”.

Sometimes I regret what the past would have promised, sometimes nostalgia for what was about to be achieved. “At best, it's expected to 'get back to normal.' This hope (?), however, is in itself the normalization of the situation. Shaken by a traumatic shock, the expectations of the left are swallowed up by apathy in the desire to restore 'normality', fueled by the mirage of the 'ephemeral dream', whose interruption, however, no longer produces any awakening of conscience (if it is not too anachronistic speak in those terms), but only 'vertigos' and 'trances' produced by the blow to the head.”

If the expressions are not misleading, “ephemeral dream” and “vertigo” refer to Democracy em vertigem (2019), by Petra Costa. The documentary, resuming the theme of lost illusions (as a political collapse), is stitched together by a subject of enunciation who collects, exhibits and generalizes, as an example, his own personal and family experience (which mixes contractors and left-wing activists): more emotional than reflective, despite the efforts of the off-screen scores, the documentary asks the viewer to identify in the same direction.

Returning to the tradition of Brazilian documentaries linked to political militancy, in an interview from 2002, Ismail Xavier recalls that, in the 1960s, “the filmmaker felt endowed with a popular mandate. He thought he was representative. He was doing something 'in the name of'”. And he points out the change in the 1970s: “filmmakers began to distrust their references, began to feel guilty and distrusted their mandate”. In a 2007 interview, he returns to the subject: in the 1960s, the documentary filmmaker “considered the people he talked to in the films as representatives of some social force, some class or some group. Nowadays, nobody takes anybody as a representative of anything. The uniqueness of the individual predominates (…). But in a fictional situation, in which you have to build the character, how do you do it?” (XAVIER, 2007, p. 102, p. 86).

This is the decisive question that implies considering the formal aspect of a documentary in dealing with its subject and, when forwarding the invoice, taking into account the control exercised by the process of production, distribution and circulation of the image as a commodity, less interested in the relationship between material and form and more interested in box office and international awards.

Referring to the contemporary novel, Adorno underlines the challenge brought by dealing with matter and the material, by “its real object, a society in which men are separated from each other and from themselves”. That is why he stated: “if perhaps there is psychology” in Dostoevsky, it is “of an intelligible character, of the essence and not of the empirical being, of the men who walk around”, because “the reification of all relations between individuals, which transforms its human qualities in lubricant for the smooth running of machinery, universal alienation and self-alienation, demand to be called by name” (ADORNO, 2003, p. 57-58).

When one of the best films of neorealist cinema, The earth trembles by Visconti (1948), remakes material from an 1881 novel by Giovanni Verga, I Malavoglia, that takes place among fishermen in Sicily (between the 1860s and the end of 1870), for Visconti it is not a question of “solving” an “adaptation” through technical resources. As Antonio Candido showed in “O mundo-proverbio”, overcoming the narrator/character dichotomy in the novel takes place through the invention of a narrative voice capable of showing a “stopped and closed world, where social relations become natural facts, where the bond directly with the environment annuls freedom and practically no one can escape its pressures without destroying themselves” (CANDIDO, 2010, p. 89 and 92-94).

Visconti's option for the tension between epicizing formal procedures, description and speeches of the characters in the film is, therefore, a way of effectively dialoguing with the novel, when dealing with the conditions of massacre and exploitation of work and the absence of a solidary collective life still alive in the post-World War II. And yet, the film was criticized by the Italian PC (which had commissioned it) for not having accurately featured… the collective subject!

Before going to the documentary I'm saving myself for when Carnival arrives, by Marcelo Gomes, I remember three films from the 1960s to 1980s that raise questions about the relationship between fictional work and documentary material, taking into account the conditions of a country that did not effectively give rise to the struggle of the popular class: the rifles, 1964, by Ruy Guerra; The inconfidentes, 1972, by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade; goat marked for death, 1984, by Eduardo Coutinho.

