Literature and cinema – the case of Dried lives

Image: Andrés Sandoval


An inventory of the differences and similarities between the novel and the film based on the examination of their specific codes

The relationships between literature and cinema are multiple and complex, characterized by a strong intertextuality. Although questions related to adaptations and the differences between the two modes of artistic expression tend to dominate discussions on the subject, a more comprehensive perspective would have to be multifaceted, including, for example, film about writers, be they documentaries or fiction films, whether long or short film.

In this sense, we could think, on the one hand, of short films like the bewitched (1968) and the serene despair (1973), by Luiz Carlos Lacerda, which deal with Lúcio Cardoso and Cecília Meireles, respectively[I]. On the other hand, movies like The Brazilwood Man (1982), by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, and Bocage: the triumph of love (1997), by Djalma Limongi Batista, represent certain aspects of the life and work of Oswald de Andrade and Bocage, respectively, but they are neither “adaptations” nor cinematographic biographies. stricto sensu.

Countless films contain, dialogically, allusions or literary references, whether brief or extensive, implicit or explicit. foreign land (1995), by Walter Salles Júnior and Daniela Thomas, has as its starting point Fernando Pessoa’s verse “travel, lose countries”, although there are no more references to Pessoa in the film[ii]. In a more explicit sense, we could think of the case of Exu-Piá: heart of Macunaíma (1985), by Paulo Veríssimo, which dialogues not only with the novel by Mário de Andrade, but also with the film by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (1969) and the theatrical production by Antunes Filho (1979), without being, however, a film adaptation.

Filmic references or allusions to literature can be oral, visual, or even written (for example, a shot where the camera focuses on a book or a book page). In History of Lisbon (1994), by Wim Wenders, the main character reads poems by Fernando Pessoa and a figure representing Pessoa appears at least twice in the streets of Lisbon during filming. There is a moment when Bicho de seven-heads (2001), by Laís Bodansky, in which the camera focuses, from the point of view of the hospitalized youth, verses by Arnaldo Antunes scribbled on the wall of an asylum.

And what about a movie like the inconfidentes, by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, who builds the script with excerpts from wanton records and poems by Cecília Meireles and the poets involved in the Inconfidência Mineira? Or How delicious was my French (1972), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, which is punctuated, with ironic effect, by quotations from explorers, chroniclers and Jesuits such as Nicolau Durand de Villegaignon, Jean de Léry and Manuel da Nóbrega?[iii]

We would also have to include, in a broader discussion of the relations between literature and cinema, a series of issues involving scripts, from the writers who participate in their elaboration to the status literary value that some screenplays gain, even to a limited extent, by being published. And then there are the cases of filmmakers who write novels and novelists who make films. We could think, for example, of Glauber Rocha, whose novel Riverão Susuarana (1977) explicitly dialogues with Grande Sertão: paths, by João Guimarães Rosa. By the way, Guimarães Rosa and his character Diadorim figure in Glauber's novel.

And that's not to mention the undeniable impact that cinema has on literature, in conceptual, stylistic or thematic terms. Just think, for example, of the so-called “cinematographic” prose of Oswald de Andrade or Antônio de Alcântara Machado, in novels such as operation silence (1979), by Márcio Souza, which thematizes cinema in multiple ways, and Camilo Mortágua (1980), by Josué Guimarães, who uses cinema as a thematic and structuring element, or in a case like that of the Argentine writer Manuel Puig, who said on several occasions that, when he was a boy in a small town in Argentina, his greatest desire was to be a movie, because the reality he saw on the screen was more beautiful than the reality that surrounded him. And the importance of cinema in his work is more than evident in novels such as Rita Hayworth's Betrayal e Spider Woman's Kiss. Finally, the variations and possibilities of interrelationship between the two means of artistic expression are practically infinite, and far from me intending to exhaust them in these few pages. Let's move on to adaptations.

From literature to cinema

At the end of the test The floor of the word: cinema and literature in Brazil, the critic José Carlos Avellar writes: “The dynamic relationship that exists between books and films is hardly noticeable if we establish a hierarchy between the forms of expression and from there examine a possible fidelity of translation: a perfect obedience to the narrated facts or a invention of visual solutions equivalent to the stylistic resources of the text. What has led cinema to literature is not the impression that it is possible to take a certain thing that is in a book – a story, a dialogue, a scene – and insert it into a film, but, on the contrary, an almost certainty of that such an operation is impossible. The relationship takes place through a challenge like those of the singers of the Northeast, where each poet encourages the other to freely invent himself, to improvise, to do exactly what he thinks he should do”.[iv]

With his usual perspicacity, Avellar points out in this passage both the problem faced by many observers (lay people and professionals) of the relationship between literature and cinema and a key to a richer understanding of this same relationship.

