Jean-Claude Bernardet



Commentary on the newly released book Wet Mácula: Memory/rhapsody, by film critic, professor, screenwriter, director and actor Jean-Claude Bernardet


Annie Ernaux (1940), Nobel Prize for Literature in 2022, in “Avenge my race”, a speech she gave upon receiving the award and which can be found in Writing as a knife and other texts, said that “a book can help to change a person's life, to break the loneliness of suffering and buried things, to think about oneself in a different way. When the unspeakable comes to light, it is political.”

All things considered, that's more or less what happened to me, exactly in the second half of 1970, when Jean-Claude Bernardet's book, Brazil in movie time (1967), which pointed out some ways out for me. I lived in the interior of the State of São Paulo, with a vast cinematographic culture in terms of commercial products that were poured daily in Piracicaba, but quite eclectic, and I wanted to go to the capital, avoiding the “exact” courses.

Years later, talking to my friend José Mário Ortiz Ramos, who passed away so soon, author of the wonderful Cinema, State and cultural struggles – 50s/60s/70s (1983), I learned that Jean-Claude Bernardet's book, and the friendship with the editor Eder Mazzini (1950-2016), my neighbor for three decades in the Santa Cecília neighborhood, were decisive in him ending up becoming a researcher in the fields of cinema – José Mário, like Eder, were from the countryside like me, only from Catanduva.


I'm not going to be economical: I transcribe the first fold of the ears of Wet Mácula, where Jean-Claude appears in a photo by Renato Parada. Although insufficient in terms of his written production, the short text informs that the author was born in Belgium (1936), in Charleroi, “and spent his childhood in Paris, before moving to Brazil. One of the country's greatest film critics, he began his career working at the Cinemateca Brasileira and writing for the Literary Supplement from the newspaper The State of S. Paul. He is one of the founders of the pioneering cinema course at the University of Brasília in the 1960s, when he also began teaching the cinema course at the USP School of Communications and Arts. He is the author of several books, including Brazilian cinema: Proposals for a story (1979) That boy (1990) Classical historiography of Brazilian cinema (1995) The disease, a EXPERIENCE (1996) and The critical body (2021). He was co-author, with Luiz Sérgio Person, of the script for The Case of the Naves Brothers and, with Roberto Moreira, from a sky of stars and acted in several films, such as MoviePhobia, by Kiko Goifman, and Hunger, by Cristiano Burlan.”

Frédéric-Yves Jeannet, Annie Ernaux's interviewer, at the presentation to Writing as Knife…, wrote that, like the interviewee, he had long been accustomed to being “the wanderer who was insensitive to barking”; and, in the same way as she, advocated: “discomfort is my only method, the only way of not reproducing, but of overcoming what we were bequeathed and taught, in short, of accomplishing and, thus, forcing a passage. Towards what? Will we ever know? Perhaps to one truth: ours.” (p. 27)

I understand that this “method”, this way of working, is very similar to the way Jean-Claude Bernardet operates, intuitively and sensitively, based on various sources, with a lot of observation, causing “discomfort”, or perhaps a certain indignation , set the tone. In an interview with Ricardo Musse, Marcelo Ricente, Celso Frederico and me (Margin Left – Marxist essays, 2004), declared that he made “wild” situational readings, according to the analysis he was carrying out.

I think that this discomfort that moves him, that leads him to write and interfere as a cultural agent, can be seen in the epigraph of Wet Mácula"Rien n'est Nunca Acquis à l'homme/Ni sa force/Ni sa faiblesse/Ni son coeur” [Nothing is ever guaranteed to man/Not his strength/Nor his weakness/Not his heart”] – Louis Aragon (1897-1982), La Diane French, 1945.


The title is strange to say the least, but Jean-Claude is Jean-Claude, and he can publish books with any title he wants. But it's a title that I like. Wet Macula is the name of an incurable disease that leads to degeneration of the retinas, causing blindness. This is just one of the ailments that affect him, in addition to AIDS, prostate cancer, osteoporosis (“my bones are like crumbling chalk”, p. 136), problems with his teeth, hands damaged by neurological problems (he can only type with one of his fingers), leading him to take copious amounts of medication, but which cannot alleviate the pain that arises here and there.

