Nelson Rodrigues in the movies

Image: Glauco Rodrigues
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By ISMAIL XAVIER*

Considerations about the influences of cinema on the playwright's work and the transpositions of his plays by Brazilian cinema

There are rare occasions to verify, together, how the films adapted, translated, betrayed the world of Zulmira or Boca de Ouro, Amado Ribeiro or Geni, and took a position in the face of the conflicts they experienced, revealing or not the world playwright's acid, confronting or not the debate about the dramatic styles and genres of the plays. The main objective here is to open up the range of relationships, propose new cuts that explore the frontiers of the writer's world, remembering the cinema that Nelson Rodrigues saw and chose, the films that he incorporated into his fiction or that marked his training and works that he cited as a cinephile attuned to industrial production and the glamor of Hollywood, resistant to the so-called art cinema (Nelson shared with other intellectuals of his generation the provocative posture of attacking “new wave” and Cinema Novo, with one or two exceptions, for example, the praise of earth in trance, by Glauber Rocha).

Nelson's personal preferences are outlined here through what the cinematographic “good object” would be for him, whether or not it had a greater impact on his work. And it is also necessary to evoke the cinema that he actually incorporated, whether through the episodic mention of a title or the famous name of “star“, either through a certain thematic or formal mirroring, as happened with Rashomon (1950), by Akira Kurosawa, remembered by Décio de Almeida Prado in his review of Golden Mouth, in 1960, when commenting on the device of three versions of the same story. In other situations, it is not a film, but an entire paradigm or genre that is evoked, as is the case of the Gothic novel, so explored by Hollywood in films such as Rebecca (1940), by Hitchcock, and The Secret of the Closed Door (1948), by Fritz Lang, both of which can serve as a central reference to my destiny is to sin (1952) or as a model, among others, in the plot of All nudity will be punished (1965). Affinity On a more general formal level, Nelson's theater has already been noted for its affinity with structures of space and time made dynamic by cinema: the flashback, the parallel montage of fast scenes, the spectacular tone of the inversions, the conciseness and colloquialism of the dialogues (although here the main aspect is the transposition of a “Brazilian speech”). This affinity is seen as favorable to adaptation to cinema – because it would already be in the play –, but it may be an illusion, because what generates a good effect on stage, because cinema in form, can be trivialized on screen, because without distinctive value. (which actually happened in several adaptations).

Sometimes, a film inserts itself into Rodrigues' fiction through its characters. There is a notable comic effect drawn from the repeated conversation around The lovers (1958), by Louis Malle, in wild asphalt. Here, the representation of sexuality in cinema becomes a “leitmotiv” of the narrative because it shocks (and inspires) the characters, serving as an ironic punctuation for the chronicle of customs. And there are more specific examples, in which the evocation of actresses serves for a telegraphic characterization, as is the case of Celeste, the girl from the suburbs in golden mouth, whose fixation on Grace Kelly, as proclaimed, counts as a portrait.

The world of the press focused on plays and novels, in line with a social life in which the image came to the fore, highlights the writer's attention to what such modern influxes represent as a threat of accident or violence, as an invitation to voyeurism and exhibitionism. , an experience of excesses that dissolves the old decorum of privacy and family secrets. The intensity of the stimuli, their invasive content, has as its counterpart the change in the values ​​of the gesture and attitude, a change that turns what was in bad taste and a reason for shame into a strategy of self-affirmation.

These traces of experience are projected on sensibility, alter aesthetic taste, affect the way of evaluating dramatic genres and the virtues of style, opposing what would be a modern sense of the tragic as “stoic resistance” – bearing with dignity in silence – to what would be the extroversion (bordering on hysteria) typical of melodrama – that “saying it all” that Nelson Rodrigues' scene embodies.

This has to do not only with industrial cinema, but with the urban culture that made it emerge as a spectacle, enhancing the look, which ranges from more “scientific” curiosity to pure eavesdropping.

We have passed from the era of cultivated secrecy to that of exposure to daylight, an itinerary that classic cinema made a central motif. The Secret of the Closed Door is a symbolic title that sums up well the look of cinema that became a “good object” for Nelson Rodrigues. A cinema moved by the question: what is behind everything, in “off“, in that obscure domain that one wants to make visible? This issue may involve a haunting past or an expression that hides in the face that confronts us. A decisive point is the reading of the face, the ability to recognize vice or innocence in it, to live the Judeo-Christian equation of deception and, in particular, that of Eve's faces, whose extreme paradigm is "fatal woman“, a figure of fascination and ruin, densely constructed by Von Sternberg and Pabst, before its appropriation by the American “noir” film. And which was later incarnated here and there in the young Rodrigues women, whose profile is sometimes announced in the titles of the works: cute but ordinary, Funny, your sins...

