Dry bushes on fire – cinema and gender



Considerations on the film directed by Ardilei Queirós and Joana Pimenta

Genre cinema is the cinema of countries without history. The maxim comes from Jean-Luc Godard, who likes peremptory statements. The simultaneously vague and accurate intuition can be modestly improved: genre cinema is the cinema of countries that seek their own history or, at least, some history, theirs is not the most obvious “history”. There are stories and stories, as it turns out. Be it westerns or science fiction, for example, genre films are as worn as cinema itself (as a genre), as is the variable and unstable cleavage that demarcates the divide between documentary and fiction.

Méliès, who made fiction, today makes documentaries, the Lumière brothers, who made documentaries, are now fiction. Godard, again. The stereotype of the plot of genre films and their obligatory or almost obligatory elements – be it the western, science fiction, or horror (we who have a unique master of the horror film, José Mojica Marins) – would tell a story that, even that could only be fictional, would still be “history” under certain limits and conditions: the image of a story (of being, at least, desire and appeal for history in what it could be through resemblance and imitation).

Land disputes, invasion, enemies, war, bad guys and good guys, challenging nature, aliens, space travel, incredible artifacts capable of concentrating hundreds of years of work and productivity in minimal volumes, etc., are formal and syntactic elements that are very appropriate of the simplifications of genre cinema. They serve well those who want to tell something for which some stories are missing, something that circumvents the story, which has another story: for those who do not have a story, there seem to be many, the image of some story is always compensatory (or, at least, outside). It makes use of a formal scheme, genre cinema, which simplifies while at the same time supporting the narrative problems. From this simplification, formal clarity and semantic freedom are available to those who know and want to use the tools.

The predilection of the young critics of the then Cahiers du cinema, yellow cape, through genre films and effect cinema, Hithcock and Hawks, for example, making a productive counterpoint to Renoir's moral realism, cinematic measure of all things cinema, in the definition I paraphrase from Bazin. As a productive counterpoint, let us reinforce, Renoir followed the master of young critics and his cinema also taught those young apprentice filmmakers to also make genre films in a different way. let it be seen à bout de soufle (harassed, Godard, 1960), let it be seen pierrot le fou (The eleven o'clock demon, Godard, 1965). It is not, moreover, without interest that within this debate, Bazin, patron of those young critics and of Cahiers, who in turn constituted modern French cinema, made, in the mythical birth of French film criticism, the fine defense of Citizen Kane, by Orson Wells, in the face of Sartre's moody appreciation, also a faithful and enthusiastic spectator of genre films.

If for Sartre Orson Wells, against all expectations, he would have made a film that was too intellectual for the lesser intellectuals of the occasion, for Bazin it is about something else, completely: with his acute gaze, he will call attention to the false mannerism of the construction of frames and sequences Citizen Kane, that concealed the expansion of the visual field on film and, against expectations, amplified the innovative and modern use of depth of field in filming modes, which Orson Wells masters with his classic. Sartre, who was one of the first French people to see the film, shortly after the end of the Second World War, does not hesitate to publish Bazin's criticism, favorable to the film and against it, in his recently launched magazine, Les modern times, whose title is an obvious cinematographic reference (the mention is valid for the benefit of young people). Bazin, in turn, a dedicated reader and the imaginary, his annotated edition was his bedside critical book, provided, with this critical text and others that make up the critical fortune he bequeathed, the foundations and parameters of modern film criticism.

We went on too long in the preamble. God forbid long prologues. Let's return to our subject, which was completely encrypted here. It's the leaves that sway.

dry bush on fire, by Ardilei Queirós and Joana Pimenta, which is what it is about, can be seen (more than understood, although there is not exactly trade off in this case) as a genre cinema experience, in the special line that was already present in White goes out, black stays (Adirley Queirós, 2015), and, thus, placed in perspective, the latter adds even more critical elements to the very original use that Queirós makes of genre cinema, and of cinema itself as a genre.

The question, if we put it that way, begins with the way in which Ardilei Queirós (and, in the case of dry bush on fire, together with Joana Pimenta) manages genre cinema for its problems of detail and compositional set, from image capture and plot definition (in the form of movements, shots and sequences), to the use of the documentary brand of image and the problem of verisimilitude and truth. This mode of agency obliges them to constantly strain and strain the definition of genre they practice, as there is a methodological inversion of the problem: one does not start from the genre to arrive at the image, one starts from the image to arrive at the genre.