On the first page he writes that on Sundays he plays cards on the computer with members of his family spread across the United States and Rio de Janeiro; However, in everyday life, as in the seventh seal (1957), by Bergman, he plays chess with death, moving his pieces masterfully, fighting, without giving up. On page 112, he wrote that “even though I knew I could die of AIDS, I never thought I would. A committed patient, he did everything the doctor recommended.”

Editor and translator Heloisa Jahn (1947-2022) and Jean-Claude maintained a friendship for more than 30 years. It was she who came up with the idea for the book, writing to the editor of Companhia das Letras that the intention was to write an (auto)biography of her friend, saying that it arose “from the fact that Jean-Claude had a vital need to be involved in a project. He makes one film after another and recently, when one of the films was coming to an end, he asked me: what now? I responded immediately: let’s write your autobiography” (p. 91). In the same letter Heloisa highlights that the biographer's almost always controversial participation in events (and relationships with people) linked to Brazilian cinema from before Cinema Novo until today stands out.

And so Wet Mácula was built: twice a week, Mondays and Fridays at 18 pm, for one hour, recordings at Heloísa's house. There were at least 39 recordings. She would make the first montage of the transcribed episodes, of the first-person narrative, “because he sees poorly. They will discuss this montage together, and it will finalize the book” (p. 139). But Heloísa left earlier, on June 27, 2022, leaving Sabina Anzuategui (1974), PhD in cinema from USP, former student of Jean-Claude and author of five novels, to complete the project alongside him.

Heloísa explains that the book exposes the idea of ​​narrative through “irradiations” (p. 139) and that for months, she tried to extract more personal details from the interviewee. He doesn’t open up much, “…claiming memory problems” (p. 136). She doesn’t talk about her passions: “I don’t know if my passions are part of this book”, she argues. “It is not a confessional book. It's exactly the opposite: they are images that we are building. If these images have a bold enough appearance, it works well as a screen to avoid presenting other aspects” (p. 136-137).

Well, although the interviewee is economical in the narrative of his passions, he does not fail to mention, in quick ink, the death of Eduardo (p. 110-111), including a photo of him, and his involvement with a young Algerian (pp. 81-82); he writes a little more about the Greek journalist he meets in France (p. 88-90) and also about the Quebec musician in Paris (p. 100-101).


Jean-Claude married researcher and professor Lucilla Ribeiro Bernardet (1935-1993) in July 1964. At that time he had a good job at the Difel publishing house, as secretary to the management. He received the invitation and even with a lower salary, he went with Lucilla to work at the University of Brasília (UnB) on the newly created Cinema course, where Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes (1916-1977) and Pompeu de Sousa (1914-1991) also met. ), among others. With the crisis at UnB, in the midst of the military regime, mass layoffs took place and Jean-Claude Bernardet, about to defend his master's thesis, which resulted in the book Brazil in movie time, he was left without a job and without his title (p. 62-63).

When launching Brazil in movie time, the actor Maurício do Valle (1928-1994), who plays the character Antônio das Mortes in God and the Devil on Earth of the sun (1964), he couldn’t contain his joy: he lifted Jean-Claude off the floor and said: “I’m going to send this book to my mother” (p. 63). This is because the work opens with the following dedication: “This book – almost an autobiography – is dedicated to Antônio das Mortes”.

The situation became difficult for the Bernardet family: in 1966, the couple's daughter Lígia was born, and they found themselves without money and without a steady job. “Lucilla and I were destitute. I had few clothes, just two shirts” (p. 65).

In 1967, thanks to Rudá de Andrade (1990-2009), he entered the School of Communications and Arts (ECA)/USP, where Paulo Emílio and Roberto Santos (1928-1987) were also present. His critical stances alienated him from the then director of ECA, who denounced him to reactionary forces: along with 22 other teachers, he was impeached by AI-5 (p. 71). “Paulo, there was no way to report him, he belonged to a four-hundred family; Rudá, the son of Oswald de Andrade; I am over: this was Paulo Emílio’s hypothesis” (p. 71).

