Terry Winters, Title Unknown, 2000


Comment on the film directed by Wagner Moura

Making a film about a man like Carlos Marighella is both a privilege and a risk: admired by many, due to his courageous fight against the civil-military dictatorship of 1964/1985; hostilized by so many others, who consider that struggle a betrayal of the homeland (thus confused with dictatorship); theme of books, movies, songs and more works produced in different languages. He is a problem for those who approach him, a great character before the film (or any artistic and intellectual modality) came along.

Wagner Moura, a well-known and respected actor, faced this challenge when directing the film marighella, at a time when the character, the armed struggle and the Brazilian left in general – at least since the overthrow of President Dilma Roussef (2016) – receive attacks and aggressions from the government and its supporters. And this in a world without the USSR or the Soviet bloc, where the countries that still declare themselves communist adopt measures, in the economy, of a similar nature to the capitalist ones.

It is a work of art and a political interference in this new national dictatorship. The government boycotts, and even from sectors of the press, that the film suffered, before and after being released commercially in Brazil, demonstrate that the critical blows it dealt reached their targets. That government and its allies continue to treat Carlos Marighella as “Brazil's No. 1 enemy”.

Even the skin color of actor Seu Jorge, who embodies the character and reaffirms his social identity (son of a black woman and an Italian immigrant, grandson of slaves), was used by these detractors to reject the film, evident racism, without references similar to the facial beauty of Delegate Lúcio, based on Sérgio Fleury, played by Bruno Gagliasso… Actors also represent, or almost always, what they are not in their personal lives! The color of Seu Jorge, in this film, is a critique of the practice of black face (white actors with painted faces to represent black characters).

The choice of Gagliasso for that role rejects the beautiful appearance (which Fleury, Lucio's model, did not have) as a supposed proof of correctness or innocence. the documentary Citizen Boilesen, by Chaim Litewski, from 2009, had already made the same criticism of its central character, also famous for his physical grandeur (there were those who considered him as handsome as the American actor Kirk Douglas...) and associated with torture and related OBAN practices ( Operation Bandeirantes, information entity and violent fight against opponents of the 1964/1985 dictatorship).

Another strategy of Wagner, as director and co-scriptwriter of the film, was to assign to some characters the first names of the actors who interpret them: Humberto Carrão is Humberto; Bella Camero appears as Bella; Guilherme Ferraz voices Guilherme; Henrique Vieira is Friar Henrique, an ally of Marighella and the ALN (Ação Libertadora Nacional), the dissident group of the Brazilian Communist Party that Carlos created, along with other communists, when they disagreed with the party leadership regarding the PCB's attitudes towards the dictatorship. Thus, part of the cast merges their personal history even more intensely with the profile of the characters they play, making explicit part of their identities in these beings.

The work begins and ends with the image of Marighella's son, the father's namesake, floating in the sea, a metaphor for survival, continuity and infinity of the communist leader and his political projects, in addition to defining the critics of the dictatorship that came after him. (many of the viewers of this work) as their virtual children.

Some basic information about that dictatorial experience (duration, government violence against opponents, armed struggle promoted by sectors that opposed it) appear in subtitles, complemented by images of streets occupied by war tanks, other war vehicles, troops – indexes of a dictatorship seen only as military, which is frequent in many films, in the press and even in studies by specialists, who silence the responsibilities of civilians (businessmen, artists, jurists, economists and other elite social sectors) for that barbarism.

Marighella appears to criticize the leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party (designated as a coward), to defend the armed struggle against the dictatorship, but also in her personal daily life, washing dishes with her wife (Clara Charf), making jokes with friends, in life clandestine as a militant against that government, defined, in a speech by Carlos, as an example of regimes that kill people. Clara, a communist militant, played by actress Adriana Esteves, ends up reduced to an illustrative and personal appendix of Carlos.

Weapons hidden by left-wing militants appear, including in a Catholic church. Police officers, on the other hand, kill human beings in the back, a cowardly gesture, as was the practice of the Death Squad, involved in drug trafficking and similar practices. Communists carry out expropriations in banks, Marighella himself speaks in one of these acts, didactically explaining what they were doing as a “retake” of monetary values ​​that the same banks and other companies (that is: capitalism) extorted from the poor. In short: this is neither banditry nor an action movie (although Moura uses language resources from this cinematographic genre), it is an antidictatorial and anticapitalist political act.

Expropriation is characterized by tension, firefights with security guards and soldiers, deaths and injuries on both sides. Representatives of government repression appear to dialogue with English-speaking characters (a reference to US sponsorship of the dictatorship), the strategy of “breaking the soul” of the opponents they face is announced. Delegate Lúcio affirms that the people are on the side of the government, a profession of faith without foundation. If such support existed, why would a dictatorship be needed?

On the other hand, Marighella, when asked by a French journalist if he was a Maoist, Trotskyist or Leninist, replied: “I am Brazilian!”. This may be a subtle denunciation of imperialist power, but it also comes close to exempting national entrepreneurs from power under the dictatorship. Where are those associated with dictatorial violence, who engineered and guaranteed it?