This agency obviously has repercussions both in the way the story is told, as a whole, and in the way images are captured, in detail.

It has been noticed here and elsewhere[I] how much Ardilei Queirós' cinema amalgamates the texture, content and diacritical mark of images as a document (including the capture markings typical of the documentary image) with its fictional developments, or, more than that, that the use he makes of it through gender stereotypies, it takes advantage of and incorporates uses and marks of the documentary image into the fictional flow, in a hybrid attitude, in which the ambiguous, the diffuse and the superimposed count a lot. Since the origin of cinema, however, this letter has been at hand, and the extent to which fiction circulates from Méliès to Lumière and vice versa is a mark of the constitution of cinema itself. We are as well aware of the risks of the documentary butler becoming the horror movie butler as much as the risks of the documentary of the domestic becoming indulgent high-end self-fiction. The difference between one thing and the other, only time – which is also cinema material – will give.

Ardiley's aesthetic and critical problem is another, however. It's not knowing the butler's place in the family album, it's mixing the registers of the frames and from that taking a third order of images from this process. How many family albums between us are not horror movies? To this he has been dedicating himself with care.

Em White goes out, black stays, Adirley Queirós’s use of science fiction frames the “alien exteriority” mark of that story, “outside” of time: the story of those for whom the story told as such does not matter. But the payback is given, one of the roots of the plebeian radicalism that Adirley Queirós practices: even those almost anonymous characters don't care at all about “history”, hence fiction. If the “told story” would know nothing to say (what? how? why?) about anonymous young people outside the pilot plan and the superblocks, at black dances, in the eighties, rehearsing the steps – while national rock, private school guild , followed the script of commercial rebellion in the pilot plan –, it is because the critique of form, of history, needs to go through the form that is most external to it, through genre cinema, the truth of serials, the newsstand novel.

What fits in a genre film: the opposite of history. Thus, the appeal to the genre film, a counter-resource capable of framing that “tiny” comic in a “large” format, works as a specific and “fantastic” fold of “our” time. If there is no history, let the legend be filmed. Here, the comparative advantage of a brutally unequal society allows an attempt to be made to fill the abysmal social fracture that constitutes it with cues from the “fantastic”, both synthesized in the explicit reference to the slogans that cut time – the passage of those who have no history in the image of history in genre cinema: “White goes out, black stays! (Bitch to one side, fagot to another)”. This imprecise place of passage from the norm – the industrial image production plant – and its fantastic and bizarre other, the other side of the social fracture that constitutes us, this is the place where Adirley plants his mechanical eye and films non-document of the real , but what is fictionalized about that place and makes it visible.

Thus, everything serves to show the familiar strangeness that the peripheries reveal when seen and filmed under the new proximity of this place that characterizes Queirós' cinema, in part, the fantastic (being, as they are, the peripheries, in the very periphery of the images and on the periphery of the production of images, which is aesthetically decisive). As for time travel (and space travel – also sidereal travel) it is within reach of all of us – the plebeians, not the delicate ones, naturally – after taking the necessary critical-aesthetic measures and making the journey of at least two and a half hours by bus or train crowded towards the extremes of the metropolises, towards the satellite cities, the bordering territories and outside any spiritual and moral jurisdiction of the middle classes, the infinite distances of the metropolitan regions.

There will be Marquin da Tropa, in a kind of space station and advanced observation post (from where he tries to occupy the available sound space) capturing the diffuse signals of the past and sending decisive signals to the future, located, as it is, in that present of lunar territory, our present, beside us, however, folded in time and space like the other place. The journey through Brazilian society is the most fantastic version of a journey to the center of the earth. Not without reason, this rearrangement leads to another way of framing the present and the epic: the present is no longer a place for history. Suddenly, the present will be the place of prophecy. The prophecy is the effect of a popular version of the philosophy of history, a genre already obsolete, let's face it, in what it has of tragic and non-emancipatory. Adirley's films do not ask for emancipation, they ask for revenge, decisive and definitive, they ask for a state of war against the state of siege. Another figure of plebeian radicalism. Here are the basic elements of our new history of the future, Adirlei Queirós's version of Antônio Vieira for commoner philosophers.