His father and friends hid him for a while, in this dramatic situation in which he found himself. “For the third time in the decade, he no longer had a salary, he had nothing. I freaked out” (p.72). Octavio Ianni and Fernando Henrique Cardoso offered him a short-term scholarship, “just to get out of the hole”, and he did research on the Brazilian chanchada.

He manages to carry out poorly paid activities, terrible underemployment: revoked by the AI-5, he could not receive any form of payment from the state. Friends juggle so he can work anonymously, and some take risks to help him (p. 75).

Write for the newspaper Opinion, in Rio de Janeiro, under pseudonyms (Carlos Murao was one of them). The editor is late in his payments, he eats poorly and lives in squalid hotels; From time to time, actor and filmmaker friends host him (p. 76-77).

In addition to the names already mentioned, Jean-Claude mentions in these memories Glauber Rocha, Gustavo Dahl, Zelito Viana, Nélson Pereira dos Santos, Walter Hugo Khouri, Tata Amaral,

João Batista de Andrade, Maurice Capovilla, Paulo César Saraceni, Oswaldo Massaini, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Eduardo Coutinho, Oswaldo Caldeira, Idê Lacreta, Guy Hennebelle, Christian Metz, Sérgio Ricardo, Fernando Gasparian, Raimundo Pereira, Júlio César Montenegro, Almeida Salles , Ismail Xavier, Maria Rita Galvão, Dora Mourão, Joel Yamaji, Eduardo Peñuela, Rubem Biáfora, Celso Furtado, Eduardo Portella, Lúcia Nagib, Fernando Bonassi…

In 1972, he translated Christian Metz's book, Significance in cinema, as he needed money, but soon became disenchanted with the author's analytical concepts. But she studied with him in France for 6 months, as a scholarship holder, writing the last chapter of Filmmakers and images of the people (p.99).

He returned to teaching at ECA/USP in 1979; in 1981 he had his contract renewed and in 1982 he took on a full-time basis. As he did not have academic titles, for fear of being fired again, he wrote a memorial and requested the Notorious Knowledge. “This way, I could present the thesis directly to the committee, without credits or advisors” (p. 99). And that is what happened, with the panel made up of Jorge Schwartz, Sábato Magaldi and João Alexandre Barbosa.

Some pages are dedicated to discussions with USP students in their scriptwriting and cinematographic language classes, as well as the work they developed with Tata Amaral to a sky of stars (p. 114-115) and considerations about his retirement and the purchase of his apartment (p. 116-117).

Perhaps some readers may be surprised by the considerations he makes about his mother – the sporadic (and hidden) contact after his parents’ separation –; the death of Paulo Emílio; the death of the dog, still in France; the involvement of children in “important events at home”; his relationship with his father when he was ill (his stepmother, an Algerian, had passed away shortly before), etc.

Tasty are the brief narratives of the debates at Centro Dom Vital and Galeria Califonia, next to Livraria Francesa, at the height of the film society, in addition to the influence of Paulo Emílio on his life; the friendship with Ismail Xavier and the shock suffered after an involuntary omission; his efforts to break the bubble of the small French world in which he lived in his initial years in São Paulo.

As already mentioned, Jean-Claude Bernardet never stopped working, even in the most adverse circumstances: with AIDS he produced The disease, a EXPERIENCE (1996); the cancer gave The critical body (2021), and now, almost blindness, has resulted in Wet Mácula (p.129).

In his review of the book, Mario Sergio Conti highlights that the work is filled with “the uncertainty of who the narrator is. Uncertainty also permeates the narrated material. There is no predominant theme. The chronology is loose. Subjects are all presented quickly and then abandoned; they do not escape the condition of fragments, vignettes, shards. This is the case of the classes that Fernando Henrique Cardoso, whom he calls the ‘Marxist prince’, gave at his house in 1966. Or the meeting with Marighella. Or his relations with Glauber Rocha. Or the role of drugs in his life. Or the transition from straight to homosexuality.”