It is worth examining Brazilian films and filmmakers, who, without assuming influence, formed affinities, because they were similar in theme, structure or motives. An unavoidable dialogue that imposes itself with greater pertinence from the 1970s onwards, a period in which cinema tried to delve into the terrain of “unpleasant” theater. Yes, because the plays by the Brazilian playwright, although they renew the pleasure of twists and turns, tend towards a catastrophic outcome. In other words, Nelson-writer does not repeat Nelson-spectator's “good object”. After the storm, he does not return us to safe ground: he makes the horizon of irreconcilable conflicts more complicated and gloomy, as in tragedy.

Sometimes, what would fit in with classic cinema and “news item” of the daily press is there to bring pieces closer to the daily life of the city. But Nelson's theater insists on exploring what is most problematic there, in a remarkable example of mixing styles and tones. Nelson Pereira dos Santos, in the movie golden mouth (1962), opted for realism and made good use of the tensions between his point of view and that of the playwright; the same happened with Leon Hirszman, who, leaving the Popular Centers of Culture, filmed the deceased (1965) with a radical serious-dramatic tone that surprised critics and the writer himself. These two filmmakers are the highlight of the period 1962-6, precisely because of their dialogue against the grain.

And at that moment, Jece Valadão, as a producer, screenwriter and actor, was the main driver behind the translation of the playwright into cinema. Other adaptations of the time were marked by a more conventional naturalism, such as the film cute but ordinary (JP de Carvalho, 1963) and, by JB Tanko, wild asphalt (1964) and funny after thirty (1966) The kiss (Flávio Tambellini, 1966) gave us the rare example of an expressionist version of Nelson Rodrigues. In 1972, Arnaldo Jabor performed All nudity will be punished, exploring the limits between kitsch and aesthetic experimentation, between modern tragedy and melodrama, advancing the debate on the representation of the Brazilian experience and resuming questions posed by tropicalismo in 1967-8.

The film captured an ironic atmosphere of Brazilian self-disqualification (which is replicated in the allegory of all good, in 1978), comical and exasperated, already present in cute but ordinary, in the figure of Fregolente, who plays the tacky bourgeois, administrator of orgies. Developments in the 1960s-70s include the figure of JB da Silva, the gangster politician from The Red Light Bandit (Rogério Sganzerla, 1968), a clear derivation of the Rodriguian boçais surrounded by a radio locution subjected to parody.

The tragicomedy asserts itself, then, as a new way of qualifying the Brazilian social drama, and Jabor radicalizes it in 1975, by adapting the novel The wedding, in cinema’s riskiest dive into the representation of “unpleasant” theater. There are extensions of this option in the new series of adaptations by Nelson Rodrigues launched in 1978 by the success of the stocking lady, by Neville d'Almeida. It is the heyday of the “Brazilian market film” (1978-83), from the Embrafilme era. The seven adaptations of that period were located between “serious culture” and the most direct erotic appeal, with a very uneven aesthetic result. the stocking lady (1978) and the seven kittens (1980), by Neville d'Almeida; The Kiss on the Asphalt (1980), by Bruno Barreto, Funny (1981), by Haroldo Marinho, and the films by Braz Chediak, cute but ordinary (1980); Family album (1981) and Forgive me for betraying me (1983) make up the naturalistic cycle already marked by TV, but sexually more liberated.

It is worth noting, however, the exercise of the feuilleton style in Haroldo Marinho Barbosa and Neville's polemical proposal summarized in the formula “chanchada with philosophy and calculated insolence”. The spirit of tragicomedy produced its best critique of the sexism of erotic comedy through marital war (1974), by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, adaptation of short stories by Dalton Trevisan, another writer who satirized the narrow morals and sexual imagery of the province, in a universe in tune with Nelson's. Joaquim Pedro's film clearly shows how the course of adaptations was part of a larger movement in Brazilian cinema, which, from 1969-70 onwards, jumped from the theme of the world of work and social issues of public life to the "family drama ”: generational conflicts mark the film Copacabana deceives me (Antônio Carlos Fontoura, 1969); domestic aggression and crime of passion drive episodes of Killed the family and went to the movies (Júlio Bressane, 1969); and the degeneration of the manor house in style Family album takes place, signaling crises and changes, in the murdered house (Saraceni, 70), babaloo's monsters (Elyseu Visconti, 1970), The guilt (Domingos de Oliveira, 1971) and Mortal sin (Miguel Faria Junior, 1970).