I digress, not without reason.

Now, on the journey from White goes out, black stays a dry bush on fire there is a very specific adjustment between capturing images and the plot, from the point of view of the genre, which would characterize the tenor and character of Ardilei Queirós' cinema. Beyond the use of documentary material and its content is its imperfect, provisional, almost rushed fit into the forms of the genre. In this arrangement or rearrangement lies the intensification of that misfit as a filmic resource: this is also what is filmed.

How much those images exceed or do not fulfill the simple and basic requirements of the genre (we remember that genre films are deliberately simplifications) seems to me to be not only their main subject, the main subject that Queirós wants to film, but what most emphatically mobilizes them, gives them movement; therefore, its privileged stylistic-aesthetic resource. It is precisely what magnetizes the gaze. This is the original expedient that Ardilei Queirós found to tell a story that can only be told in the interstices that must exist between a genre film plot and our history of the present. It is he who explores to mastery and exhaustion.

Thus, we can say without claiming to be exhaustive that the object of Adirlei Queirós and Joana Pimenta, in this new spindle turn, is to film under the conditions of a genre cinema what escapes the genre and appears as documentary, without being so. exactly. This surplus is the subject, almost in the manner of José Mojica Marins, whose terror finds new content as it is filmed. Now, this expedient is neither new nor exceptional, but in cinema what is shown is what it shows, the images that Adirley and Joana show in dry bush on fire they have weight and make them gravitate.

Less than fiction for the sake of truth – fiction unfolding from the documentary, the subsidiary fiction of a document –, it seems to be much more the case of the truth of a fiction, that is, how fiction, there, taken on the ground floor, produces its document with heteroclite resources. Queirós seems to understand this very well: he is not looking for the truth, he is looking for the legend, as he likes to say. Today who prefers the truth? It so happens that this inversion, typical of the prophets, is not without consequence: the plebeian and popular spirit in Queirós, an oblique and difficult theme, moreover, is not in fiction in the way of a content or an aimed object – it is not a mere content of a form.

Even less is the content in a way that would take itself as allegorical, in order to mediate the contents that interest it, to always take them indirectly, in the most allegedly sophisticated version of the problem, and thus make the contents speak better about themselves same. Despite its obsolescence, this model is still widely emulated among us. The plebeian (it seems to me, better than “the popular”), in the register of Queiróz and Pimenta in dry bush on fire it is there, just ahead, in front of the eye: it is what fictionalizes fiction and subsidiarily gives us the document of itself. It is not the content of a form, it is the use of the form. The document comes from fiction, not the other way around. Hence the slow time of sedimentation and maturation of images through open and fixed shots (priority). It's not montage cinema, it's field cinema, almost depth of field, despite not favoring open shots (wide and very wide), it chooses to saturate the images themselves so that they can exceed the story.

There is an unusual critical gain in the procedure.

As a critical contrast to what the film shows, we can dwell on the wasted idea of ​​the “popular” as an allegory. The question would be to establish exactly why this expedient absolutely does not fit in Ardilei Queirós's cinema, to begin with, and in the sequence, to understand its obsolescence. In this consecrated scheme of success, of critics and public, the form as allegory is the device that would operate the filling (in an almost magical way, that is, justifying itself exclusively by the effects) of the gap between the delay and the modern (or delay and development, in the most hopeful version), taking from there the critical gain by giving an unexpected self-awareness to the modern from the backwardness that would determine it.

In the cinema of Ardilei Queirós, what is most acutely shown, even if this is not its most immediate purpose, is the best adjusted critical expedient to unravel this victorious ideology of the “tropical and dark” – nature and miscegenation – , of which the famous corollary about the spiritual advantage of backwardness when mediated and incorporated as a critical allegory by the modern was drawn. If the historical age of this resource has already passed, it seems, this time has not passed just for him, the critical expedient as such, this being the most acute: the avant-garde of the middle classes also went hand in hand with the routineization and commercialization of the popular as well-intentioned packaging, and it is not without reason that the heroism of our middle classes appears in the film in the exact place where it is (where, perhaps, it never left, in the circular history of the V Empire): in the most recalcitrant extreme right, festive, almost carnivalesque in the master plan.