The problem – the establishment of a normative hierarchy between literature and cinema, between an original work and a derivative version, between authenticity and simulacrum and, by extension, between elite culture and mass culture – is based on in a conception, derived from Kantian aesthetics, of the inviolability of the literary work and aesthetic specificity. Hence an insistence on the “fidelity” of the cinematographic adaptation to the original literary work. This attitude results in superficial judgments that often value literary work over adaptation, and more often than not without deeper reflection.

Talking about star hour, a novel by Clarice Lispector (1977) filmed by Suzana Amaral (1985), for example, Geraldo Carneiro writes: “To avoid misunderstandings, I clarify that star hour it is a beautiful film, one of the stars of Brazilian cinematography in the 80s. Even so, in comparison with the homonymous book by Clarice Lispector [...] I would venture to say that the film is extraordinarily unsatisfactory”.[v]

Referring to the same film, Luiza Lobo opines: “When portrayed on screen, this plot [of the book] ignores the richness of the narration, of certain dialogues and the undertones of the description, in the subtle universe of constant meanings of the text of Clarice, which cannot be transmitted by the camera”.[vi]

About the book and the movie Dona Flor and her two husbands, by Jorge Amado and Bruno Barreto, respectively, Ana Cristina de Rezende Chiara says: “I am not asking a question but an observation: the book seems better to me than the film. This despite the fact that the film is a beautiful film. Beautiful because it has narrative effectiveness, managing to summarize Jorge's discursive mass to the backbone of the plot”;[vii]

In all these cases, the films under analysis are judged critically because they do not do what the novels do, because, in one way or another, they are not “faithful” to the model work.

In reality, this is a false problem, which only arises under certain conditions. It is not, for example, a problem for the spectator who does not know the original work. In general, it is also not a problem when it comes to a literary work that is little known or valued. Does anyone care about the fact that hunger for love (1968), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, is an adaptation of the telenovela Story to hear at night, by Guilherme Figueiredo? Or of Miss Girl, by Tom Payne and Oswaldo Sampaio (1953), be based on a novel by Maria Camila Dezonne Pacheco Fernandes? As far as I know, there hasn't been much discussion around the fact that one of the best Brazilian films since production resumed in the mid-1990s, The killers, by Beto Brant (1997), be adapted from a short story by Marçal Aquino, who also collaborated on the film's script.[viii]

The insistence on “fidelity” – which derives from the expectations that the viewer brings to the film, based on their own reading of the original – is a false problem because it ignores essential differences between the two mediums, and because it generally ignores the dynamics of the fields of cultural production. in which the two media are inserted. While a novelist has at his disposal verbal language, with all its metaphorical and figurative richness, a filmmaker deals with at least five different expression materials: visual images, oral verbal language (dialogue, narration and song lyrics), sounds non-verbal (noise and sound effects), music and the written language itself (credits, titles and other writings). All these materials can be manipulated in different ways. The basic difference between the two media cannot be reduced, therefore, to the difference between written language and the visual image, as is often said.[ix]. If cinema has difficulty doing certain things that literature does, literature cannot do what a film does either.

Take, for example, the novel Macunaima, by Mário de Andrade (1928), and its cinematographic version, by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (1969), two masterpieces within their respective artistic and cultural movements. Mário's rhapsody opens with the following words: “Deep in the virgin forest, Macunaíma, hero of our people, was born. He was jet black and the son of the fear of the night. There was a moment when the silence was so great, listening to the murmur of the Uraricoera, that the Tapanhumas Indian woman gave birth to an ugly child. That child was called Macunaíma”.[X]

There are a number of things that could be commented on here: the creation of a mythical space, the miraculous birth (“son of the fear of the night”), the racial composition, the hero's ugliness.

Anyone familiar with Joaquim Pedro's film knows that the director opted for a comic interpretation of this opening, with a transvestite Paulo José giving birth to a “hero” represented by Grande Otelo. He also knows that he opted for a more concrete geographical definition, in the narrator's words, in off, at the end of the first sequence: “It was like this, in the place called Pai da Tocandeira, Brazil, that Macunaíma was born […]”. He knows, moreover, that he opted for a more negative characterization of the hero, when the mother, giving him a name, says “name that begins with Ma tem más sina”, a characterization taken from chapter VII, “Macumba”, of the novel[xi]. But I want to draw attention to what happens before of the first sequence, during the signs.