Jean-Claude, throughout his critical career, always refused to preach to the converted; He was an active member of the choir of opposites, striving to seek new analytical angles in his interventions, whether through words or images. He reminds me on several occasions of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), who wrote that it was necessary “to try to turn the weapons of intellectual power against intellectual power, by saying the most unexpected, the most unlikely, the most out of place thing, in the place where it is said. “ (Questions from sociology, P. 9).

Evidently, such a stance is not (and was not) to the liking of most members of the dominant segments of society, especially in the cinematographic field, in which Jean-Claude works. Personally, I don't always agree with his stances, but that doesn't matter. They are provocative, cause doubts, hesitations and, on many occasions, strong reactions, creatively inciting debate. I would like to mention four of his controversial stances throughout his work as a symbolic producer. Wet Mácula tap lightly on the first and second. However, as they reflect the modus operandi of his critical work, I seek to recover them in their essential aspects.

Your book Brazil in movie time (1967) displeased the core group of young people of Cinema Novo, when he stated that the middle class was absent in the films. When approaching God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun, Bernardet's focus falls on Antônio das Mortes, paid by the church and landowners to exterminate fanatics and cangaceiros. In another text (1977), which condenses the central ideas of the book, he wrote: “With Antônio das Mortes the pendulum character disappears and with him another dramatic structure also disappears: the one that consists of solving social problems not by those interested, not by the people, but by elements that are external to them. After Antônio das Mortes, the illusion that could alienate Manuel with his lack of knowledge ends. This idea, however, inspires ‘new cinema’ in its appearance” (p. 177).

Fernão Ramos expresses Jean-Claude's thoughts on the issue, saying that in the first half of the 1960s, cinemanovista production was not a “popular” production, but rather “the representation of 'a middle class in search of roots', in dialogue with the ruling classes. The awareness that attempts to approach and represent the popular universe were nothing more than an expression of the anguish and wonder of the filmmakers themselves generated at the time what we could call an ‘ethical crisis’” (p. 358).

For Ramos, if in the attempt to express this “truth”, this “reality” did not go beyond the representation of the bourgeoisie’s own intimate dilemmas, “the entire Cinema Novo project finds itself questioned”. Brazil in movie time “is the perception of this dilemma. It points towards a possible ‘popular cinema’, which never comes to fruition, and clearly notes the evolution of Cinema Novo towards ‘a hand in hand with the situation of the middle class’. This ‘body to body’ will be the thematic nucleus of the second trinity” (p. 358).

A long chapter of the book, with around 60 pages, entitled “The time and turn of the middle class”, reflects the trend mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph, when analyzed the big moment (Roberto Santos, 1958), the deceased (Leon Hirszman, 1965), port of boxes (Paulo César Saraceni, 1963), empty night (Walter Hugo Khouri, 1964), São Paulo Public Limited Company (Luíz Sérgio Person, 1965), Scoundrel in crisis (Miguel Borges, 1963), The challenge (Paulo César Saraceni, 1965).

The fact is that Jean-Claude, for years, based on his criticism of this general set of films analyzed in his book, was labeled by cinemanovistas as being “right-wing” and “an enemy of Brazilian cinema”.

Brazilian newspapers published on March 17, 1990 the package of provisional measures and decrees that President Fernando Collor de Mello, recently inaugurated, had just sent to the National Congress. One of these provisional measures extinguished cultural incentive laws (the main one was the so-called Sarney Law), while another, number 151, dealt with the “extinction and dissolution of federal public administration entities” (authorities, foundations and public companies). Thus, among others, the National Arts Foundations (Funarte), Performing Arts (Fundacen), Pró-Leitura, Pró-Memória, Cultural Palmares, in addition to the Brazilian Cinema Foundation (FCB) and Distribuidora de Filmes S.A. ( Embrafilme) – Catani, 1994, p. 98.

Jean-Claude Bernardet wrote about it in Folha de S. Paul (23.07.1990) that until 1990 “there were only complaints from professionals regarding Embrafilme and the Fundação do Cinema Brasileiro. Ineffectiveness, poor administrative management, favoritism, failure to fulfill commitments. Federal institutions related to cinema entered an accelerated process of decay under the management of culture minister Celso Furtado”. Mentions the non-financing of the film project Casa Grande and Senzala, by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, “a good example of the inadequacy of the decision-making process”.