Yes dear friends, the middle classes, ours at least, are that famous intellectual, cognitive and moral abomination. The film does not deliberately show this as a main object or resource. He shows this in a subsidiary way when he moves the popular from the place of allegory and from the place of speculative point of view of the middle classes, to another place, off the map. It is the plebeian as a form.

If tropicalismo, like every successful business among us, is today a thing of heirs, it is not so much what matters critically. More important is understanding the new place of the popular in a world where the illusions of concertation in the style of the populist cycle led to a dictatorship, which was much applauded.

Let's go. In the case of Adirley, popular fiction is not fiction, data venia. Adirley is not a creator who is in the terrain, he is a creator of the terrain: 5 do Norte, Terratreme.

Hence, the genre film angle that he and Joana Pimenta experiment with, in the best sense of the term, whose tradition tends to simplify for good formal reasons, ends up having an unexpected “realist” bias (with quotation marks), precisely because the agency of the material in dry bush on fire it works against and in favor of its form, by saturation and distension.

This contradictory effort appears, reinforcement, in the distended temporality of the film.

Let's follow the lead. In the classic western, one of the given and accepted questions that structure the plot involves two poles that face each other – good guy and bad guy – under the background of a search for wealth in a violently extractive regime: variations of the so-called “conquest of the west”. Even theft – from the diligence, from the bank or from women – can be understood as a variation of the extractive axis. Alongside this, the forces of civilization, always present and shadowing the plot with greater or lesser emphasis, whose intention is to modernize the violently extractive use of resources and carry out the miraculous transmutation of forms, from primitive accumulation to enterprise capitalism. The gold rush, slogan and paradigm for all forms of wealth appropriation, usually violent and often very violent, the race for the lands of the American Midwest, one of the key triggers for the beginning of the American Civil War (1861-1865), more than just the dispute for the end of slavery in the states south of the Union, all these elements are always present in the classics of the western genre.

In our western (which is not “caboclo”, it is made by “caboclos”) there are two axes of extractivism: the less obvious, as it has already been naturalized, the more pressing and permanent, from which the film itself, the ground of history, departs: they are the people themselves, imprisoned in their social place, which, among us, is almost fate and damnation. They are available to those people as a permanent resource to be taken: the work of re-educating, in the euphemism of the legal discourse, in the brick factory, compulsory work in the construction of prisons, subjection to the external management of the territory in which they live, with curfews and restrictions on movement, always monitored and controlled, all of this is what guarantees that they are a permanent source of the people's stativism. They live a life based on cheap cigarettes and coffee waiting for the moment of revenge against the stativism that defines them, carried out by the other.

The plebeian core of the film is all there: it is revenge for the natural stratativism of people that characterizes our society. Hence the fictional image of the subversion of this atavistic stativism: they will extract “pure” energy from others, from oil pipelines, in a theft that is also mediated by an industrial plant from the age of the first industrial revolution. See, therefore: alongside this obvious extractivism that is that of the poor, the disinherited, the plebeians, a specialty offered by the comparative advantages of this place, the extraction of fossil energy, stolen from an infrastructure whose scale goes beyond mere theft. It is the epic sense of Gasolineiras.

The Gasolineiras, a gang of women led by Chitara and her lieutenant Lea, organize themselves to take the energy from the imposing horizon of the pilot plane that dominates them, in one of the few open shots of the film, the energy that is prospected from them, extractivism against extractivism. The long chains of carbon in the form of oil and derivatives, in the pipelines that mysteriously cut the desert landscape, unnatural and dusty, from that periphery of the central plateau, dry bush, will be drained by Chitara and Lea for the purposes of a new organization of violence, Darwinism against social Darwinism.

For those who don't master it, technical reason appears like the work of a sorcerer, for them, technical reason reduced to a minimum in that proto refinery, is a weapon of struggle. It's a brutal response in a setting where all life is suspect. The hostile and ugly nature in the film, dry, worm-eaten is not without reason in the plot. It is completely contrary to the lush landscapes of Ford's films, for example, all third Kantian criticism in the Western genre. Against this natural landscape of cinema, a hostile landscape is filmed, but in a new filmic sense, our best anti-natural nature, ocher, dusty, dry, suffocating.