The signs are superimposed on a green and yellow background, obviously representing a forest. The music that accompanies the signs is the patriotic march Parade to the heroes of Brazil, composed by Heitor Villa-Lobos. The song's lyrics begin and end with the following lines:

Glory to the men who raise the homeland
This beloved homeland that is our Brazil
From Pedro Cabral to this land
Called glorious on an April day...

This land of Brazil rising to light
It was taba of noble heroes

Before the first photographic image of the film, therefore, colors and music, two elements that literature can only express through verbal language, combine with the lyrics of the song to establish the thematic universe of the film – the question of the Brazilian hero – , but they introduce other connotations linked to the musical nationalism of Villa-Lobos, to modernism and to the involvement of modernist intellectuals and artists with the Estado Novo of Getúlio Vargas. Loyalty? An irrelevant question.

An insistence on fidelity also generally ignores the fact that literature and film constitute two distinct, albeit at some level related, fields of cultural production. When a filmmaker makes a film, he is responding, consciously or unconsciously, to questions raised or made possible by the field itself, in the first place, and by society or other fields, in the second place. When Cinema Novo emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it positioned itself in relation to certain cinematographic traditions and not in relation to the problems faced by the literary field.

This does not mean, of course, that it has not used certain aspects of other fields or that it has failed to take a stand on other broader social issues. What it means is that, seen from this angle, the insistence on “fidelity” loses its meaning. An artistic work, be it novel, short story, poem, film, sculpture or painting, has to be judged in relation to the values ​​of the field in which it is inserted, and not in relation to the values ​​of another field.

It is much more productive, when considering the relationship between literature and cinema, to think of adaptation, as Robert Stam wants, as a form of intertextual dialogism; or as James Naremore wants, who sees adaptation as part of a general theory of repetition, since narratives are in fact repeated in different ways and in different artistic or cultural means (the novel Macunaíma, for example, has already been transformed into a plot of samba school, film, play, and in a metadiscursive cinematic form, becoming part of a national cultural mythology); or like Darlene Sadlier, who proposes to take into account the historical, cultural and political circumstances of adaptation; or even like José Carlos Avellar, with the metaphor of challenge singers from the Northeast, who freely improvise around a certain theme.

Dry Lives in the cinema

Nelson Pereira dos Santos' cinematographic reading of Graciliano Ramos's novel was not originally intended to be just an adaptation of a masterpiece of national literature; it also wanted to intervene in the contemporary political situation, in this case as part of the then-current debate on agrarian reform and the Brazilian social structure. As the director himself observed in 1972: “At that time, great discussions on the problem of agrarian reform were taking place in Brazil, and many groups and sectors of the economy were participating. I felt that the film should also participate in the national debate and that my contribution could be that of a filmmaker who rejects a sentimental vision. Among northeastern writers, Graciliano Ramos is the most representative, which expresses the most consistent view of the region, particularly in terms of Dried lives. What the book says about the Northeast in 1938 is still valid today”.[xii]

The film was deservedly praised as a masterpiece of the first phase of Cinema Novo, and is generally considered a relatively “faithful” adaptation of Graciliano's novel. However, in his dialogue with Graciliano's novel, Nelson Pereira dos Santos took advantage of his creative privilege and modified certain elements in search of his own stand in the cinematographic field.

Dried lives it was originally published as a series of relatively autonomous short stories, whose unity comes from the fact that they have in common the medium and continuity of the characters. If, as many critics suggest, the novel is detachable[xiii], so the film “disassembles” its basic material into a coherent and even more linear narrative. For example, the film groups together some chapters that are separated in the novel. The events of chapters 3 (“Jail”) and 8 (“Party”), both set in the village, are together in the film. O flashback in chapter 10 (“Accounts”), in which Fabiano remembers previous difficulties with the tax collector, it takes place in the film before other events in the village. Fabiano's encounter with the Yellow Soldier (chapter 11) takes place before Baleia's death (chapter 9). The director also added his own elements to the film, especially in the jail sequence.