For Jean-Claude, “…by extinguishing this structure, the Collor government did little more than put a shovel of lime on the dying man. The shovel was violent, interrupting cinematographic and theatrical projects, etc., which were already underway and had positive prospects.

The method used was surgery without anesthesia, a lot of blood flowed and continues to flow. This blood will not be recovered. But there is also no way to demand from the government a replacement of the previous structure, which is so criticized and in full decline. It is difficult to accept that commitments made either by the state structure or through the Sarney Law have not been respected. Equally difficult is accepting what appears to be a total absence of cultural policy proposals from the government.”

Touching on a central point, which at the time greatly irritated several filmmakers, Jean-Claude Bernardet, trying not to regret the spilled milk, said: “the effects of the Celso Furtado and Collor measures are irreversible, and that is where the discussion must begin”. He added: “the [current] model is in oblivion, the State is withdrawing, and the filmmakers, because they have not created alternatives, do not know where to turn”. For him, the exit from the crisis will be slow, most of those involved are still trying to maintain ties with the State and are not working to get out of it. He understands that the virtual solution to this difficult situation “necessarily involves a figure, if not currently non-existent in professional circles, at least a figure whose existence was discouraged by both Embrafilme and the directors: that of the producer”.

Jean-Claude Bernardet argues that in so-called independent cinema, “production is just a result of production. The director who wants to make his film improvises as a producer and appeals to some people who, as a rule, have little understanding of the subject.” Illustrate your considerations with the example of the film Kuarup (Ruy Guerra, 1989). Criticism was merciless against the director. He argues that a professional producer, reading the script, immediately notices the length of a film – the first cut was three hours long; it was cut by a third for the final version. “The main actor couldn’t handle the role. Now, who signed the contract? If the press unleashed its wrath on the director and did not realize that the film essentially has production problems and that Ruy Guerra's creativity is not at stake, it is because the only ideology at its disposal (…) is that of auteur cinema” .

To understand the crisis, according to him, there needs to be a change in “mentality”. It is not an easy task for filmmakers over 40-45 years old – with exceptions, he thinks that the “older” ones will not be able to think and act differently than they have always done. “Either they have revolutionized, or they are doomed – leaving open the possibility of beautiful sporadic films”.

He reiterates that such a radical change of mentality in professional cinema models “passes through the figure of the producer”. For him, this would be a path that should be taken “to oppose a disappearing state-dependent-cinema mentality”. And he adds, pointing out what he perceives to be the profile of this producer: “he is not just an investor who responds to requests from a director, but a film professional who knows how to read scripts and a little more, who is not the director's subordinate. , which has only one of its interlocutors in the state when presenting projects to them, who have an acute perception of the forces at play in the current situation and sense the production possibilities that can result from the relationship of these forces, which is a source of initiatives”.

Jean-Claude Bernardet wrote, almost two months later, “Brazilian Cinema – The events of the last Gramado festival seem to indicate some structural changes in production” (Folha de S. Paul, 15.09.1990), in which he expands the scope of his considerations from the previous text. The argument is very clear, pointing out a series of possibilities involving dialogue between producers, distributors and exhibitors, as well as suggestions for resuming dialogue with the state on new bases – new “because relationships will be created that are different from those that existed until recently”. The general tone is milder than the first and the role of the producer is highlighted once again.

A few years ago, a tribute was paid to Antonio Polo Galante (1934), film producer at Boca do Lixo, in São Paulo. Having performed almost all functions in a studio, Galante, as he was known, from 1967 onwards became exclusively a producer, working until 1987, when he abandoned the activity. He returned a decade later and produced his last film.

It was a night full of praise for the honoree, with dozens of testimonials praising his activities, in addition to the display of posters, photos, excerpts from his films and a statement from Galante himself. The general tone of the speeches was, predictably, old-fashioned, with laments for the end of another cycle of Brazilian cinema.