The greenest moment of the frame is in the master plan, which adds to the yellow-green of our extreme right in exultation. The contrast (which adds to the contrast of the monumental buildings of the master plan with the precarious self-construction of the outskirts and their badly framed beams of the same reinforced concrete, the constructive syntax that crosses our social fracture with serene tranquility) is quite strong and evocative. On the one hand, beautiful by nature, on the other, desert, in our fashion: bushes, recyclables, remains of an opaque green in the midst of a permanent movement of earth, the permanent meaningless revolver that is the landscape itself, a pile of earth , leftovers, people.

The way to escape the violent and natural prospecting pressing for the living force of each prisoner and ghetto in no-man's land, no-man's land, but well-defined social place, in that far west, is to divert the pendulum of prospecting: it is to steal oil and derivatives from the pipelines. Prospecting manufacturing, clandestine manufacturing is an important element of the scene. Clearly in line with the average productivity of a grotesquely unequal country, in which there is an immense supply of living labor to dispense with any objective pressure to increase productivity in the form of machinery, it figures, for those who still don't know, what is the place of the productive work among us: little or none of the Olympic industry, clean and organized like a surgical center; our average productivity is much closer to that of an interior dismantling, such as that of Marquin da Tropa, who has a bold appearance at the end of the film, at the moment in which the Gasolineiras retaliate and violently subdue the forces of order that threaten them. By the way, our modern monuments were and are made in construction sites similar to the Gasolineiras manufacture.

The plot is set. The protagonists are the bad guys – not new, we have Butch Cassidy and Sandance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill) with friendly protagonists outlaws – and, more than that, women. There are countless genre films featuring female gangs, and films that cross genres featuring a female gang, female vampires, sadistic females, etc. It's not exactly new either. A pop reinterpretation of this film genre, a whole tradition of famous B films in the seventies, is Death Proof, for example (Quentin Tarantino, 2007). In dry bush on fire there is, however, a very specific difference in the way in which Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta reframe these elements in the film they make, dealing specifically with what we can precariously call the issue of gender.

Let's start with the obvious, although we don't intend to go much further. The film stars women, who, moreover, form a gang. There is, however, a beforehand material to consider, depending on the images the film uses to portray the protagonists and their stories. The outskirts are overpopulated by women and their children. Chitara and Lea, protagonists of Gasolineiras, are mothers. Motherhood, therefore, and motherhood in the peripheries is very present in the film, and it is an important, if not the most important, gender marker. This marker appears in several ways: Lea is a daughter and has children, there is a typically maternal dialogue between her and her daughter, and her and her mother, accounting for both registers.

The men, the motoboys, are supporting actors par excellence, and in the film they must adjust to the new rules of commerce and organization of the Gasoline Companies. We could say that there is a reversal of roles, but it is not exactly that. I don't know if it would be the case of thinking about female and male in the film, almost in an essentialist way, as if the film with the massive presence of women was more or less “feminine”. In the way it is filmed, the question of gender is not informed in advance, it has “information” prior to the images that build it, it comes with the images. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the markers of this presence in image: the extensive presence of women, the place of this presence, their protagonism: it is women who effectively bear most of the work, in any place where there is low or low-income work. very low productivity.

Therefore, the reserve of labor has a clear gender profile. The subversion that operates the film, if any, is to show this, which is a real element, as a fictional element: the story told is theirs. Let's look at motherhood, as a counterproof. It may seem like it, but it's not a secondary theme in the film, and I'm tempted to say: it's also a film about mothers, those mothers. Motherhood marks the decisive gender condition for women: they will always be the ones to bear the total and ultimate responsibility for the offspring. Motherhood, from a social point of view, is compulsory. After all, there is something like a a priori genre material, so to speak, that the film recognizes and which it uses as its own material.

Hence a light observation that can be made: the best filmic material, the best material to film a story from the “outside” is the condition of women and women themselves, until some time the most invisible of elements. Therefore, the most striking visible element in this film of female protagonists is the women themselves who make themselves visible. There is, moreover, something that goes through the feminine homoaffectivity present and, in a certain way, stereotyped in the film. Stereotyped, however, in a completely different and even surprising way. Therefore, there is an important compositional tension. Stereotypy here means that there is a certain look “from the outside” that builds those relationships, female homoaffective relationships, but this look from which one starts is that of the woman herself, not the typical male look.