This sequence encapsulates the denotative differences between the novel and the film, synthesizing the film's main themes by creating a structural core that radiates meaning and establishing a political space that resonates intertextually throughout the film. Furthermore, she develops a dialogic relationship with her reference model, discussing latent or implicit aspects in Graciliano Ramos' novel. In this sense, the film constitutes a critical and creative reading of the original work. The sequence also represents a microcosm of the economic, political, and cultural structures of the Northeast, abstracted in such a way that it deals not only with the oppression of a man and his family, but also with more generalized mechanisms of oppression.

The sequence is composed of 37 shots irregularly divided between three different physical spaces: 14 shots portray Fabiano and another prisoner in jail; 13 show the celebration of bumba-meu-boi in front of local authorities; 8 reveal Vitória and the two boys on the church steps, waiting for the return of her father and her dog Baleia, who also disappeared; 2 shots reveal soldiers at the cell door.

power structures

In his structural analysis of Graciliano's novel, Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna isolates two groups of disjunctive characters: the first group is composed of Fabiano and his family; the second group is the “world out there”, that is, all elements hostile to the first group. Between the two groups, Affonso observes, “there is no exchange system, but a mechanism of oppression and blockade”[xiv].

The blockade between the two groups is unidirectional, and the mechanism of oppression works from the top down. We can rethink these two groups in terms of a hierarchy of power based on the five distinct levels of power that are present in the prison sequence: 1) economic power (represented by the farmer), 2) civil power (the mayor), 3) the military power (the soldiers), 4) the religious power (the priest and the Church) and 5) the powerless (Fabiano, Vitória and the participants of bumba-meu-boi). A sixth grouping, made up of the other prisoner and the jagunços, is outside this power hierarchy and poses a threat to its stability.

The blockage mentioned earlier exists between the first four groups and the fifth. It is unidirectional, as the first four groups have access to the “space” occupied by the fifth, but the reverse does not happen. There is very little interchange between them unless they are governed by signs of domination, authority and repression.

The hierarchical distinction between the first two levels of power is not clear, as we do not know whether the mayor is also a farmer, or whether the farmer has more power than the mayor. In this sequence they are next to each other, on the same level. However, it is clear that the military and the Church are subordinate to both the mayor and the landowner, and play a mediating role between the highest and lowest layers in the power structure.

The farmer has an (apparently) ambivalent position. While, in a positive sense, he gives Fabiano and his family the opportunity to work on his farm, his role is mostly negative. He is the absentee owner who buys Fabiano's labor. While it is economically advantageous, he employs Fabiano as a cowboy, but as soon as the drought returns, he sends him away. In addition to paying the cowboy a pittance (one calf out of every four), the rancher also exploits Fabiano, charging high interest on the money loaned to him during the year. Therefore, his economic activity is based not only on the farm, but also on usury.

As I have already suggested, the mayor's role within the power structure outlined in the film is not well defined. In the arrest sequence, he is clearly aligned with the farmer during the bumba-meu-boi, in which the two are sitting side by side on the porch, receiving symbolic offerings from the participants. Later, when the jagunços enter the city to free the prisoner who occupies the cell with Fabiano (in the novel there are references to a drunk), the mayor and the landowner go to the prison together and order the soldiers to release the other prisoner. The farmer sees Fabiano and orders him to be released too. The mayor has some subordinates, like the tax collector, who at the beginning of the film prevents Fabiano from selling his pork meat in the village. He therefore shares economic power with the farmer, and the two figures are essentially interchangeable.

Representatives of military power appear in only two shots of the sequence, and Soldado Amarelo does not appear, despite having immediate responsibility for Fabiano's arrest. In the third shot, the soldier who arrested the cowboy closes the cell door and in the sixth shot he tells Fabiano to shut up. However, military power is diffused throughout the sequence. The physical space portrayed – the jail – is a military space.

Military power serves an intermediary function between the dominant classes (the mayor, the farmer) and the people, through the separation, isolation and marginalization of the latter by the former. His intermediary role is crucial, and is recognized by Fabiano later in the narrative. When the cowboy finds Soldado Amarelo in the caatinga, he raises his fishmonger to attack, but then lowers it, saying: “Government is government”. Thus Fabiano expresses the fatalism of the sertanejo who realizes that the soldier who humiliated him is nothing more than a representative of higher levels of authority. As Fabiano thinks in the novel, “The yellow soldier was a wretch who didn't even deserve a backhand slap. He would kill his owners”[xv].