Jean-Claude, whose photo of his participation in a demonstration in Boca, alongside actor and producer David Cardoso was projected, did not fail to give his statement, contrary to everything that had been said until then. He highlighted that the cinema made in Boca was creative, dynamic, trained and revealed talents, guaranteed the survival of many professionals…”But now, it’s over! What to do?"

The silence lasted a few seconds and then another statement came.

I was unable to find out who sent me a message on WhatsApp, in a group that I am no longer part of, on January 21, 2023. The message had a somewhat joking tone, something like “look what your friend is saying”. This is, as I understand it, an excerpt from Jean-Claude's interview with Fábio Rogério:

“Do you have anything to say about this?” [the act in which people invade the headquarters of the three powers in Brasília, on January 08, 2023].

JCB: “Yes. You may be a little shocked by what I'm going to tell you, but in good conscience, with all my faculties and lucidity, I say that I cannot be against this, against this depredation. This is a depredation of the places of power and I absolutely do not identify with these places, nor with the court in which the judges have no mandate, they are eternal, nor with Congress, with which I do not identify at all, although I can there is one or another deputy… So it is the depredation of this place of power built by Niemeyer – an architect of power (…) I may not be in agreement with the political trend, with the ideology that led to this, but against destruction and depredation I am not against the centers of power.”


Reading Nuno Ramos' poems in Botanical Garden (2023) I found some verses that, I understand, are in line with this memory/rhapsody of Jean-Claude. I thought transcribing them would be an intriguing way to end this commentary.

“Personally, I write like everyone else
but I plant the words in the Botanical Garden.
They grow there, in mounds of earth.
The paint stretches until it bursts.”

“The unthinkable belonged at your fingertips?”

“No difference between forest and garden.
Between writing and being quiet, yes.”

“I don’t make poems, I make drawings
with your teeth, biting the paper.
The dental arch is my pen.”

“Words travel at the speed of light.
Nobody knows where the page is.
Exhausted, they are unable to land.”

“Changing the world is the meaning but I can only find it strange”.

* Afranio Catani He is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus.


Jean-Claude Bernardet. Wet Mácula: Memory/rhapsody. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2023. []


Afrânio Mendes Catani. Film policy in the Collor years (1990-1992): a neoliberal mockery. Images. Campinas, Unicamp, n. 3, p. 98-102, 1994.

Annie Ernaux. Writing like a knife and other texts (trans. Mariana Delfini). São Paulo: Fósforo, 2023.

Fernão Ramos. The new directions of Brazilian cinema (1955-1970). In:______ (Org.). History of Brazilian Cinema. São Paulo: Art Editora, 1987, p. 299-397.

Jean-Claude Bernardet. Brazil in the time of cinema – essay on Brazilian cinema. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1967.

Jean-Claude Bernardet. “Cinema Novo” and Brazilian society. In: Celso Furtado (Org.). Brazil: modern times. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 2nd. ed., 1977, p. 169-183.

Jean-Claude Bernardet. The crisis of Brazilian cinema and the Collor plan. “Illustrated”, Folha de S. Paul, 23.07.1990.

Jean-Claude Bernardet. Brazilian cinema – The events of the last Gramado festival seem to indicate some structural changes in production. "Letters", Folha de S. Paulo, P. F-8, 15.09.1990/XNUMX/XNUMX.

Jean-Claude Bernardet. Wet Mácula: Memory / Rhapsody (Jean-Claude Bernardet, Sabina Anzuategui; a project by Heloisa Jahn). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2023, 144 p..

José Mário Ortiz Ramos. Cinema, State and Cultural Struggles – 50s/60s/70s. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1983.

Mario Sergio Conti. Narrative fossils. “Illustrated”, Folha de S. Paul, P. C7, 11.08.2023.

Nuno Ramos. Botanical Garden: Poems. São Paulo: However, 2023.

Pierre Bourdieu. sociology questions. Paris: Minuit, 2009 [ed. original: 1980].

Ricardo Musse; Afrânio Catani; Marcelo Ridenti; Celso Frederico. Interview: Jean-Claude Bernardet. Left Bank – Marxist essays. São Paulo: Boitempo, n. 3, p. 9-31, 2004.

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