The effect, however, goes far beyond this starting point. Considering it a little more slowly, nothing is obvious in the constructions that the film allows itself to make, despite the simplifications it starts from. The massive presence of women adds to the fact that women live, work, organize themselves, love and desire other women, almost immediately, without any major qualms. The way this is filmed almost neutralizes any non-native look that asks why and how. So it seems to me very difficult to take any consideration of gender issues and themes from there, as they say, without accepting a certain descriptive rigor that those images are given.

In the final digression, on the occasion of Lea's arrest, and incorporated into the fictional flow, Chitara mentions Lea's desire to please her children, her eagerness to do anything for her children, as a reason for her last relapse, reinforcing motherhood as a key marker for understanding of gender and gender sociabilities in film. This element leads me to think how much the film reaches, as an image, the lives of those women: there is a spontaneous anthropology of those women and their images, not of women in general, but of the women traversed by the Partido do Povo Preso, another face of the their organization and struggle for life and death. Formal politics appears, in these terms, as a continuation of a type of clash and struggle that precedes it and for which it does not offer pacification or change of means.

The Gasoline companies' plan is to reorganize the local delivery market, building the loyalty of motoboys through the cheap gasoline they produce from the clandestine well they run. Therefore, controlling one end of the energy consumption market to expand the business from there, expand the business by controlling the territory through fuel. The conditions are given by permanent prospecting in the clandestine plant. Territorial control precedes an attempt at domination, in a broad sense. They are fierce, female, with passages through the prison system, and have the education and disposition necessary for crime.

They stand beside the master plan in the wild west and defy the forces of order by burning and plucking whatever needs to be burned and plucked. The final sequence summarizes the mood that the film builds: under the sound of a rap from DF Faroeste, they occupy the territory, with Lea, putting on the bad face that is expected of her, in an ending that returns the epic to the plebeian: let's take everything, let's occupy everything, replicating the cinematic solution that already appeared in White goes out, black stays. Instead of a weapon of mass destruction, occupation of the territory, the control of energy through its appropriation, the taking of space. Adirley Queirós now doubles the bet.

No one intends that a commoners' revolt will lead to a height of civilization. When filming this, the triumph of Gasolineiras comes, however, I don't know what urgency, with all its consequences: what to follow Gasolineiras, what to take the streets of that land, fiercely. Nothing here is divine and wonderful. dry bush on fire is the latest news on this state of affairs and mood, in the form of the best fiction of our western – that distant place, which could be around any nearby corner – São Paulo, 2023, children, women, men sleeping and living on the street, a multitude, from remains to remains, living on garbage and condemned to it, under the permanent threat of all forms of abuse, as in Germany, year zero (Roberto Rosselini, 1948), a film about a child: are we at war? were we defeated? should we declare war, some war? Chitara and Lea suggest some answers.

dry bush on fire he does not dwell on fiction for reasons that fiction itself gives him, he goes beyond its reverse side, in a dialectic that still needs to be made explicit: “Isn’t this a solid definition of realism in art: to oblige the spirit to take sides without cheating with human beings? and things?[ii]

Who has not seen, will live. [iii]

*Alexandre de Oliveira Torres Carrasco is professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP).


dry bush on fire
Brazil, Portugal, (2022), 153 minutes.
Directed by: Adirley Queirós & Joana Pimenta.
Screenplay: Adirley Queirós & Joana Pimenta.
Cast: Joana Darc Furtado, Léa Alves da Silva, Andreia Vieira, Débora Alencar, Gleide Firmino.


[I] See PACE, João, “Dry brushwood in flames, the man and the road”, in the earth is round, 2023, available at https://aterraeredonda.com.br/mato-seco-em-chamas-2/; CARRASCO, Alexandre, “White goes out, black stays”, in February Magazine, no. 8, 2015, available at http://revistafevereiro.com/pag.php?r=08&t=13

[ii] BAZIN, Andrew, “Germany year zero". In: What is cinema?, P. 243, Ubu, Sao Paulo, 2018.

[iii] Thank you for reading and commenting on Hernandez Vivian Eichenberge.

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