The other intermediate form of power in the film, religious power, is present in this sequence only by its absence. Vitória, abandoned and alone, waits for Fabiano sitting on the sidewalk in front of the church, which offers no consolation for her pain (nor Fabiano's). In this sense, the film is a subtle critique of the oppressive role of religion in the small community. In an earlier sequence of the film, Fabiano's entry into the church was not denied; he simply it cannot enter because of the crowd. Shots by Baleia and the boys squeezed between the legs of the faithful reveal the church as a repressive and uninviting place. The priest also serves as an intermediary between the ruling classes and the jagunços, who, upon entering the city to release one of their number from prison, wake the priest and send him to fetch the mayor and the landowner.

The fifth level in the power hierarchy is defined politically by its powerlessness, economically by its lack of possessions other than its workforce, and culturally by its creation of cultural forms directly linked to its work experience. This level is also defined by the lack of language, and language is power.[xvi]. Fabiano and his family are, of course, the main representatives of this level, but the bumba-meu-boi participants also belong to this group.

In the novel, in the prison episode, Fabiano thinks that, if it weren't for his wife and children, "[he] would join a band of cangaceiros and do damage to the men who ran Soldado Amarelo"[xvii]. Although, in the novel, Fabiano does not have the opportunity to take revenge, in the film he is offered this option. There is another prisoner – an enigmatic figure – in jail with Fabiano.

He tends to the cowboy's wounds, and comforts him through the long night. In contrast to Fabiano, who grimaces in pain and curses at the jailers, the prisoner, despite also being injured, shows no signs of pain or fear. He doesn't say a word. When he's not helping Fabiano, he calmly looks out the jail window. At sunrise, the gang he belongs to enter the city and release him, leading to Fabiano's release. They meet again later on the road outside the city, where the young man offers his horse to Fabiano and invites him to join the band. The cowboy refuses, perhaps feeling a greater responsibility for his family.

As I have already noted, the band represents a group that is outside the power hierarchy and a threat to its stability. However, it is at this point in the film that the director uses his creative freedom to transform, for ideological reasons, one of the elements of the original text. First, the director abstracted the armed band. The abstraction of the armed band is achieved, in the first place, by its visual de-characterization.

The cangaceiro (mentioned in the novel) has a long history in Brazilian cinema, from motherless son (1925), by Edson Chagas. the classic the cangaceiro, by Lima Barreto (1953), consecrated the cangaço film as a Brazilian genre. This tradition institutionalized a certain modality of representation of the object and a certain way of identifying the cangaceiro in its visual representation. In other words, she developed a iconology specific for the representation of the cangaceiro: the figure with the half-moon hat studded with stars, a belt of bullets crossing the chest. Most members of the armed band in Dried lives does not have these visual characteristics.

Second, the herd's abstraction is achieved by silence: we simply don't know who they are, what they do, where they come from, or who they work for. Stay clear only that they represent a threat and an alternative to the ruling classes. Therefore, the director, with this abstraction, brings to the film an option that is merely latent in the novel: armed resistance. This option is reinforced in a shot of Fabiano on horseback, filmed from below, with a rifle in his hands. Despite the fact that the cowboy rejects this option, the image remains alive in the filmic discourse.

the cultural issue

Different forms of cultural production correspond to the different levels of the power hierarchy. The chain sequence makes explicit the ideology implicit in the social structure and in certain cultural manifestations. Elite culture is represented by the classical violin lessons given to the farmer's daughter at the beginning of the film. This sequence – which takes place when Fabiano goes to the village in an oxcart – also offers an example of the director's subtle humor. The film’s soundtrack is ingenious, providing a “structural use of sound” moment.[xviii].

The non-diegetic sound of the bullock cart wheels accompanies the film's signs. Later the sound is diegetized when we see Fabiano in the oxcart and hear the sound at the same time. At this point, the sound forms part of an aural pun in which the creaking of the oxcart is modulated by the sound of the scratched violin. Throughout the film, the sound of the oxcart becomes a kind of auditory synecdoche that encapsulates the Northeast, through its denotation (the oxcart evokes the region's technical backwardness) and its connotation: the sound, which it is very unpleasant, it constitutes an aggressive structure in itself. Simultaneously, the wheel operates as a metaphor, recalling, in its circularity, the cyclical periods of drought in the region. In the violin sequence, the sound of the oxcart modulated to the sound of the violin equates elite culture with repression.