Carlos appears, at different times in the narration, looking at a small photograph of his young son, who lived with his mother in Salvador, BA, an image of affection and pain due to the distance his militancy imposed.

There is an atmosphere of the death of politics (search for individual and collective happiness, the common good, justice, according to Aristotle, in the work Politics), murdered by the dictatorship, and leftist militants fight against this crime, a fight that goes beyond their people, in the recovery of that search. The repetition of the phrase “A Gente não vai para”, pronounced three times consecutively by Marighella, demonstrates this will to live, contrasting with the sad outcome that the spectators already know.

Wagner Moura's film presents the armed struggle of these left-wing men and women as a problem, not a solution: what does it mean to fight against a dictatorship? There is almost silence in the work about the poor Brazilian population, for which these communists fought, an indication of a certain isolation of this political vanguard in relation to those they defended. Momentary achievements of such left-wing fighters (clandestine radio broadcast, kidnapping of the US ambassador in Rio de Janeiro) do not eliminate the narrative tone of marching towards defeat in the face of the dictatorship, which viewers know to have happened tragically.

Dictatorial repression, in turn, appears under the sign of cruelty against the weakest, who are physically and psychologically attacked, humiliated in scenes of explicit violence, marked by blood and waste. Deputy Lúcio, who embodies the functions of Sérgio Fleury, seems to take pleasure in the face of a man without the physical power to face him and who, terrified, suffers a crisis of urinary incontinence. And those sadisms obey a political logic of extermination of opponents and greater exploitation of workers.

There is a daily life of difficulties and suffering, more visible in relation to the militants themselves (the poor almost disappear, except for their ties to some of the communists), faced with phrases of hope like “Everything will be fine”, while nothing indicates this happy ending. The narrative presents a growing sense of defeat for these political fighters, Marighella's visibly saddened face, declaration of lack of structure to face a powerful and violent enemy, scenes of explicit horror (repressors kicking people who have already been subjugated), torture, murders by representatives from the government.

The relations of left-wing militants with the Catholic Church and some of its priests approach an identity of those men and women with Christian martyrdom, almost a hagiographic narrative, Passion of Christ lived by so many, which had already manifested itself before, among other examples, in the film baptism of blood, by Helvécio Ratton, from 2007, also dedicated to Marighella's final career and those contacts.

Carlos' death is characterized as a trap and lynching practiced by agents of the dictatorship, followed by Lúcio's lie in his account of what happened, which stages an imaginary and non-existent “legitimate defense” of the assassins.

But the fight continues in the film: those who died as militants (except Carlos himself) reappear, at the end, enthusiastically singing the Brazilian National Anthem; they are presented as the true, patriotic Brazil, the opposite of those criminal coup plotters, torturers and murderers. There is a kind of recovery of civility (“I am Brazilian!”, Marighella's response to the French journalist) by those who fought against a dictatorship that was also capable of showing off singing the National Anthem and that even proclaimed itself a “revolution”. Is this recovery worth it? The coup against Dilma Roussef, in 2016, and the governments that followed him used and still use an ornamental and lying civility. Whoever criticizes him should sing that same Hymn? Is it correct to leave the Anthem only in the voices of the killers of Politics? But the same policy, in this scene, is reborn, Phoenix before the dictatorship, conquest of art.

Wagner Moura's film is an engaging narrative, which moves with a good cast (many names known through telenovelas of the Globo, which is linked to the production of the work, via Globe Films), opportune on the political level, dependent on some prior knowledge, by the public, about the main character and his surroundings, including the enemies. Young spectators comment that they had never heard, before the film, references to Marighella in history classes, which demonstrates the limits of school teaching and the potential of informal historical culture for the learning of new generations.

Without the artistic and interpretative boldness of other Brazilian films about the 1964/1985 dictatorship, conceived in different artistic and political moments (earth in trance, by Glauber Rocha, 1967; Goat marked for death, by Eduardo Coutinho, 1981; we were never so happy, by Murilo Salles, 1984; Citizen Boilesen, by Chaim Litewski, 2009), marighella it is an act of political courage and also market calculation, which manages to reach diverse audiences, including via internet piracy, before its successful release in movie theaters.

Faced with the dictatorship of 2016/today, a time when denialists rename the dictatorship of 1964/1984 with amenities such as “military regime” or “period of exception”, when the film was completed (2019) and commercially released (2021), it represents good critical results, indirectly recognized by the fury of critics and the favorable reception of a public that reflects on its universe.

* Mark Silva is a full professor at the Department of History at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Relative dictatorship and denialism: Brazil, 1964 (2016,2018, XNUMX…) (Ed. Maria Antonia).



Brazil, 2019 (released in 2021), 155 minutes.
Directed by: Wagner Moura.
Screenplay: Felipe Braga, Mário Magalhães and Wagner Moura.
Argument: based on the book Marighella, the guerrilla who set the world on fire, by Mario Magalhães.
Photography: Adrian Teijido.
Editing: Lucas Gonzaga.
Cast: Seu Jorge, Bruno Gagliasso, Adriana Esteves, Herson Caprie.



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