In each of them, in their time and circumstances, the social and aesthetic impasses are configured in the solutions and tensions of content and form. [4] In the original project of the narrative strategy devised by Ruy Guerra, in the rifles, fiction and documentary ran parallel in three registers. The testimonies given by the director himself were cut in the remastering and, in the final version, there are two shots of the film: one of them documents the refugees, seen from a distance, the other shows the action and psychological tensions of soldiers who protect supplies from the starving population.

Em The inconfidentes, responding to dilemmas of the filmmaker's own time, the tension between political and aesthetic project is evident in the use of historical-literary material and in the opposition between popular hero (Tiradentes) and idealistic, politically weak intellectuals, a subject already worked on in dramatic terms in Arena counts Tiradentes, of 1967.

Em Goat marked for death the fictional project about the peasant leader João Pedro Teixeira was started in 1962 (the year of his murder in Paraíba), interrupted in 1964 and resumed as a documentary in 1981, after locating the widow Elizabeth Teixeira. The relationship between fiction and documentary (which resumes the participation of local figures) leads to thinking about the treatment given to the passage from the illusion of the collective to the record of family dispersion in the search for the fate of the children.

Em I'm saving myself for when carnival arrives, the narrator of the documentary calls into question the very meaning of his subject and his materials. The city of Toritama, in the wild of Pernambuco, which I had known for many years, has been transformed into a production site and a small jeans fair, with the consent of workers who, day and night at the sewing machines, rejoice in their situation. . Why? It is about examining how the filmmaker constructs the contemporary experience of labor exploitation.

Toritama, “land of happiness” in Tupi-Guarani, is a “dry and poor region” in the wild of Pernambuco, where “forty years ago” people lived by planting corn, beans and raising goats, with silence and birds. maria on the radio in the late afternoon. It was better? Was it worse? More than an idyllic and nostalgic tone in the face of the city transformed into the “jeans capital” and responsible for 20% of the national product, the subject of the enunciation shows the perplexity of “an outside time inspector” and, as such, seems to pursue a implied plot.

In a narrative that exposes the exploration of work in action, the plot depends on the complexity of the way in which what is shown intersects with the narrator's off-the-record comments, who formulates problems and leaves others open. Would consented exploitation stifle the imagination? The perspective of an unobstructed sociability would be strangled, reduced to the week of escape to the beach during Carnival, when the city is deserted and silent, and some (or would it be many?) sell their belongings and their own work material (TV, refrigerator , sewing machine), which they buy back later (at a premium)? What change does the off-screen narrative voice refer to, which at the end comments that “Toritama changes every day”?

In the city of Agreste, work is relentless (progress?) and the workers say they are “proud to be masters of their own time” (off-screen comment), happy with their status as “autonomous and without a boss” (testimonial). For them, inequality and poverty are considered defeated and the categories of money and work are the winners. With what results? Like the narrator, the spectator also feels like a supervisor of “other people's time” (a consented and happy barbarism?). One of the scenes suspends the continuous noise of the machines and coordinates the repetition of movements with music by Bach, explicitly announcing the new camera angle and confessing the narrator's anguish in off-camera.

Between the particularity of the testimonies and the collective scenes of work in the “factions” (name given to the jeans production “factories” installed in the garages of the houses and sheds), with products piled up in large quantities, invading the streets (where the popular life?), the camera's gaze lingers on long close-ups. Some close-ups go from looking to looking, that is, the camera and the character, others choose to show the abundant sweat on pieces of bodies in the act of work, and the sequence-shots extend the time (with no way out?) movements, always repeated, of men and women handling the machines.

As for the characters interviewed, there are those who own these sewing machines (but how many?); there are those who earn cents per piece produced, adding up to fifteen hours of daily work (who pays?) and an hour break to cook lunch and dinner; there are those who compare their good life (“it's bad for those who die”) with what they see on TV news, like hunger in Africa and wars around the world; there are those who say proudly that “here has become a São Paulo”, with the advantage that “any nobody” without any education can have a job; there are those who praise the free salary of “working for yourself”; there are those who think about the future and the security of the formal contract; there is the labor of the “small in size and ugliness” that go into leather, says a manager (how much do they earn anyway?); there is the girl designer, who makes her own office out of her car and, without being interviewed, runs around managing the production of laser parts (will she be the owner or a senior employee of the cutting-edge faction?); there is the living mannequin, a local figure very different from the glamorized mannequins on the billboards that open the documentary, exposing the models of his “Star Jeans” in the square and in poses, because “what I like is to luxuriate”, while the “boys” manufacture the pieces (is he the faction owner?).