Popular culture is in opposition to elite culture, and is represented in the sequence by bumba-meu-boi. The ox is present throughout the entire film. The sound of an oxcart opens and closes the filmic text; halfway through the film, the date “1941” is superimposed on a clay ox sculpted by one of the boys. When the time comes for Fabiano to decide whether or not to join the herd, his decision is influenced by the sound of a cowbell; he decides not to kill Soldado Amarelo in part because he hears one of the last surviving oxen in the caatinga. Fabiano makes ox leather sandals for the family; the family depends on the herd for food. In short, the very survival of the family depends on the ox.

The bumba-meu-boi – which does not appear in Graciliano's novel – is a traditional folk festival in which the people symbolically divide an ox and offer it to local dignitaries. According to Mário de Andrade, the cult of the ox is: 1) reminiscent of mythical vegetation rites that reflect the people's concern for the bounty of the land; and 2) a moral value derived from religious tradition and economic activity. In more modern societies the cult has lost its poetry primitive and much of its mythological significance, but the social significance of the ox remains.

“The appreciation of the Ox reflects [...] the collective unconscious, attached to what [Mário de Andrade] considers “vital forces” [...] an extension of itself, like someone who communicates through the aboio”[xx]

The bumba-meu-boi, therefore, is an expression of social and economic collectivity, a totem that reflects the socioeconomic structure and the deepest values ​​of those who participate in the party. In Dried lives, Nelson Pereira dos Santos uses the ox and popular culture in a critical sense, and not in a merely representative sense.

Despite the apparently festive of bumba-meu-boi, a blockade remains between the participants and the authorities. The repressive nature of the event is revealed by the juxtaposition of sound and image, which contrasts the celebration with images of Fabiano suffering behind bars. When the participants finally say “Let's cut the ox”, the camera focuses on Fabiano. When the ox is divided and symbolically served to the ruling class, so is Fabiano.

The bumba-meu-boi can be seen, in this context, as a ceremonial representation or the staging of an oppressive situation, because the participants symbolically offer the oppressor not only the product of their own work, but also themselves. In this sense, popular culture is ambiguous. While it offers a counterpoint to elite culture, it can also alienate people by simply representing, rather than challenging, their oppression.

formal equivalences

To fully understand and appreciate the differences and similarities between the novel and the film Dried lives we must examine the codes by which their respective messages are conveyed. One of the areas in which the film is imaginatively "faithful" to the novel concerns point of view. Graciliano's novel is told from a subjective point of view in the third person. He uses a free indirect style, that is, a mode of speech that begins in the third person (“he thought”) and then modulates to a more or less direct presentation, but still in the third person, of a character's thoughts and feelings. .

the speech of Dried lives it is highly subjectivated, in the sense that most of the verbal material is articulated from the characters' point of view. Five of the chapters are named after the character whose perspective dominates them; another four are dominated by Fabiano. At the same time, within particular chapters, there is a kind of subsystem of perspectives in a hierarchy of power, starting with Fabiano and passing through Vitória, the boys and, sometimes, the dog Baleia.

The romance Dried lives is characterized by an intense imaginative empathy by which the author projects himself onto characters quite different from himself. on one tour de force, the narrator even psychologizes the dog Baleia, going so far as to give her visions of a canine paradise. However, the narrator is not strictly limited to the consciousness of his characters; he includes and transcends it. For example, he makes allusions that would no doubt be beyond the comprehension of his characters (such as Fabiano's comparison of himself to a "wandering Jew"), or he details the characters' confusion (Fabiano's semi-comic attempt to invent an appropriate lie to Vitória about the money he lost in a card game), while making it clear that the narrator does not share this confusion.

In the film, the interior monologue in the free indirect style disappears, giving way to direct and sparse dialogues. Fabiano's internal struggle with language, for example, does not exist; what we get is the fact of its inarticulation. Fabiano and Vitória's lack of verbal communication is reported through a “conversation”, during which they are sitting around the fire, listening to the rain fall and talking simultaneously without listening to each other.

However, Nelson Pereira dos Santos maintains what can be called the democratic distribution of subjectivity. Fabiano, Vitória, the boys and the dog are all subjectivized by the film. This subjectivation operates in several cinematographic registers. The film classically explores shot/reverse shot, which alternates between the person seeing and what the person presumably sees. This technique is used with the four human protagonists and the dog. A sequence alternates shots of Baleia looking and panting with shots of the cavy running into the bush.