In the balance between Marx and Freud, the psychoanalyst prevailed: the opening of The guilt quotes an excerpt from totem and taboo, which serves as a reference not only to Domingos de Oliveira's film, centered on incest, but also to Rodrigues's universe. Before adapting Lúcio Cardoso's major work, Chronicle of the Murdered House, Paulo César Saraceni had already begun his dialogue with this writer who was so close to Nelson (not in tone or form, but in motives and values), in 1962, with port of boxes, the first modern Brazilian film to focus on domestic tragedy, the opposition between a strong woman and a mediocre husband, and the resentment generated by a provincial environment. Saraceni constantly returns to the writer from Minas Gerais and his reiteration of motives parallel to Nelson's work reach The traveler (1999) – a highlight of the 90s.

corny types

There is a way of composing bourgeois environments and “making meaning” the scenography or the symbolic side of a physiognomy that allows highlighting another aspect of relations in Brazilian cinema. There is an ironic way of displaying tacky types who sport an awkward relationship between virile appearance and mustache, central to the film. marital war, by Joaquim Pedro (notably, in Nelsinho and Osiris), who reminds us, through the inversion of the sign, imposing figures such as the journalist Amado Ribeiro (extraordinary performance by Daniel Filho), in The Kiss on the Asphalt. Scenography and physiognomy suggest long-range relationships with more consequences to explore.

Let's go back to rough denim (1933), by Humberto Mauro, to the sequence of the crime of passion in the house in Rio de Janeiro. The decoration of the “engineer's” property is notorious, full of paintings and sculptures, academic paintings of women, some wrapped in sheets, in a game of concealment and seduction. Such a gallery projects a desire for civilization, a link with “high culture” that brings the codes of “ fin de siècle“, but reveals a shy taste, anticipating the atmosphere of the bedroom, the place of the crime – the husband punishing the unfaithful wife. The woman recalls the composition of the pictures on the wall, and the engineer has a face and mustache that suggest virility in terms of melodrama.

The engineer will have other destinations: he will atone for his guilt in Minas, he will flirt with a provincial woman and marry for the second time, in a bid far from the happy ending. all nudity, from Jabor, begins with the entry of Herculaneum into a setting similar to that of rough denim: the mansion full of paintings and images of women on the wall, alternating models of seduction with maternal figures, looks of tradition. The same ambition of nobility is compounded by excess, in the dead family environment that will be the scene of Geni's suicide. There are other symmetries that bring the two films closer together, in addition to the galleries insinuating that the sex there has a crepuscular quality. In both, there is the second marriage, to recover the widower after the trauma, and there is the constant male melancholy, which, in the case of the engineer, we take seriously and, in the case of Herculano, we observe with irony, due to something in the physiognomy, what has to do with the mustache. In both films, the suggestion of a gear that entangles them is like a nod to a death drive.

Contrary to what happens in rough denimOn all nudity Geni is the pole of experience, and Herculano is the pole of crude innocence. Stupid because out of place and out of time and because the final situation does not suit the protagonist's figure well, when he is observed by that excess of female images hanging on the wall. Mirror images of this type are frequent in the films that, between the 1960s and 80s, adapted Nelson Rodrigues, corroborating the stylization of the bourgeois environment present on screen since the 1930s, through Vera Cruz production. Such similarities express motives linked to a class culture that, in the case of Jabor, was found to be an expression of decadence, as in marital war, with another style.

In the 1970s, the look was already directed at the forums of distinction of a layer that was aesthetically demoralized (although effective in the military coup) for the generation of cinema novo and had such disrepute decanted with great brilliance by tropicalism or with a lot of pain by cinema marginal. It is in the spirit of an alternative cinema, marginal in its own way, that the strength of the scenario asserts itself from time to time. the serpent (1980-82), by Alberto Magno, a film that differs from all others by opting for theatrical space and blocked scenes and by making constant use of objects, devices and textures with symbolic effect, in an expressionist appropriation of the biblical imagery. Here, the ghostly presence of the image gallery (paintings, photos, reproductions) has another function: it confines the father figure, a “living painting” [living picture] hanging on the wall. the serpent is dissidence in a decade that began with the search for a naturalism – golden mouth (Avancini, 1990) – and ended with the mannerist, sometimes gothic elaboration of the scenographic emphasis, whether in Betrayal (Arthur Fontes, Cláudio Torres and José Henrique Fonseca, 1998), either in Twins (Andrucha Waddington, 1999).

Reflection on the country

New adaptations are under way, and the moment gives rise to a reflection on the country attentive to the failed experiences, impasses, a mark of a rarefied conjuncture of projects, strained by the disappointments of an entire generation. Betrayal e Twins sealed a new parallel between Rodrigo's motifs and a certain general inclination of current cinema, punctuated by the bitter parade of unsuccessful collectors.

In this sense, it is worth completing the route with mango yellow (2002), by Cláudio Assis, who outlines a panel of experiences in the “womb” of Recife (Nelson's hometown), tinged by the viscous metaphor of secretions and yellow textures (recalling the incontinences of The wedding), the grotesque face of a demand that insists on bodies and is expressed at every minute, turning a machine of Rodrigues inversions: the moralist is debauched, the criminal is holy, the shameless lives in abstinence, anguished. In the center, the path of the evangelical, which leads to the direct provocation of Assis himself in the middle of the film: “Decency is the most intelligent form of perversion”.

*Ismail Xavier He is a professor at the School of Communication and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Modern Brazilian Cinema (Peace and Earth).

Originally published in the Journal Folha de S. Paul, on the 05th of September 2004.

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