Among them all is Leo, a jack of all trades (“jeans are easy”, he says), who also cuts coconut trees, but feels pity (“a beautiful job”), is supportive of his co-workers, says that “ money is the bane of the world” and “the capitalism that always talks is money”. What can the vitality of Leo mean, who wanted to be a prophet if he had “understanding” not to drink and be able to follow what is said in the church, and states that “my problem, my business is not drinking, it's the work"? Leo is the one who films the family's carnival scenes on the beach, material that he sold to the production of the documentary in exchange for the week of leisure, since he couldn't sell his motorcycle. He also receives, as payment, the promise of future work in the faction that he helps build as a mason, with more free hours, located in an arid place called “Novo Coqueiral” (who owns the faction?).

In the rural area or, to put it better, in the remnants of ancient life and which the narrator makes a point of checking to compare with what he saw in the past, only João can still describe the movement of the clouds that announce rain; Canário, the only goat breeder still active, crosses the city and the road full of trucks with the animals (“my illusion is not to earn money to humiliate” as a “greedy rich man”, says Canário); Dona Adalgiza, who doesn't work with jeans, answers with superiority “not me… I'm a farmer”; a house turned into a faction keeps a pet chicken. Religion appears in the speeches (“Who knows fate is God”), on the door of one faction or as graffiti on the wall of another where they dance to the sound of a Mano Brown rap (edited by the filmmaker?), with a crucifix on their chest and cell phone in hand.

The production of jeans takes place as a sale at the Sunday fair, but, strictly speaking, the two extremes of production are elided. The presence of the film crew brings a peak of enthusiasm: it could be the local TV to publicize the fair! What we see at this Sunday market, however, is exhaustion and sleep. Euphoria and exhaustion were always mixed? Asked about their biggest dream, disembodied voices answer that they want to get rich, be “owner of their own business”, “leave my mark”, “be happy”, “reach the maximum point”, “have a house” and “have a family ”, one of them asks “I dream in what sense?”, while another says that he does not know if he has any dreams or desires. Where do these dreams (including Leo's) and their absence come from?

In the end, Marcelo Gomes' documentary deals with an exhausted vitality that, being the opposite of a dignified life, is celebrated (and why wouldn't it be?) as a horizon that collapsed in the present, in the "land of happiness" (as told the voice of the narrator at the beginning of the film). Only during Carnival? Or not even that, or not only?

What to think of all this? This is what the film itself seems to ask, given the perverse naturalization of an alienated unanimity, when documenting what is visible of those (fetishized?) human relationships. At the end, between masks from the carnival scene (with slow motion and funereal drumming in the background), the figure of Leo at the back of the group — cheerful and happy puppet? — will be framed at the end as just a face, covered by the mask of those who deal with the painting of jeans, where their blurry eyes stand out. The dance of the images on the screen (they are jeans) makes the phantasmagoria explicit. “The raw experience of history”.

*Salete de Almeida Cara is a senior professor in the area of ​​Comparative Studies of Literatures in the Portuguese Language (FFLCH-USP). She is the author, among other books, of Marx, Zola and Realist Prose (Editorial Studio).


I'm saving myself for when carnival arrives

Brazil, 2019, documentary, 85 minutes

Direction and script: Marcelo Gomes

Photography: Pedro Andrade

Soundtrack: O'Grivo

automaker:Karen Harley


ADORNO, Theodor, “The Narrator's Position in the Contemporary Novel”, in Literature Notes I, translation by Jorge de Almeida. São Paulo: Editora 34/Duas Cidades, 2003.