The film also subjectivizes through camera movements: traveling shots with camera in hand they evoke the experience of crossing the sertão; a dizzying motion suggests the younger boy's dizziness and fall. Other techniques involve exposure (a plane of the sun blinds and stuns the character); focus (Whale's vision goes out of focus after Fabiano shoots him); and angle (the older boy tilts his head to see the house, and the camera tilts as well). It's also worth noting that the camera films the dog and the boys on their own level, without condescension. Luis Carlo Barreto's cinematography is dry and rough like the sertão. In fact, it is commonly said that he “invented” a type of light appropriate for Brazilian cinema. In summary, the style of Graciliano Ramos, a style ideally suited to express psychological states, physical sensation and concrete experience, is successfully translated into film.

In the novel, the prison sequence creates a psychological space (Fabiano's disjointed muttering and his anguished attempt to articulate his rage) that is social and political on a secondary level. The film, on the other hand, develops a predominantly social and political space (showing the fact of Fabiano's oppression) which is implicitly psychological.

The sequence alternates between subjective camera (for example, Fabiano looking at the other prisoner and vice versa), objective camera (shots of Vitória on the church stairs) and semi-documentary excerpts (the bumba-meu-boi) as a means of contrasting reality ( social) objective of the situation of Fabiano's personal drama. The juxtaposition of sound and image (such as the sound of the festival accompanying the image of Fabiano or Vitória in front of the church) makes explicit the marginalization of the protagonists, who are excluded from the festivities and, by extension, from Brazilian society as a whole. Fabiano's symbolic sacrifice by juxtaposing the sound of one space over the image of another has already been mentioned.

The lighting sequence (and throughout the film) is natural. First, the cell is lit by light from the window (Fabiano is arrested before sunset). Later, lighting comes from the fire that the other prisoner lit to give Fabiano warmth and comfort. Light actually is a significant element within the sequence. The first time we see the other prisoner, he is standing in front of the window in silence, with the light coming in from behind and above, giving him a Christ-like aura.

After that, a similar effect takes place when the prisoner is next to the fire. The light reflected off the wall illuminates his head again. As we have already suggested, the prisoner represents, on an immediate level, Fabiano's release from prison – his salvation, to maintain the metaphor of Christ – and, on a more abstract level, the possibility of fighting against the oppressors. This interpretation is reinforced near the end of the sequence. With daybreak, the sun rises over the church tower (a subjective shot filmed from Vitória's perspective), and the armed band enters the city. A new day has arrived.

A normative judgment of the film Dried lives, taking into account the differences between the two mediums, the circumstances of production and the temporal distance between the two works, would inevitably be ahistorical and critically suspect. As I said above, adaptation is more a question of dialogue and admiration than of fundamental differences between the authors. The two works are masterpieces, which generally share the same political perspective. In purely cinematographic terms, the film by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, with its sober critical realism and its implicit optimism, represents the best of Cinema Novo in its first phase, finding the perfect style to work on the theme explored.

*Randal Johnson is a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California-Los Angeles. Author, among other books, of Brazilian Cinema (Columbia University Press).

annotated bibliography

AVELLAR, Jose Carlos. Literatur im Brasilianischen Film/ Brazilian Cinema and Literature/ Cinema and Literature in Brazil. São Paulo: Câmara Brasileira do Livro, 1994 (prepared for the 46th Frankfurt Book Fair, 1994).

In the essay “The floor of the word: cinema and literature in Brazil”, which appears in three languages ​​(German, English and Portuguese), the critic from Rio de Janeiro discusses the main components of the cinematographic adaptation of literary works, incorporating comments from filmmakers who made films based on in literary works. It is an extremely useful essay, offering suggestions and clues for future research.

BIGNELL, Jonathan (org.). Writing and Cinema. Essex: Longman, 1999.

Divided into four parts, this collection brings together fifteen essays that explore themes related to writing for cinema; film writing; transformation of writing into cinema (adaptation); and writing about film. The volume shows the complexity of the relationships between literature and cinema and opens up new fronts for investigation, especially in the section on writing in cinema, that is, writing as a graphic element of cinema.

CARTMELL, Deborah et al. (org.). Pulping Fictions: Consuming Culture across the Literature/ Media Divide. London: Pluto Press, 1999.

With a title that refers to Quentin Tarantino, this volume, with ten essays, explores the tension between popular cinema (in terms of box office) and the so-called “high culture” in an era when, in the English or American university, it is so (or more) likely a student to study Batman ou Star Trek than Milton and Shakespeare. Includes articles about the adaptation and the “mystery” of the original version; cinematic vampires; Shakespeare; Frankenstein; Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure; Robin Hood according to Mel Brooks (Men in Tights); and issues related to parody and pastiche.

JOHNSON, Randal. Literature and cinema: Macunaíma from Modernism in literature to Cinema Novo. São Paulo: TA Queiroz, 1982.

This book offers a detailed study of the literary and film versions of Macunaima, within the broader context of modernism and Cinema Novo. After contextualization, it makes a comparative study of the narrative structure of the two works, based on the Morphology of Macunaíma, by Haroldo de Campos, before analyzing the film, sequence by sequence.

NAREMORE, James (org.). Film Adaptation. New Brunswick/New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

The volume brings together twelve essays on the issue of cinematographic adaptation of literary works. The objective of the edition is to fill a void caused by the lack of critical and theoretical advances on the relations between literature and cinema. Includes essays by André Bazin, Dudley Andrews, Robert Ray, Robert Stam, and Darlene Sadlier, among others, that address multiple issues: theories of adaptation; adaptation and censorship; Welles and Shakespeare; Nelson Pereira dos Santos and the policy of adaptation; It is Emma in Los Angeles (an article about the film Clueless).


[I] I mention these films because they are accessible on video, in the Brasilianas Collection, produced by Funarte. There are, of course, many others that could be included.

[ii] See Daniela Thomas, Walter Salles and Marcos Bernstein, foreign land (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1996), p. 5.

[iii] For an analysis of this aspect of the film, see Darlene J. Sadlier, “The Politics of Adaptation: how Tasty Was my Little Frenchman”, in James Naremore (ed.), Film Adaptation (New Brunswick/New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000), pp. 190-205. The issue of written language in a film is an issue that several scholars are addressing. See, for example, Jonathan Bignell (ed.), Writing and Cinema (Essex: Longman, 1999).

[iv] Jose Carlos Avellar, The floor of the word: cinema and literature in Brazil (São Paulo: Brazilian Book Chamber, 1994), p. 124.

[v] Geraldo Carneiro, “A hallucination provoked by utopia fever”, in Nelson Rodrigues Filho (ed.), Letter and image: language/languages (Rio de Janeiro: Uerj/State Secretary of Education of Rio de Janeiro, 1994), pp. 57-62.

[vi] Luiza Lobo, “The hour of the star: the film and the soap opera”, in Nelson Rodrigues Filho (ed.), op. cit., pp. 63-71.

[vii] Ana Cristina de Rezende Chiara, “Two or three words about a regular triangle…”, in Nelson Rodrigues Filho (org.), op. cit., pp. 53-55.

[viii] In the 1940s, American producer David Selznick did research that indicated that few Americans had read Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, despite being a classic of European literature. Therefore, he felt free to take liberties with adapting the novel. Since many knew Gone with the Wind…, by Margaret Mitchell, Selznick insisted on greater “fidelity” to the plot of the novel. It is clear that Selznick's concern was more marketing than aesthetic, but the fact remains that the alleged fidelity is only required in certain situations. See James Naremore, “Introduction: Film and the Reign of Adaptation,” in James Naremore (ed.), Film Adaptation, cit., pp. 11-12.

[ix] There are, in fact, cases of films made without or almost without visual images. The most recent one might be Snow White (2000), by Portuguese filmmaker João César Monteiro.

[X] Mario De Andrade, Macunaíma: the hero without any character, critical edition by Telê Porto Ancona Lopez, Coleção Arquivos, vol. 6 (Paris/Brasília: CNPq, 1988), p. 5.

[xi] The film's original subtitle, as given in the script, was The bad character hero.

[xii] Federico de Cárdenas & Max Tessier, “Entretien avec Nelson Pereira dos Santos”, in Cinematic Studies, Le “Cinema Novo” Brésilien (1), n. 93-96, Paris, 1972, pp. 61-74.

[xiii] See Alfonso Romano de Sant'Anna, Structural analysis of Brazilian novels, Fundamentals Series, n. 67 (7th ed. São Paulo: Ática, 1990), p. 167.

[xiv] Ibid., P. 155.

[xv] Graciliano Ramos, Dried lives (10th ed. São Paulo: Martins, 1964), p. 42.

[xvi] See the analysis of Dried lives as a “work of language on non-language” by Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna, Structural analysis of Brazilian novels, cit., pp. 155-181.

[xvii] Graciliano Ramos, Dried lives, cit., p. 42.

[xviii] Noel Burch, praxis du cinema (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), p. 144.

[xx] Tele Porto Ancona Lopez, Mário de Andrade: branches and paths (São Paulo: Two Cities, 1972), p. 133.


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