ARANTES, Paul, the thread. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1996.

–––––––– The new time of the world. São Paulo: Boitempo Editorial, 2014. 

CANDIDO, Antonio, “Radicalisms”, in various writings. São Paulo: Two Cities Bookstore, 1995, 3rd edition.

_________ “O contra tempo”, in intervention texts (selection, presentation and notes by Vinicius Dantas). São Paulo: Editora 34/Duas Cidades, 2002.

__________ “The proverbial world”, in The speech and the city, Rio de Janeiro: Gold over blue, 2010.

CATALANI, Felipe, “The fascist decision and the myth of regression> Brazil in the light of the world and vice versa, in Editora Boitempo’s blog, July 2019.

DARDOT, Pierre and LAVAL, Christian, La nouvelle raison du monde (essai sur la société neoliberale). Pris: La Décpuverte/Poche, 2010.

GRESPAN, Jorge, Marx and the critique of the capitalist mode of representation. São Paulo: Boitempo Editorial, 2019.

MELLO E SOUZA, Gilda de, “Os inconfidentes', in Reading Exercises. São Paulo: Editora 34/Duas Cidades, 2009.

OLIVEIRA, Francisco de, Brazil: an unauthorized biography. São Paulo: Boitempo Editorial, 2018.

SCHWARZ, Roberto, “A Marx Seminar”, in Brazilian Sequences. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2014, 2nd edition.

–––––––––– “Cinema and the rifles", In the father of the family🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2008.

__________ “The thread of the skein”, in What time is it?. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1987. 2007.

__________ “Gilda de Mello e Souza”, in Martina versus Lucrecia🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012.

XAVIER, Ismail, Meetings, organized by Adilson Mendes. Rio de Janeiro: Beco do Azougue, 2009.


[1] “When I make a radical critique of what bourgeois rationality has not been able to achieve, I am practicing a utopia. At certain junctures, you have the ability to advance the utopian description. In others, it doesn't. I perceive a gap between a virtuality that opens up and a new force that has not been formed. Utopia is a critique of the real for what it denies the real. Not to be confused with positivity, in the sense of thinking that the future holds the best. So I think all criticism is utopian even when it takes forms that don't seem utopian.” Francisco de Oliveira. Brazil: an unauthorized biography. São Paulo: Boitempo Editorial, 2018 

[2] “The suggestion remains, but the idea perhaps could not be realized in our midst, since ultimately we were — and are — engaged in finding a solution for the country, because Brazil needs to have a way out.” (…) And so our seminar (…) owed another step, one that faced — in the complicated and contradictory fullness of its present dimensions, which are transnational — the relations of definition and reciprocal implication between backwardness, progress and the production of goods, terms and realities that must be understood as precariousness and criticism of each other, without which the mousetrap cannot be disarmed”. Cf. Robert Schwarz, op. cit. p.127

[3] It is worth remembering that in 1988, already after the democratic opening (with broad arrangements from A to Z), Antonio Candido, certainly aiming at the objective impasses of his present, examines the impasses of positions that, between the abolitionist movement and the coup d'état of 1937, provided a “radical” (in their critical terms) counterweight to conservatism and populism. And he observed that the “transformative role” of our radicalism could advance only “up to a certain point”, since it was identified only “in part with the interests of the working classes, which are the potentially revolutionary segment of society”. Cf. “Radicalisms”, in various writings. São Paulo: Two Cities Bookstore, 1995, 3rd edition, p. 266

[4] For a complete reading of important analyzes about the films, cf. Roberto Schwarz, “Cinema and rifles”, in the father of the family, São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2008; “The thread of the skein”, in What time is it?, São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1987; “Gilda de Mello e Souza, Uncontrollable autonomy of forms”, in Martina versus Lucrecia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012; cf. also Gilda de Mello e Souza, “Os inconfidentes”, in reading exercises. São Paulo: Editora 34/Duas Cidades, 2009.

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